The Chinese have worked hard at keeping their population growth even lower than more developed western countries. Between 1980 and 2016 the Chinese one-child policy was stringently applied and its effect has been profound. That country’s population growth at the present time is still only 0.1% a year, the same as the USA, while Western Europe, migrants included, stands at 0.3%.
So China, for the longest time thought of as the world’s most populous country, is either second to India or will be any time now. With a population growth of 0.8% India seems certain not only to overtake China, but to move further ahead quickly.
The reaction to this change has been strange, but not altogether unexpected. Voices in China have been raised in protest, concerned that they are no longer the world leaders in sheer numbers. A population expert from Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi says “the baton has passed to India.” It is an interesting term, suggesting the India is now winning the race.
The fear of declining population is widespread. Some years ago when Italy’s population entered a period of decline for the first time in history, questions were asked in parliament. People wanted to know if it was possible that Italy could completely disappear.
Our own continent of Africa does not have that problem. Africa has a total population of about 1.4 billion, within a few thousand of China and India, but a massive population growth rate of 2.5%. At this rate we will soon be leaving them behind.
The effect of twentieth century population increase is that a world population of one billion people 100 years ago is close on eight billion today. The effect on the rest of the planet’s inhabitants has been devastating. In the last fifty years we have lost 60% of the wild places on earth, drastically reducing the living space for most non-human species and forcing some into extinction.
Feeding ourselves too is becoming more difficult. Only 11% of our land surface is cultivated now, and only 25% used as pastureland.
So let us not talk about passing the baton in to whoever is leading in population growth. The human population needs to shrink if we and the rest of earth’s creatures are to survive. A population growth race, driven by a fear of our species or our nation disappearing, will be a race to our own destruction.