Empty Planet and the Shock of Global Population Decline

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* Book: Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline. By Darrell Brickerand John Ibbetson. Crown, 2019

Review

Hazel Henderson:

While the authors of Empty Planet’s see a population bust, the United Nations (UN) sees population growth and diminishing land, water, and food supplies in “Climate Change and Land”. These two contrasting forecasts of humanity’s future are worth our attention. Which future do you foresee?

The just-published “Empty Planet”: The Shock of Global Population Decline“, Crown, 2019, I predict will be a best-seller. The Canadian authors, Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs global opinion research firm and John Ibbetson, author and writer at large for Canada’s Globe and Mail are first-rate paradigm-shifters, using deep research, statistics and scientific survey methods to challenge conventional population forecasting.

Bricker and Ibbetson’s research is persuasive, expanded my mind and helped change some of my assumptions while confirming others, concerning how to view and respond to global forecasts on socioeconomic trends and the ecosystem challenges of climate change.

The authors focus on the United Nations (UN) statistics and forecasts by their UN Population Division (UNPD) that expect (in various low to high scenarios) that our current 7.6 billion-member human family to reach highs between 10 -11 billion members by the end of this century. The authors question these forecasts, as based on unrealistic assumptions of past fertility rates, as well as extrapolating from past conditions that have now changed.


Whether the human population stabilizes by 2100 at around today’s 7.6 billion ( as the authors and some other researchers expect) or tops out at the UNPD’s highest scenario of 11.2 billion people, is an urgent policy issue worldwide. This issue relates to ecological resource limits and whether the global temperature can be kept below 1.5 degrees to 2 degrees Celsius --- beyond which the Earth will become less habitable to many species, including humans and our children.

Meanwhile, the UN’s other agencies, most of whose research we find excellent and follow closely (including UNDP, UNCTAD, UNITAR, UNICEF, UNOPS, ILO, UNESCO). We also follow the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015, as well as crucial research by the courageous scientific teams from all UN member countries who contribute their expertise to the UN’s IPCC, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change. IPCC’s October 2018 report shocked the world by finding that humanity has about 10-12 years to turn policies around -- mostly by phasing out fossil fuels and shifting to renewable energy and resources and re-designing our industrial processes in many feasible, often profitable ways.

This report energized millions in peaceful demonstrations, even with schoolchildren, around the world. It also horrified conventional asset managers who claimed they could not re-code their models and algos fast enough and shift their portfolios to renewables, so as to avoid a financial disaster of “ stranded fossil assets “in countless 401Ks and fossilized sectors." (via email, August 2019)

More information

  • Ethical markets TV: "We cover all these issues in our Green Transition Scoreboard reports annually since 2009 and will soon release these as a textbook: “Mapping the Global Green Transition: 2009-2020”, to help enrich business school curricula."