Think-tank urges Government population inquiry – OPT news release

January 16, 2009 • News

The Optimum Population Trust is one of the population organizations of which I am very proud to be a member. I serve on its Advisory Council. It is one of the most active groups in Europe. I encourage you to join, which you can do online at http://www.optimumpopulation.org/opt.join.html.
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OPTIMUM POPULATION TRUST

THINK-TANK URGES POPULATION INQUIRY BY GOVERNMENT

The Government should hold an inquiry into the number of people the UK can support who are able to enjoy a good quality of life without damaging the environment, the Optimum Population Trust says today.

In a letter to Phil Woolas, the recently appointed immigration minister, OPT says overpopulation puts Britain’s security at risk and calls for a Royal Commission to establish an environmentally sustainable level of population for the UK as part of an overall national population policy.*

Such a policy, it says, is “critical to the UK’s future, and long overdue”. The UK supplies only 30 per cent of its economic needs from within its boundaries and ranks among the world’s 20 least self-sufficient and most overpopulated countries, with an estimated 42 million “too many” people.** Surveys show that most people think Britain is overcrowded or “full up” and record numbers have been emigrating.

The UK’s population is projected by the Office for National Statistics to increase to 70 million over the next 20 years and 85 million by 2081, with immigration the main factor, responsible for at least two thirds of projected growth. In a one-page policy briefing accompanying the letter to Mr Woolas, and published alongside it today,*** OPT says immigration feeds through into rising greenhouse gas emissions; more crowding, congestion and development; and increased pressure on water and energy supplies, farmland and green space.

Based on forecast population growth and household formation rates, at least 10 million more flats and houses will be needed for new immigrants and their descendants, roughly three times the number of dwellings in London. A policy of “zero net” migration to the UK, matching incoming to outgoing numbers, could cut the UK’s forecast population in 2081 by up to 28 million (33 per cent) – from 85 to 57 million. This is the equivalent in population to nearly four cities the size of London or the combined populations of Holland and Belgium.

“Such major variations in outcome, with all the environmental and human impacts involved, explain why OPT believes a national population policy is critical to the UK’s future, and long overdue,” the briefing adds.

OPT wrote to congratulate Mr Woolas following statements he made that appeared to endorse the concept of a population policy and to favour capping population growth before it reached 70 million. Edmund Davey, acting chair, says in the letter that Mr. Woolas has brought some fresh air into a debate “too often characterised by polarised positions, out-of-date thinking and vested interests, both economic and political.”

OPT suggests a Royal Commission on population policy, which could look at an “ideal” population figure for the UK. It lists several other possibilities, including an ecological “footprint” analysis, a Parliamentary select committee investigation and an inquiry chaired by a single expert figure, such as the Stern report on climate change. It comments: “Any of these options would be an advance on the present situation, which is effectively a policy vacuum.”

Mr. Davey said he was more optimistic now about the prospects for a “common-sense” approach to population than at any time in the recent past.

He added: “Rapid population growth, and in particular immigration on the scale we have witnessed in recent years, raises questions about environmental sustainability that the Government had barely begun to think about until recently. Yet to the ordinary individual the costs and dangers of an overpopulated Britain have long been clear.

“We’re immensely encouraged that the minister responsible for immigration has spoken out on the issue, risking the usual slurs about racism and anti-libertarianism, and we hope it signals a change of direction by the Government. We simply cannot go on sacrificing our environment for the illusory economic gains of population growth and mass immigration. It’s up to Mr. Woolas and his colleagues to make good on his words and act quickly and fairly to restrain rising numbers.”

Mr. Davey said other environmental groups had abandoned an area seen as too controversial and sensitive, leaving OPT “sadly… the only reputable NGO now campaigning on population/environment issues in the UK”. He added: “We would welcome the opportunity to contribute to policy formation in this area and believe we are in a good position to do so.”

NOTES:

*The last Royal Commission on population was in 1949. The most recent high-level inquiry into population policy in Britain was in 1973,when a panel appointed by the government two years earlier reported to Parliament that there were “no overwhelming arguments in favour of continuing population growth” and said Britain’s population could not “go on increasing indefinitely”. It called on the government to “define its attitude to questions concerning the level and rate of increase of population”.

**Calculations based on data from Living Planet Report 2008 (WWF, Global Footprint Network, Zoological Society of London, October 2008).

***Copies of the OPT letter and briefing are appended. The briefing, Population, Environment, Migration – The Key Issues, can also be viewed at http://www.optimumpopulation.org/keyissues.briefing.pdf

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:

See www.optimumpopulation.org or telephone 07976 370221

NOTES FOR EDITORS: The OPT, a think-tank and campaign group, was founded in 1991 by the late David Willey. Its main aims are to promote and co-ordinate research into criteria that will allow the sustainable or optimum population of a region to be determined. Its patrons include Sir Partha Dasgupta, Frank Ramsey professor of economics at Cambridge University; Paul Ehrlich, professor of population studies, Stanford University; Jane Goodall, founder, the Jane Goodall Institute, UN Messenger of Peace; John Guillebaud, emeritus professor of family planning and reproductive health, University College, London; Susan Hampshire, actor; Aubrey Manning, broadcaster and professor of natural history, Edinburgh University; Professor Norman Myers, visiting fellow, Green College, Oxford; Sara Parkin, founder director and trustee, Forum for the Future; Sir Jonathon Porritt, chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission; and Sir Crispin Tickell, director of the Policy Foresight Programme, James Martin Institute for Science and Civilisation, Oxford University.

Optimum Population Trust, January 2009
Tel: 07976-370221 www.optimumpopulation.org info@optimumpopulation.org
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Text of OPT letter to Phil Woolas, immigration minister, December 12 2008

Dear Mr Woolas

On behalf of the Optimum Population Trust, may I endorse your recent widely-quoted remarks about population and immigration and congratulate (and thank) you for bringing some fresh air into a debate too often characterised by polarised positions, out-of-date thinking and vested interests, both economic and political.

We particularly welcome your remarks about the need for a population policy, an idea integral to OPT’s mission since it was founded in 1991. Our belief is that such a policy must be founded on principles of sustainability i.e. the number of people a country can support whilst providing a good quality of life for its citizens and also protecting the environment, for the benefit of future (human) generations and other species. Population ought, we believe, to be a major part of the platform of environmental groups but in recent years it has become too sensitive and controversial for the environmental movement, as it has for most people involved in mainstream politics. As a result OPT, sadly, finds itself the only reputable NGO now campaigning on population/environment issues in the UK.

I have enclosed a one-page summary which I hope gives an idea both of OPT and of how we see the wider situation. Our position, fundamentally, is that the economy is a sub-set of the environment and if the environment is broken, so, ultimately, is the economy, and so is society as well. Currently the UK only supplies some 30 per cent of its overall needs as an economy from within its boundaries and ranks among the world’s 20 least self-sufficient and most overpopulated countries. This means, on a purely objective view, that at current levels of consumption and environmental impact the UK’s sustainable population is around 18 million and it is “overpopulated” by roughly 42 million.

Migration matters, in our view, because it is currently the main agent of UK population growth and therefore of growing dependency and environmental overshoot – which we believe, in an age of increasing resource nationalism and for all the brave words spoken about globalisation and supra-nationalism, imperils future national security as well as destroying the environment. We also believe that these facts have a physical and emotional reality which is well understood by the majority of citizens and which explains why polls consistently show the public thinks Britain is overcrowded or “full up” and why, for example, record numbers have been emigrating.

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss these points with you and to assist, if we can, in the provision of further evidence. In particular, and given your own highlighting of the 70 million figure, we think the time is long overdue for an examination of what a national population policy for the UK (including an optimum population figure) might look like. Such an examination could be undertaken in a number of different ways: by a specially constituted Government inquiry – models range from the Stern report on climate change to a Royal Commission; by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution; by a Parliamentary select committee; by a relevant Government agency; or by an ecological consultancy such as the Global Footprint Network. Different levels of sophistication and exhaustiveness might be involved, depending on the medium chosen, but any of these options would be an advance on the present situation, which is effectively a policy vacuum. We realise, of course, that many of these possibilities do not lie directly within your gift but your help in promoting them would be invaluable.

Once again, thank you for your bold and refreshing contributions to a highly important debate. Thank you also for starting to clarify the government’s position on population size and growth. This is a task which, we hope, you will take much further.

Yours sincerely

E Davey
Acting Chair
OPT

Population, Environment, Migration – The Key Issues. An OPT Briefing

The Optimum Population Trust (OPT) is a green think-tank and pressure group founded in 1991 to spread awareness of the links between human and environmental well-being and human population levels. It is a membership-based charity with a distinguished list of patrons and advisers. It believes sustainable populations for the world and the UK are significantly lower than present numbers, and campaigns for policies to achieve smaller populations. Because of the withdrawal of environmental and development groups from this area, it is now a lone voice in the UK on population/environment issues.

THE LAST HALF-CENTURY has supplied growing evidence of crisis in the planet’s life-support systems – climate change, loss of biodiversity and habitat, over-use and shortages of resources. Ecological footprinting studies suggest the planet crossed into environmental “overshoot”(humans consuming more resources than the Earth can renewably provide) in the late 1980s and that overshoot, currently 30 per cent, will be 100 per cent by the 2030s: humanity will thus be consuming the equivalent of two planets (Living Planet Report, WWF, 2008). OPT believes the unprecedented growth in world population over the same period – 2.5 billion in 1950, 6.8 billion today, 9.2 billion (projected) in 2050 – must be regarded as a, if not the, major cause of environmental crisis.

Many people apply the concept of sustainable population to every species but their own. OPT believes this is arrogant and anthropocentric. Advances in ecological footprinting since the 1990s make it possible to compare biological capacity, footprint (impact) and human population numbers for countries, regions and the planet as a whole. These suggest that, at current rates of consumption/impact, the world’s sustainable population in 2005 was 5 billion, against an actual population of 6.5 billion, implying “overpopulation” of 1.5 billion; the comparable figures for the UK were 18m (sustainable), 60m (actual), 42m (overpopulation). OPT calculations suggest the UK ranks among the world’s 20 least self-sufficient and most overpopulated countries. Globally, as consumption grows and more strain is placed on the biosphere, population capacity is likely to shrink further, to perhaps 2-3 billion.

A world operating at 100 per cent overshoot is on a collision course with survival. An overpopulated country such as the UK, supplying only 30 per cent of its needs from its own resources, is highly vulnerable in an era of growing food and energy shortages and rising “resource nationalism.” Overpopulation on the scale of the UK’s is damaging both for humans and their environment. OPT therefore believes economic considerations must be subordinated to environmental ones. The economic rationale for large-scale immigration to the UK has, in OPT’s view, been refuted: the environmental costs should in any case have ruled it out. Though so far largely discounted, these are substantial. The UK population, currently 61m, is projected to rise to 85m by 2081. Official estimates for the contribution of immigration to population increase have ranged from 69 to 83 per cent. As the main force driving current population growth, immigration feeds through into rising greenhouse gas emissions; more crowding, congestion, development; increased pressure on water and energy supplies, farmland and green space. A population of 85 million would require 15 million more houses – nearly five times the number in London. At least 10 million new dwellings – three Londons, in housing terms – would thus be needed for immigrants and their descendants, as well as, for example, at least six new nuclear power stations or 10,000 wind turbines.

In 2007, 69 of the 195 countries surveyed by the UN had policies to reduce population growth. Virtually all of them were less populous than the UK. A UK policy would govern factors such as taxes and benefits, education, family planning as well as demographic forces. Official projections suggest, for example, that a strategy of “zero net” migration to the UK, matching incoming to outgoing numbers, could by itself cut the UK’s forecast population in 2081 by up to 28 million (33 per cent) – from 85 to 57 million, the equivalent in population of nearly four cities the size of London. Such major variations in outcome, with all the environmental and human impacts involved, explain why OPT believes a national population policy is critical to the UK’s future, and long overdue.



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