Don’t Panic – The Truth About Population
Hans Rosling (2013)
In Don’t Panic, world famous Swedish statistician Hans Rosling disputes the myth of the “population bomb.” Rosling starts by documenting the radical drop in fertility in the last forty years and examining specific factors behind it. He predicts that global population will peak at 11 billion around 2100 and start to decline.
The average global fertility rate in 1963 was 5 children per woman; today it’s 2.5 and still dropping. Asia, which holds 4 billion of the world’s 7 billion population, has the largest impact on shrinking fertility rates.
Rosling hones in on Bangladesh to explain this phenomenon. In 1963 Bangladesh had a fertility rate of 7 children per woman; today it’s 2.2. This relates largely to heavy investment by the Bangladeshi government in reducing the birth rate. Their primary strategy is to encourage teenage girls to postpone marriage and complete high school. In addition to paying families to keep girls in school, the government has launched specific programs to create jobs for women and educate them about family planning.
Rosling also points to the reduction in child mortality (due to improved access to health care) as a significant factor in reducing Asian fertility rates. During the 1960s, one in five children globally died before age 5. In Asia, the average family typically lost four out of six children. Because they expected most of their babies to die, they had a strong incentive to keep having them.
It was mainly due to high child mortality that the world population grew so slowly prior to 1800. Child mortality remains extremely high in Africa, an important reason why their fertility also remains high.
Rosling devotes the end of the film to an examination of poverty, world hungry and the planet’s ability to feed 11 billion people. I found this part of his talk disappointing, owing to his failure to grasp the role of economic colonization and “development” (ie corporate seizure of land and resources) in the origin of third world poverty and hunger.
In fact, he’s a great fan of “development” and the rise of industrial agriculture in Africa. Research by the Oakland Institute paints a very different picture of the corporate land grab in Africa. One in which multinational corporations are leaving local farmers destitute by driving them off their land. See Speculating With Our Food