population by half*
August 3, 2003
SIR David Attenborough, the eminent naturalist, is backing a campaign to have
population controls introduced in Britain with the aim of halving the number of
He has often referred in his television programmes to the threats posed by
burgeoning human populations, a concern that is increasingly shared by many
other environmentalists. This weekend he went further, calling for moves to
control population growth and warning of the potential for global disaster.
He said: “The human population can no longer be allowed to grow in the same old
uncontrolled way. If we do not take charge of our population size, then nature
will do it for us and it is the poor people of the world who will suffer most.”
He was speaking in support of a conference on population to be held in Oxford
next month. The event is organised by the Optimum Population Trust (OPT), an
academic group which wants to put population reduction at the heart of
It believes that Britain
should seek to reduce its population from its present 59m to about 30m by 2130
-- about the same as the population in 1870.
It wants economic incentives for women to stay childless, free contraception, a
balanced approach to immigration and a government population reduction policy.
The campaign is supported by other academics and environmentalists including Sir
Jonathon Porritt, chairman of the government's Sustainable Development
Commission. One of Tony Blair's key environmental advisers, he is also a patron
of the trust.
Andrew Ferguson, the OPT's researcher, recently published a study showing that,
based on 2001 figures, the UK population would reach 63.5m in 2020 and 71.6m in
Last year the National Statistics Office predicted the population would peak at
about 64m in 2040 and then start falling. However, it has emerged that the
figures underestimated net immigration – the difference in total between the
people who leave and those who arrive in Britain.
Insiders say the new figures put Britain's annual growth rate as high as 0.4% --
could have a population of 71m to 73m by 2050.
British governments have never had a population policy. They have simply reacted
to growth by providing more homes, roads, schools and other facilities.
There are now growing signs of ministerial concern. Defra, Margaret Beckett's
environment department, will shortly announce a series of “horizon scanning”
studies on Britain's
A spokesman said: “We are setting up a unit and commissioning studies to decide
if we need a population policy.”
Defra's plans were welcomed by Sir Crispin Tickell, Britain's former ambassador
to the United Nations, who chairs the government panel on sustainable
development and will chair the OPT meeting.
He said: “Population increase is one of the biggest global problems of our time.
and Europe we are already seeing the impact in terms of increased pressure from
immigration and the growing number of environmental refugees.”
Tickell and others believe developed countries such as Britain will make it
increasingly tough for immigrants but this may not be enough; economic
incentives for smaller families may also be necessary.
John Guillebaud, emeritus professor of family planning and reproductive health
at University College London, said it was a mistake to think Britain's
population was stable.
“Native birth rates have fallen but immigration and the fact we are all living
longer means that numbers will keep going up,” he said.
Although Attenborough supports the OPT's general aims, he believes solving
Britain's problems is trivial compared with reversing the global population
Between now and 2050 the world's population will rise from 6 billion to about
9.5 billion. This is the concern addressed by Attenborough.
In his recent series, The Life of Mammals, he said: “Instead of controlling the
environment for the benefit of the population, maybe we should control the
population to ensure the survival of our environment.”
Courtesy of Times Newspapers Ltd. (London)
Jonathan Leake is the Environment Editor
See at < http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,176-764936,00.html >.