“For some reason, everyone decided that they want to intimidate and humiliate particularly Russia”

Demographer Valery Yelizarov about the overpopulation of the Earth

“For some reason, everyone decided that they want to intimidate and humiliate particularly Russia” Photo: otr-online.ru

The UN has recently published a report on world population changes and prospects. It records an increase in the number of states where the population is declining, and by 2050, as noted on the Russian page of the official website of the organization, the population of Russia is going to reduce by 11 million people. Valery Yelizarov, the head of the centre for population problems study at the Moscow State University, member of the expert council under the government of the Russian Federation, told in the interview Realnoe Vremya about how to treat this forecast.

“The threat of hunger in the world has become less in recent decades”

In the 1990s, one could read in the media a Malthusian horror story that the Earth was on the verge of overpopulation and the planet's resources would soon be sorely lack. Have these predictions been confirmed?

Let's start with that the work of Malthus An Essay on the Principle of Population appeared at the turn of the 18th-19th, when the world population was about 1 billion people. Even then (and even earlier, in the 17th and 18th centuries) it was believed that overpopulation was possible, fraught with various risks. Then the population increased to two billion, three, four billion — and there were always supporters of growth, in accordance with the idea of “more population — more wealth”, and those who believed that this growth should be treated more carefully, observing certain proportions between the number of population and resources that are enough for this number.

So we can not say that it is something fresh, appeared 20 or 30 years ago.

But over the past time, the population of the Earth has increased quite seriously, now we have 7,7 billion — over during this time, hunger has not become more, hasn’t it?

Yes, it has not. On the contrary, we can even say that over the past few decades, poverty and the threat of hunger in the world has become a little less. There are new technologies in the production of food, throughout the 20th century labour productivity has been increasing. Therefore, the threat of hunger, as such, exists mainly where the poor, where there are no resources, employment and so on.

But it's not just about hunger. In addition to food, there are many other resources, including non-renewable ones, that are needed for future development. Besides, extracting everything we need for living we quite heavily pollute the planet and not always able to cope with this pollution. Therefore, in order to think about some sustainable development, it is necessary to understand that the population, the resources it uses, and the pollution it produces, must be balanced.

Therefore, in the middle of the last century there was the idea of “zero growth”, which suggested that we need not so much economic growth as development. This idea of sustainable development, the idea of stabilization, included a component of stabilizing the population. For example, the work of the Club of Rome (an international non-governmental organization known for research on “global issues” — editor’s note) assessed the impact of population growth on the economy and the environment.

So this has been and continues to be studied by various research groups, professional communities, considering different versions of the population — resources — environment ratio.

Photo: aa.com.tr
To think about some sustainable development, one needs to understand that the population, the resources that it uses, and the pollution that it produces, must be balanced

And one should not demonize them, as the traditionalists do?

I'm not inclined to demonize anything at all. If someone demonizes, it's more the press. Because the population, in general, does not care. Ask 146 million Russian citizens: who heads the UN Population Fund? — only a half dozen people would answer. If you ask how they relate to yesterday's forecasts of the UN — then, too, most likely, they do not care. First, again, it is the journalists who reacted. Moreover, I am sure that none of these journalists knows what the cover of this publication looks like, no one has reviewed this report, does not know its structure. There are plenty of short messages, they are copied, somewhere they are extended. Well, further — the address to experts.

“No one was going to offend Russia, the calculations are made for all states of the world”

According to this report, the world's population will increase by two billion people in the next 30 years — to 9,7 billion in 2050. Do you agree with this forecast?

What do you mean by agree or not? It's like agreeing to “two times two is four”. The UN report contains calculations based on certain scenarios. All that can be discussed here are the hypotheses that were put into these scenarios, and the set of scenarios itself — pessimistic, optimistic, with a constant birth rate, scenarios with migration, without migration... And the calculations themselves are arithmetic. We need to see how reasonable the hypotheses themselves are, what options are offered. And further already interpretation. But for some reason, it is not even experts who interpret it, but the press or politicians.

As for the addition of two billion over the next 30 years, or, relatively, a billion in 15 years, Yes, it is quite reasonable and possible: 4 billion lived on the planet in 1974, 5 billion — in 1987 (plus a billion in 13 years), 6 billion — in 1999 (12 years) and, finally, 7 billion — in 2011 (also about 12 years).

Further slowing is inevitable, the next billion will be added a bit slower, over 14-15 years. So, the UN forecast is quite likely. The world as a whole has already passed the peak of the highest growth rates. And the situation may be different for individual states.

Does the UN gives some message with this report? Or is it some purely technical thing, the UN simply states the fact, without any recommendations?

This is an absolutely technical thing, which is connected with the functions of the UN, with its understanding of its responsibility. This is not some demonic document that is designed to intimidate someone. Besides, most people believes they want to intimidate and to humiliate particularly Russia. The calculations are made for all states of the world, not only for our! Moreover, many media publications for some reason understood the forecast so that we are dying out. But less than 100 million people by 2078 — this is the most pessimistic version of the forecast for Russia. The optimistic scenario assumes an increase of up to 159 million.

There is no special message here, no one is going to force something. This is a technical work that the UN does every 2 years, and it should be analyzed by specialists.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
Many media publications for some reason understood the forecast so that we are dying out. But less than 100 million people by 2078 — this is the most pessimistic version of the forecast for Russia. The optimistic scenario assumes an increase of up to 159 million

“The discussions of an optimal number of the Earth's population and individual states does not make sense”

Is there any some consensus in the world demographic science today about what population is optimal for the Earth?

No, no one asks that question. It is possible to speak rather about the optimum population for a country, knowing the limited resources, territory and other opportunities to provide all the necessary population — for development, not the preservation of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment. Here in this respect, and it is very conditional, we can talk about some quantitative optimum.

In general, the optimum number of people was discussed starting with Confucius. Machiavelli wrote that a too big and a too small state are both bad. A large state, empire consists of different parts with a mandatory set of contradictions leading to its destruction. A small state with a small population is too dependent on the more powerful neighbouring countries, which can easily capture, enslave and so on.

In this context, talking about the optimum population once made sense. Now, if we believe that the borders of countries are something stable and the world community is monitoring this, we can talk about the optimality of the world's population very, very conditionally. Although the forecasts that were made 30, 20 years ago, said that as a result of the slowdown in population growth, we will reach some value (called, in particular, the figure of 9 billion), after which growth will stop and will be followed maybe even with a phase of decline. It was said that this could happen in the middle or in the second half of this century. However, the evidence that we have in the last 20-30 years suggests that there is no such rapid decline in growth rates. We do not yet see this horizon, where the growth of the world's population would stop, now 10 and even 11 billion people are called as a boundary.

But this is subject to maintaining our current understanding of what we see on Earth. That is, if everything goes as we understand it today, then growth stopping seems inevitable. After another 40 or 50 years nobody would seriously consider that population growth in China would stop. But it stops, India is catching up with China and will soon overtake it. And among the largest countries that will provide growth in the coming years — India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Indonesia, Egypt, USA. And China is not even mentioned.

Gradually, many countries with still high population growth and high fertility are being drawn into the so-called demographic transition. The birth rate and mortality there will decrease, respectively, will change and the structure of the population, it will begin to age. Developed countries have already passed this way.

It makes sense to talk about the optimum for large cities. Such calculations and estimates in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s were made in our country. Let’s, for example, take Moscow. It established master plans that determined the kind of population that the capital doesn't have to exceed. Hence the concept of “limitchiki”, various restrictions on residence registration in Moscow and so on. At first, it was believed that the optimal number of the population for Moscow — 7 million, then increased this value to 8 million, then to 9 million. Recent calculations showed that about 12 million. But in 2012, Moscow took and added a huge territory, stretched as much as to Kaluga Oblast.

Photo: сезоны-года.рф
Moscow established master plans that determined the kind of population that the capital doesn't have to exceed. Hence the concept of “limitchiki”, various restrictions on residence registration in Moscow and so on. At first, it was believed that the optimal number of the population for Moscow — 7 million, then increased this value to 8 million, then to 9 million. Recent calculations showed that about 12 million

Of course, it is better to avoid such hypertrophied growth of the largest cities. The population decline in non-capital regions is clearly not optimal, it is clearly bad for them, they are losing their population, especially the young.

By Rustem Shakirov
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