When I give lectures about the global food supply and the environment, often someone in the audience will comment that the best way to solve the problem is to quit producing so much food.
I find this type of “Let ‘em starve” approach quite horrific from a humanitarian view. It also makes no sense scientifically.
According to this recent article in Nature, “As a result of this close connection between development and fertility decline, more than half of the global population now lives in regions with below-replacement fertility (less than 2.1 children per woman)”.
The authors find that for low and medium human development index (HDI) levels, this is still true: Development continues to promote fertility decline.
What is worrisome is that at advanced HDI levels (>0.9), further development can reverse the declining trend in fertility. What this means is that the previously negative development-fertility relationship has become J-shaped, with the HDI being positively associated with fertility among highly developed countries.
Who are these people having more children?
An HDI of 0.9 roughly corresponds to 75 years of life expectancy, a GDP per capita of 25,000 US dollars in year 2000 purchasing power parity, and a 0.95 education index.
Countries with a 2005 HDI greater than or equal to 0.9 include: Australia (0.966), Norway (0.961), Iceland (0.956), Ireland (0.95), Luxembourg (0.949), Sweden (0.947), Canada (0.946), Finland (0.945), France (0.945), the Netherlands (0.945), the United States (0.944), Denmark (0.943), Japan (0.943), Switzerland (0.942), Belgium (0.94), New Zealand (0.938), Spain (0.938), the United Kingdom (0.936), Austria (0.934), Italy (0.934), Israel (0.922), Greece (0.918), Germany (0.916), Slovenia (0.913) and South Korea (0.911).
In other words, these people are us. To make the situation even worse, the people in the high HDI countries consume about 25 fold more resources than many parts of the world.
So, blog readers, if we wish to reduce food to those people most likely to wreak havoc with the environment, we need to be the first to volunteer.
Myrskylä, M., Kohler, H., & Billari, F. (2009). Advances in development reverse fertility declines Nature, 460 (7256), 741-743 DOI: 10.1038/nature08230