Patrick Schwerdtfeger is a motivational speaker who can speak about population growth and it’s impact on both the economy and the environment at your next business event. Contact us to check availability. The full transcript of the above video is included below.
Full Video Transcript:
Hi and welcome to another edition of Strategic Business Insights. Today we’re going to talk about population growth. And look, population growth is bad for the planet, but it’s great for the economy. And that’s really the distinction I want to talk about. I did a video recently about immigration and how immigration in the United States is good because it’s adding to our economy. And the haters came out in force. I got more crazy comments. It was astonishing the kinds of comments I got.
So let me debrief that first. Number one, our population in the United States is growing. So between 2010 and 2050, the population between those two time periods is going to grow by something like 26%. The world population is going to grow by 34% during that time. We’re 26, so it’s lower than the world growth overall, but our population is growing. Why is it growing? Two reasons.
First, it’s growing because the birth rate in the United States is higher than it is in, say, Europe or Japan. The European population between 2010 and 2050 is stagnant. It’s not growing at all, or like by 1% or something. And the Japanese economy—listen to this—the Japanese population is shrinking by 17% between 2010 and 2050. That’s very bad news for the Japanese economy over that period of time. Believe it or not, even the Chinese population is going to drop by 5% between those two periods. Now, it’s interesting because right now the Chinese population is still growing, but it’s going to peak out around 2018-2020, and then it’s going to start to go down. Why? Because of their one-child policy.
But the deal is that people buy food, energy, shelter, clothing, entertainment. People buy products and services. That is the economy. In the United States consumer spending is 71% of GDP. So if the population grows, GDP is going to grow because all those people, all those increased numbers of people, are going to be buying food and water and energy and shelter and clothing and entertainment.
Now, some of the comments, or a couple of different comments, one was to say, look, there are countries in Africa for example, their population’s going to triple – that does not mean that their economy is going to triple. So there are two factors here. The number of people in the economy, so if the number of people grows, then the amount of money that they spend is going to grow as well. But how much they are going to spend depends on the standard of living. So the standard of living is either staying stagnant or it’s going lower, in other words people are getting poorer on average, or it’s getting higher.
Like for example, the Chinese economy right now is growing. There are more and more people, at least until 2018-2020. Their population is growing and the standard of living is growing at the same time, so the consumer spending in China is exploding. It’s going up very, very quickly. Meanwhile, in Europe, the population is stagnant. The standard of living is actually dropping a little bit, and so the European economy is really struggling, and we see that. By the way, the standard of living in the United States is dropping a little bit too. The household income on average is dropping slightly in the United States. It’s not a big drop but it is dropping. So you always have to look at these two factors.
So in Africa, for example, if the population triples, is the standard of living going to stay the same? Well, it depends on the infrastructure, spending, and the business foundation of the economy. All those factors will determine whether or not the economic development can keep up with the population growth, and in all likelihood it’s not going to be able to, like in Nigeria and Kenya and some of these countries where the population is just exploding. The standard of living is going down, so people are getting poorer. So even though the population is expanding, the standard of living is contracting. The two offset each other. Do you see what I mean? So you always have to look at those two factors.
Now, getting back to the actual reason for the video, is saying population growth is bad for the planet. I mean, what we’re doing to the planet, it’s astonishing – the population growth over the past 50 years has been unbelievable and right now we’re just budding up against the 7-billion-people mark, and if you get up to 2050 they’re expecting 9-1/2 billion. And it really depends – a lot of different experts have different estimates based on a whole variety of factors. It’s interesting because birth rates drop as education rises, and the Internet is an astonishing educational tool. So Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, even South America, these were all essentially developing regions of the world, and now the Internet is getting into these places and the educational level is rising, so no one really knows how quickly the birth rate is going to drop. The birth rate is expected to drop pretty much across the board because education levels are rising, but how fast that’s going to happen is really difficult to predict that sort of thing.
But the World Bank, which is the numbers that I’m looking at—World Bank’s a pretty reputable organization—they think that by 2050 we’re going to be at 9-1/2 billion people, and we are destroying… I mean, the damage to the planet is, I know we’ve heard about this for years, but if you actually look at the data and the science, it is getting very, very critical very, very quickly. Like for example, the topsoil— topsoil is what we grow crops on in areas that are agriculturally developed—the amount of topsoil is shrinking, shrinking, shrinking because we’re aggressively growing plants and harvesting agriculture on these areas. So we’re taking nutrients out of the ground, and so the topsoil is actually going down. In some places we have almost no topsoil left, so it’s very, very dangerous. And even the use of some of these fertilizers that we’re using is very, very hard on the topsoil. So there’s a finite point of how long that topsoil is going to last. When it gets down to zero, the crop yield is going to change dramatically.
Secondly, our use of fossil fuels like oil and natural gas is spewing an enormous amount of carbon into the air. And again, we’ve heard about this for decades, but guys, the numbers are just mounting and mounting and mounting and we are getting to a critical place. Global warming, of course, is happening, and of course there are some climate deniers that say that we don’t have anything to do with it. Whether we do or not the temperature is going up and that is statistically accurate, and of the last 10 years, nine of them have been the top record highs that we’ve ever had in recorded time.
So it’s very significant what’s happening and the Arctic ice cap is melting, and of course once that melts—right now it’s white because it’s ice. And so white reflects the light, and so the sunlight comes down and it gets reflected off the ice and goes back up into space. But as soon as that ice melts, now you have dark blue, and so the sun rays hit that and it gets absorbed very quickly. It doesn’t get reflected. And so all of a sudden there’s an acceleration of global warming. So right now it’s happening like this, but if that ice caps goes away it’s going to start to go even higher because the earth is going to absorb more of those sun rays.
And global warming, if it raises the sea levels, which it already has and will continue to do so, like 90% of the world’s population lives on coastal regions. All those areas are going to be affected and we’re going to see—like think about super-storm Sandy that hit New Jersey last year. Super-storm Sandy – the storm surge was like…I don’t even know what it was. I think it was like 12 feet or something. I don’t remember, but it happened at the same time as high tide, so the net effect was like 20 feet or something like that of surge, so the water just rises up and it caused an enormous amount of damage. Well, as global warming gains speed, those extreme storms are going to happen more often, and so you have these enormous-damage-potential storms. Katrina was another one, and there are storms around the world which were the largest storms ever recorded and they’re causing enormous amounts of damage. That’s going to be a huge draw on the economy, on government resources, and even the population.
And the last thing is that the carbon in the air eventually goes down and it comes back down into the oceans and it’s acidifying the oceans. The oceans are getting more acidic, and it’s happening. It’s measurable. This stuff has all already begun, and it has begun like two decades ago or probably five decades ago, but it’s starting to gain speed. And as those oceans become more acidic, there are all kinds of implications for the sea life and for the food chain. A lot of things get affected. So the population growth is bad for this planet.
Now, you can’t underestimate human ingenuity. Humans are astonishingly…I mean, the innovation that’s come out of necessity in the human race is astonishing, and who knows what human beings are going to develop to try and conquer these challenges as they emerge and as they gain speed. Just as one example, in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, Qatar—or “Ka-ter” as they say—Iran, all those countries over there, it’s desert, it’s hot, and their rivers are not…they don’t have a lot of fresh water. And so they’re developing the desalination plants, in other words taking seawater and taking all of the minerals and salts out of it so that it’s good for drinking water.
It takes an enormous amount of energy to do that, but two things are happening. Number one, the amount of energy that’s required is going down because the technology is evolving, and number two, things like solar panels are getting cheaper and cheaper. The price of solar panels is going down much faster than people anticipated. So it’s becoming way more economical to use solar power. Well, it turns out that if they project those two trends, in other words the cost of desalination is coming down and the amount of energy potential of solar panels is going up, there’s a point where they cross. There’s a point where they cross like that, and at that point you could have a desalination plant which is run by solar panels in a neutral way; in other words, the cost of what you get is more than offset that the energy takes care of it. So it’s sustainable. Do you understand? It’s sustainable.
So that is just one example of how—if we figure out a way to do that, now all of a sudden we have access to virtually unlimited water through these desalination plants. So there are solutions potentially coming. The real question is, will they be too late? If you have 9-1/2 billion, 10 billion, 11 billion people on this planet, it may just be too late.
And there are some people who say in history we’ve had five major periods of extinction on this planet—it’s going back millions of years—and there’s a lot of people who argue that we’re already in the sixth mass extinction phase. It may already be too late. With the population growth and the resource depletion on this planet – we don’t know. I don’t know. I’m not a scientist. But it may already be too late, and it’s something we all need to be more aware of and more educated about. And I hope that this video has provided maybe a tiny bit of insight into those topics.
Thanks for watching. I appreciate it. My name is Patrick, reminding you to think bigger about your business, think bigger about your life.
Patrick Schwerdtfeger is a keynote speaker who has spoken at business conferences in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.