Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Back in 1994 the UN had a major conference about the issue of global population, in Cairo. Unfortunately there was no international agreement reached about the need for countries to stabilise their populations, and we have seen since then global population, which for most of human history was less than one billion, increasing by a billion every 13 or so years. We are now at 7 billion and tracking for 9 or even 10 billion by mid-century.

Ironically one of the countries which has suffered most from the failure of the Cairo Conference was Egypt itself. In 1948 Egypt’s population was less than 20 million. It added a further 20 million by 1975, and another 20 million by 1994, the time of the Conference, and another 20 million to reach 80 million by 2011. The UN says that continuing high fertility rates would see Egypt reach 100 million by 2025 and 140 million by 2050.

In fact Egypt’s birth rate for the last three years exceeds the UN’s “high” projections. The number of births in the 1990s was 1.6 million on average. This increased to around 1.8 million births in the first decade of this century. There were 2.4 million births in 2011 and 2.6 million in 2012, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics. Back in 1950 Egypt had the same number of births as Italy. By 1977 it had the same number as Italy and France combined. By 2000 it matched the combined total of Italy, France and Spain, and by 2012 the combined total of Italy, France, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The consequences of this rapid population growth are plain for all to see – violent, debilitating conflict over access to scarce resources. The world’s leaders need to tell Egypt’s leaders that they need to stop focussing on today’s battles for just long enough to draw attention to the underlying problem, and the need to reduce their birth rate to more traditional levels. If they do not, it is entirely predictable that there will be more conflict and misery in future, not less. It is entirely predictable that many people will seek to escape the conflict and misery, ending up in boats headed for islands in the Mediterranean and other destinations. It is also predictable that religious leaders will urge the world to be compassionate and welcoming – religious leaders from the same religious organisations that worked hard at the Cairo Conference in 1994 to scuttle and undermine attempts to stop rapid population growth.


  1. Kelvin I am afraid that I am of the view that over population in countries like Egypt will become such a threat to global political and social stability that western countries will be forced to seriously consider measures along the lines of some sort of genetically engineered biological vector that either permanently or temporarily reduces fertility in either males of females.

    I believe Paul Ehrlich had a similar idea with the addition of fertility control chemicals added to water supplies.

    A self replicating and self spreading biological vector would be more cost effective if it could be developed.

    I was watching World War Z today and it reminded me of the situation that Australia faces with an 'ocean' of potential illegal immigrants spilling over the edges of our borders every time the Greens get a say in immigration policy.

  2. Clearly, the Egyptian crisis is a Malthusian crisis. However, as the international community clearly can not let it go to completion (whether for humanitarian reasons or for geopolitical reasons) Well Egypt will remain a burden to her for many decades. There are currently no feasible solution in this democratic country will remain more or less under the thumb of an authoritarian "ad infinitum" regime. The analysis of this extreme situation could be thinking against by the leaders of some African countries are moving in the same direction (Nigeria, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Malawi, to name only the most vulnerable). But again, I'm pretty pessimistic.

    1. I agree, Remi. But the Malthusian element is only a part of it. For an excellent account of Egypt in its relations with its neighbours, with Israel and the West, and with the problem of water futures, see Al Jezeera's excellent 3-part feature The Struggle Over the Nile. It is available on You Tube. Why do we struggle to get to grips with the question of population? Those NGOs who make a stab at it, link it with the position of women. I do fear the Xenophobic reactions the question engenders in some. No-one seems to suggest that we in Australia should have fewer babies!

  3. All the more scary when one considers that virtually all of these people live within a few kms of the Nile, the rest of the country being scorching desert. A recipe for tension leading to conflict. Paul Erlich once said, "Whatever your cause, it's a lost cause without population control." You seem to be the only politician with the insight to see this, or maybe the only one who can speak out against this mindless growth tajectory we're on. You'd think the Greens would speak out on this but they're too politically correct and/or too thick - they do not seem to have made the connection between population growth and environmental destruction.

  4. Dear Kelvin,
    In his last book, "Billions & Billions", Carl Sagan discusses the "Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders" conference which was held in Moscow in January 1990. Sagan reported:

    I remember the Grand Mufti of Syria stressing, to the surprise and delight of many, the importance in Islam of "birth control for the global welfare, without exploiting it at the expense of one nationality over another."

    How hollow those words ring now in war-torn Syria.

    But oh how true is the underlying insecurity implicit within the Mufti's words... That is the age-old game of using excessive reproduction as a tool to achieve religious power! (Or political power. Or military power.)

    We MUST recognize the war that these people are waging. We must fight them on the beaches. We must fight them at every border! We must never give in!

  5. Another well thought out reprise from Kelvin. However it is unlikely that Kelvin's reasoned commentary will make it to the front page of any of the leading newspaper's, despite the fact that what is going on in Egypt is a text book example of unsustainable population growth. The one common element driving the escalating issues for Egypt is unsustainable population growth. It is the one constant driver whose trend line is pretty much parallel to the levels of growing unrest, social discord and strife. As an example of the dangers of unsustainable population growth it is a pretty substancial warning bell. Yet are our politicians, social leaders (do we have any?) and media commentators flagging this clear danger to a major regional nation state? Of course not but in that is a sobering realisation of the contridictions inherent in human nature.

    Take the recent tsunamia disasters. International and national response was swift and decisive because of the apalling loss of life and destruction of homes, infrastructure and so on. So why is the reaction to a sudden and catastrophic regional disaster like a tsunamia swift and sustained and yet the even larger and more profound danger of unsustainable population growth, which if carried towards its "tipping point" could wreck the fabric of an entire nation and cause untold misery without end for hundreds of millions of people? The answer is perception and baggage.

    Perception because a tsunamia is sudden massive and catastrophic where as unsustainable population growth is cumulative over time and its destructive impact, while profound and more widespread is also cumulative over time. Humans are geared towards reacting to sudden emergencies but are quite vulnerable to say the cumulative build up of carbon dioxide which goes on unnoticed, until it is to late. The baggage part is all of the religeous beliefs, economic profit and poltical idiocy that has built its power and wealth base on an ever growing population numbers. Ironically far from saving souls such religious dogma condemns many to a purgetory of poverty, disadvantage and loss, with the environment that sustains all life on the planet being destroyed along the way.

    There is a very good dicussion on how humanity is often overwhelmed not by sudden and dramatic events but by events that are caused by cumulative but massive change, until a "tipping point" is reached and then dramatic and severe change occurs. The url is

  6. Was watching WWZ (World War Zombie) the other day.

    While watching the zombies pour over the wall protecting Jerusalem I couldn't help but be reminded of the growing crisis that Australia faces with rapidly expanding ranks of 'would be' illegal immigrants waiting to start pouring over our maritime borders as soon as those imbecile Greens are given the chance to throw out the welcome mat.

  7. I can see that muslim dominated developing countries that have gone over the population brink, as has Syria, will become perpetual 'meat grinders' that will chew up a great many muslims over many decades.

    It is only a matter of time before Egypt follows Syria, along with many other muslim countries in the region.

    It is a pity for muslims and non-muslims alike that population control will be allowed, by the global community of nations, to come to this sort of thing.

    Enforced fertility control along the lines of China's one child policy seems preferable in comparison.

  8. Given that newspapers etc won't publish Kelvin's comments or press releases, perhaps we need to consider paying to put up bill boards in key locations.

    "Zero Net Population Growth Now" would be a good one.

  9. Have you guys noticed how two faced the bleeding heart lobby, lead by Sarah Hanson-Young and Bill Shorten etc, has been of late.

    In one breath they sing the praises of Navy personnel and how Scott Morrison is puting them in mortal danger with his push back the boats approach.

    But in the very next breath they are leveling accusations at Navy personnel of abandoning asylum seekers at sea and physically assaulting them etc.