Population, Sustainability and Fertility.

By Ghassan Karam Most Lebanese, that I know, are surprised when I tell them that Lebanon is one of the most densely populated countries of the world.

By Ghassan Karam, Special to Ya Libnan

Most Lebanese, that I know , are surprised when I tell them that Lebanon is one of the most densely populated countries of the world.Most cannot even accept it since they often associate, wrongly, such countries as China, India, Nigeria and Belgium with high density.

Officially Lebanon (404/sq. km) is the 25th most densly populated political entity in the world . But if one is to keep very special and small entities such as The Vatican, Gibraltor, Guernsey, San Marino and Nauru out of the rankings then Lebanon can easily become the 10th or the 15th most populated country in the planet. India has a population density of 358 per sq. km while China stands at 139. If the current population density of Lebanon is become the global average then the population of the world would have to rise to a mind numbing 60 billion individuals.

One does not need to be a Neo Malthusian to recognize that there comes a point when human population growth becomes highly undesirable to say the least.  If the projected 10 billion humans by 2050 are not enough then what is? Is it another doubling to 20 billion or maybe a further doubling still to 40 billion? Does Lebanon have the right to complain about the rapid rate of growth in global poulation when it is one of the biggest abuser of this metric?

Most, and possibly all, of those that have looked into this issue and investigated the potential limits seriously have concluded that we are already beyond any metric of sustainability. This only means that we have overshot the carrying capacity of the ecosystem and as a result we have to take measures that will reverse our current course. Lebanese dependence on the rest of the world for its food, energy, capital, employment opportunitiesand energy is so clearly visible to all that no one will question it. Yet we keep on growing by increasing our dependence on other ecosystems. Is that responsible behaviour?

But what is it that needs to be done if we are to reduce fertility substantially? Surely we cannot stand by as idle spectators and hope that  humans will decide to change their behaviour drastically just because that is good for the ecosystem? Had this been the case then they would have done so a long time ago. So what we are left with is the absolute certainty that human population must stop growing and preferably even start to decline. Studies have shown that if the world population is to adopt the lifestyles and diet of the West then we need six planets when we have only one. Forty Lebanons will be needed if we are to apply the same standard to the resources of Lebanon.  This clearly shows that we have exceeded our limited carrying capacity and thus the current state of affairs is not sustainable.

If it is deemed to be too risky to count on a voluntary change in behaviour then the only other alternative to reduce the rate of fertility would be a direct and sustained government policy aimed at achieving lower fertility rates. There are a number of actions that the government can adopt that will act to internalize the negative externality of high fertility such as taxes, social expenditures and even outright strict limits on the number of successful pregnancies per female.  But is the world ready to deal with this most basic and challenging problem? Is Lebanon ready to adopt a meaningful population policy? I will not hold my breath.