Peak Oil is You

Donate Bitcoins ;-) or Paypal :-)

Page added on February 7, 2017

Bookmark and Share

The world needs fewer people, but our economy needs more


What would happen to B.C.’s real estate industry … if the world’s population and consequent in-migration to B.C. miraculously, or tragically, dropped?

When I first learned that West Vancouver’s population was declining, amid what I thought was the inexorable arrival of 35,000 new people in the Lower Mainland each year, I enjoyed a little inside cheer: West Van has arrived at where the world must go: an end to population growth. (This is not just West Van, by the way: Port Moody, Penticton, Terrace and other B.C. municipalities also shrank between 2015 and 2016.)

I’ve been reading Alan Weisman’s book Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? a chilling look at how the world is coping – or not –with the unavoidable biological fact (the non-alternative kind) that every species that outgrows its resource base always suffers a population crash, sometimes one that is fatal to the entire species. The Earth supports seven-billion-plus humans today, and we’re headed for 11 billion to 15 billion before today’s slowdown in birth rates makes an impact. But we’re already overshooting the Earth’s capacity to support us. If we all enjoyed North Shore standards of living and wanted to sustain Earth’s resources at a renewable level, biologists estimate that the world population would have to be about 1.5 billion.

David Suzuki reminds us that in 1992, a majority of then-living Nobel Prize winners and more than 1,700 leading scientists worldwide signed a document called World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, warning us that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”

Among the changes needed: “We must stabilize population [through] improved social and economic conditions, and the adoption of effective, voluntary family planning.”

The burning need to slow down world population growth fits perfectly with the desire of West Vancouver residents – and possibly the majority in the Lower Mainland – to pull up the drawbridge and say, “Enough already: I’m on board, shove off.” If people stopped crowding in here, we wouldn’t have all that damn traffic congestion; there’d be no need to build new dams and wider highways, no need to pave our farmland for new megamalls. We could preserve the character of every neighbourhood just as it is. Cranes, be gone! Stability at last! No need to spend more on transit! Taxes could freeze!

And it could be that the much-touted need for 400,000 immigrants to fill jobs and look after old people will soon be unnecessary as automation and robotic job displacement steal those jobs forever.

If only it were that simple. One acquaintance who resents the onslaught of population growth and the pressure for change in his single-family neighbourhood (think of RS-1 zoning as socialism for the rich) thinks the solution is simple: just stop building new homes. People will stop coming here because there won’t be anywhere for them to live.

“Density doesn’t have to be our destiny,” he says from his safe perch in a paid-off Shaughnessy home that goes up in value several thousand dollars a day. Not for him the worry that while we wait for that mythical drawbridge, people will keep coming here anyway and desperately bid up the prices of existing housing until we’ve levelled the playground exclusively for global plutocrats. Luckily his visits to the Vancouver Club keep him away from the Downtown Eastside, ground zero for people who have found their way here, can’t afford any housing even at today’s rates and are killing themselves on the streets in record numbers.

And what would happen to B.C.’s real estate industry – far and away the biggest economic engine in the province – if the world’s population and consequent in-migration to B.C. miraculously,  or tragically, dropped? Our economy still depends almost entirely on a growing population consuming growing amounts of natural resources, eco-footprints be damned.

No worry. West Van has an answer for that. Keep building bigger houses but don’t put any people in them. Simple.

Peter Ladner ( is a co-founder of Business in Vancouver. He is a former Vancouver city councillor and former fellow at the SFU Centre for Dialogue. He is the author of The Urban Food Revolution.

26 Comments on "The world needs fewer people, but our economy needs more"

  1. Midnight Oil on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 2:25 pm 

    Catch 22…grow or collapse…maybe we can weed out those unproductive dead weight…Death panels here we come…
    Coming soon to a hospital near you

  2. Sissyfuss on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 2:32 pm 

    Not sure what his point is, if any. We need to keep economic growth going by growing the population through any means necessary. Well yeah, isn’t that what we’ve been doing for the last 200,000 years? We’ve got it down to a science so everybody relax, it just keeps getting better. Doesn’t it?

  3. Midnight Oil on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 2:42 pm 

    Getting better? Sure it is…at least that’s what I’m told.

  4. forbin on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 2:46 pm 

    “The world needs fewer people, but our economy needs more”

    but who is the economy ? or who’s economy ?

    the black death reduced the population ……

    Hilton has argued that those English peasants who survived found their situation to be much improved. For English peasants the 15th century was a golden age of prosperity and new opportunities. Land was plentiful, wages high, and serfdom had all but disappeared.

    who needs more people ? – not me a mere wage serf

    the 0.1% then

    anyways even if we’re not killed of by climate or other disasters then

    humans need not apply


    PS: yah I know but in the unicorn chance we get there we are still not needed…………….

  5. penury on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 3:58 pm 

    The assertion that we need “more people” is based upon outdated and specious reasoning, The statement that AI will be taking most jobs and relieve the need for humans appears to be happening starting in the low paid occupations. Things are about to get interesting. (in the Chinese way)

  6. Davy on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 4:15 pm 

    Widespread AI and mass robot applications are fantasy. This is not becuase it can’t be done but the usual we can’t afford it. Once the attitudes of people to working changes due to crisis people will once again be affordable. There will not be a trend to automization becuase people cost too much. This may happen at the same time AI and robots become too expensive to apply in a capital starved world. We are not there yet but it is clearly a trend. Stagflation and demand destruction and a crumbling global economy are a reality.

  7. Cloggie on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 4:31 pm 

    Come on Davy, most major factories around the world are meanwhile like this:

  8. Davy on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 4:38 pm 

    Many major factories around the world will find it hard to keep the doors open in the not too distant future. There is far too much excess capacity for discretionary consumer goods. A poorer world will find it extremely hard to keep just in time networks solvent. We are not there yet of course but there are signs we are heading there. So Clog, who is on the come?

  9. Davy on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 5:53 pm 

    Interesting take by Nassim Taleb on where the world is moving:

    “There’s A Global Riot Against Psuedo-Experts” Nassim Taleb Exclaims “This Is Not About Fascism”

    “Where do you see the world moving now? Further right, or will it revert to the centre?.
    I don’t think it will go left or right, and I don’t know about the short term. But I think in the long term, the world can only survive if it lives like nature does. Many smaller units of governance, and a collection of super islands with some separation, quick decision-making, and visible implementation. Lots of Switzerlands, that’s what we need. What we need is not leaders, we don’t need them. We just need someone at the top who doesn’t mess the system up.”

  10. makati1 on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 7:18 pm 

    Even Henry Ford 100+ years ago knew he had to pay his workers enough so that they could afford to buy his product. Robotic factories are just hastening the end of greed capitalism and the global economy. Bring it on!

  11. Cloggie on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 7:24 pm 

    Robotic factories will bring social income closer.

  12. Apneaman on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 7:25 pm 

    He refers to David Suzuki. Many think Suzuki is just some popular Canadian environmentalist and he is, but by training he is a geneticist. Suzuki is in his 80’s and he still has hope for the humans (5 kids and grand kids can do that). It’s funny because he perfectly describes the humans as a cancer, but does not use the word. Another example of how the humans live in denial.

    In this short clip Suzuki tells it like it is, but won’t take the final leap. You would think if anybody knew we are trapped by our biologly and cannot stop reward seeking it would be a geneticist.

    David Suzuki speaks about exponential growth

  13. Alice Friedemann on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 8:10 pm 

    Without growth, how will we keep the Ponzi schemes of pensions, SSN, Medicare, the credit/debt system going? Slavery?

  14. Rob on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 8:15 pm 

    We need strapping young oiled up stud hunks to care for the elderly and do all the work.

  15. paulo1 on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 9:11 pm 

    Stupid article. West Van pop declining because it is unaffordable for families. They are all moving to places like Surrey, which is marginally better.

  16. antaris on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 10:19 pm 

    The parents are still there, it is the kids that move away because it’s time to move out and completely unaffordable to rent there.

  17. antaris on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 10:25 pm 

    Alice in Canada we keep the Ponzi scheme going by importing Chinese for their money and Indians to drive trucks and do farm work. To make things look more rounded the Imigration department brings in Degree people from all over, whom once here can’t get a job in their field because business does not recognize the degree.

  18. Anonymous on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 3:39 am 

    Yes, BC announced a 15% tax on turd-world immigrants in order to cool the overheated housing market and the rampant speculation etc etc. Even released a bunch of TV ads bragging about the tax would put, ‘BC residents first’.

    So far so good…….

    Then, after waiting a short while after the 15% tax was announced, the neo-lib regime then announced there were going to be exceptions and deductions for foreigners that purchased places to live, while here to ‘work’. Which Im willing to bet, will soon include just about…all of them.


    Gov’t in action.

    Christy clark, for those that dont know, is a rather stupid, and fairly corrupt woman premiere, sort of like Canada’s answer to Shillary Clinton. Except she dresses slightly better. Like Shillary, she certainly wasn’t given the job due to competence, or charisma or anything like that. But rather, her general cluelessness and willingness to do w/e shes told makes her ideal for the job. Just like a certain Killary Clinton, butt-hurt former candidate for neo-liberal-in-chief of dat amerikan empire.

    Canadas current, open-door neoliberal immigration policies, add the ~ of a Toronto to the population every 10 years or so. That’s lots of consumers, amoung the worst per-capita polluters on the planet, even edging out amerikans and Australians in a lot of categories to help keep demand, if not healthy, at least from stagnating too badly.

    As an added bonus, most of the ‘profits’ from all those new consumers will flow south, to the amerikan empire, along with a lot of our resources. (Which they also own-thanks NAFTA!).

  19. Davy on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 4:34 am 

    I guess this is what you think is profit flowing south because of NAFTA right boy brilliance? I think what is happening is the Canadians are plenty happy with a good deal. No wonder you guys were all mum when Trump decided to single out Mexico for a trade spat. The reality of that Mexican situation is that significant profits return to the US. Canada is another story. The Canadian story is more balanced. The problem is jobs with Mexico not profits rolling back.
    “The U.S. goods trade deficit with Canada was $15 billion in 2015.”

  20. Davy on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 4:36 am 

    We are going to see contradictions and unintended consequences with nationalism and trade battles. There are some changes around the edges of the current global trading arrangements but not much without destructive consequences. Significant disruptions to the current arrangement will mean less for all yet, some more than others. China will be the biggest loser because it is already full of excess capacity from 20 years of malinvestment in heavy industry. The disruption to the entire global trading system is the greatest with a Sino American trade war. I think Trump would have been better to focus more on China than Mexico. Mexico should be where US shifts lower cost manufacturing sourcing that will result from a China trade war. Profits are easier to recover from Mexico than China.

    I imagine this Mexican deal will turn to a simmer. Trump’s tough talk is softening up Mexico for a deal. People will figure Trump out soon enough. He is bluster than compromise. He is a typical business ego and will behave accordingly. He is predictively unpredictable. This US Mexican deal may turn into a multifaceted deal on trade and immigration. We will see increased border security with a very small amount of the irrational wall built. Nonetheless immigration will be reduced. On the manufacturing side I am not sure much can be done with Mexico besides shrinking the higher paying job migrations south. These higher paying jobs are minimal anyway. The big battle ahead is China. Mexico is a big poker game of which immigration is the key issue not trade. Canada is a non-issue. Of all trading arrangements in the world Canada is the smoothest and the least likely to be disturbed. The reality of the situation is Canada is just a pseudo American State.

  21. Davy on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 5:32 am 

    Dee-man-d-des-truc-tion ?
    “Goldman Stunned By Collapse In Gasoline Demand: “This Would Require A US Recession”

    “While energy traders remain focused on weekly changes in crude supply and demand, manifesting in shifts in inventory of which today’s API data, which showed the second biggest inventory build in history, was a breathtaking example of how OPEC’s “production cut” is clearly not working, a much more troubling datapoint was revealed by the Energy Information Administration last week when it reported implied gasoline demand.”

    “So yes, both gasoline stocks and supply remains at extremely high levels, but what set off alarm bells is not supply, but demand: the EIA last week reported that the 4-week average of gasoline supplied – or implied gasoline demand – in the United States was 8.2 million barrels per day, the lowest since February 2012. And, as Reuters adds, U.S. refiners are now facing the prospects of weakening gasoline demand for the first time in five years. Unlike excess supply, which may have numerous factors, when it comes to a plunge in end product demand the implication can be only one: the US consumer is very ill, especially when considering that gasoline use has grown every year since 2012, despite fears that demand has topped out amid the growth of fuel efficient cars, urbanization and a graying population.”

  22. JuanP on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 6:32 am 

    Our lower fertility is a consequence of our wealth and technology. Fertility has stopped decreasing in many places and is already increasing again in others. People who expect fertility to remain low in the future will be sorely disappointed. As we lose the benefits of modern contraception and family planning fertility will go higher again. People are not going to stop fucking. You could get sterilized like I did and fuck all you want for the rest of your life without any worries, but 99% of people refuse to do it. We are worse than cockroaches or locusts!

  23. DerHundistlos on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 4:49 pm 

    Davy, you are already rationalizing and anticipating Trump’s broken campaign promises as a negotiating tactic to convince yourself that you were right in supporting this uncouth slob. Instead you should be disappointed and disgusted that Trump has blown a historical opportunity to rise above two party politics.Trump has fallen in line as a predictable tea bagger wing nut- meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Trump swindled and bamboozled many voters, which explains his historically low level of support and unprecedented opposition.

  24. Davy on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 5:32 pm 

    You got me wrong der hund. Trump is doing the natures work now. He is going to tear down the horrible results of years of delusional politics. You don’t realize it becuase you are blinded by alligences and your narrow agendas. He will tear the country apart. Both the right and the left need to be rebalanced.

    Trump is the destroyer. Poor guy, he doesn’t realize this but his huge destructive ego is going to ruin things. That is just what needs to happen. A house that is built on unreality must fall and fall hard. We then can have a chance to rebuild. You and your libertard left are insane. I once had some hope for you. The right has always been gone and no hope there. Fasten your seatbelt world you asses are going to puker soon.

  25. DerHundistlos on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 3:31 am 

    First, thanks, Davy, for your polite reply to my message, “YOU and your libertard….”.

    You are as well blinded by allegiances. Your allegiance is to the Trump/Republican agenda or am I missing something? To suggest otherwise, you are deluding yourself.

  26. Davy on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 7:01 am 

    No, Der Hund, I beg to differ from you status quo delusions. I am not a typical Trump supporter. I live with these people. They are blind supporters following a failed politics of a failed American dream. I am about nature and human spirituality. Trump is diametric to that. He is complete ego and all about the game. He is gaming the system and winning but these type people are never satisfied and he will leave the casino with no chips.

    The only reason I like Trump is he is achieving destructive change which is a must in a world that is at limits of growth in a brittle position of being on the threshold of destructive change and with that threshold being forced. This is much like the building of tectonic forces and it will end badly. Your groups that are like Kunstler called a “victimization soup” who use hate and violence to fight hate and violence. They are no better than Trump deplorables. In fact I would say yours are worse because yours are the brightest of society’s minds. If our smartest people are really among the most deluded then we have a problem Houston.

    My support for Trump is not for him or his policies but only his destructive tendencies. I want to see this Ponzi stopped before it progresses too far. This house of cards needs to be dropped a few levels before the whole construction is on the table. You are deluding yourself to think you have answers to our existential catch 22. Catch 22’s have no answers only more problems. You are deluding yourself to think your means justify the ends. You are deluding yourself if you can ignore getting your libitard asses kicked. You guys lost and there is nothing worse than a sore losers.

    Our brightest minds are among your groups and we need those minds to see the folly of our modern humanistic pursuits of failure. It is these pursuits that are killing us and you are defending them. Science is telling us this. Our social studies are telling us this. The reason why we can’t see this is it requires us to embrace no and less. These are two words that do not work with progress and optimism. They are incongruous in practice. I suggest you libertards organize a retreat and study your failures in humility and move on as better people. Failure makes people stronger or it ends them. Don’t expect Trump to do anything humble. Trump is going to consume himself as all egos do. Don’t be a Trump.

    My way is a gamble but I am hoping paradoxically we find a better world among the ashes. We may not make it with my way but it is a plan B. We are not going to make it with the status quo you are promoting. Do you have any alternatives? NO. There was a glimmer of hope with Obama (1) and you guys failed. I voted for Obama (1). Obama became compromised immediately by the current new world order. This compromise is one of increasing global wealth transfer and ecosystem destruction. This is doomed direction. At least my “Trump bomb” has a chance by destroying what is wrong. I have no illusion good things will be destroyed because that is war. I am in effect calling in airstrikes on my position because we are overrun and no poisoners will be taken by the radicals (status quo). I will take my chances on the bombs. I am taking my chance on destructive change over your destructive progress in a liberal toxic soup. Most cannot understand this because it is a position that embraces the paradigm of decline. You must disassociate yourself from growth based capitalism and liberal democracy to understand this. These are now going into the circular file of history.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *