The Elephant in the Room

Two-hundred years ago, Russian novelist Ivan Krylov wrote a story about a man who goes to a museum and notices all sorts of tiny details but fails to notice an elephant also present. The story became a proverb.
“The elephant in the room,” is now used to describe problems or controversial issues that everyone knows about but no one wants to talk about because to do so would cause embarrassment, sadness or arguments. There are many examples of “impolite topics” that apply to situations within families or between friends…sex, politics, addiction, religion.
In this week of Climate Strikes and the U.N.’s meeting on how to keep the climate catastrophe to a manageable level, the one topic that seems to be missing from the demonstrations and discussions is that of the world’s population; its relentless increase and how it will impact us. Why is no one talking about it? The answer is that no one has a clue about how to stop it.
In June, the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations issued its “2019 World Population Prospects” report. The report makes for fascinating reading to anyone interested in what the future holds for us, our children, and grandchildren.
As an example, Mexico’s population in 1960 was 38 million, now we have a population of 129 million; it is expected to peak at 157 million in 2065 and then decline to 141 million by the end of the century. Life expectancy for a Mexican baby born in 1960 was 58 years, and that has improved to 75 years today, which is the good news.
The bad news is that older people rely heavily on government and employers’ pensions to keep body and soul together. They need young people to pay taxes and to make contributions to their pension plans. This is known as the “Old Age Dependency Ratio” and means the number of people aged 65 and older compared to 100 people in their “earning years”, aged between 20 and 64.
In Mexico, in 1960, there were 8 “old” people over 65, compared to 100 people in their earning years. Now that number has increased to 13; by 2050 there will be 29 old people compared to 100 earners, and by 2100 the figure rises to 62! Who is going to pay those pensions when for every 100 working people there are 62 pensioners?
In Canada and the USA, the number of “over 65s” compared to wage earners is now about 29 to 100. By 2050 the number will have risen to 45 in Canada and 40 in the USA, and by the end of the century, there will be 56 pensioners in Canada per 100 earners and 54 in the USA.
Kids born today, whether, in Mexico, Canada or the USA, are going to find very different conditions compared to the ones that many of our readers enjoy today.
The United Nations report <> includes interactive pages showing population by country, life expectancy, fertility, migration and more. I’ll provide you with just a few more.
The world’s total population was 2.5 billion in 1950, the start of the reporting period. Today, 70 years later, it is now 7.8 billion, and by 2100 will be 10.9 billion. That means that for every two people on the planet today there will be three by then.
Life expectancy has increased hugely, which is good for individuals but bad for Mother Earth. Worldwide, a person born in 1950 could expect to live until they were 51. Now, the average life expectancy is an astounding 73, and it is expected to be 82 by 2100. I have no idea how the demographers, who came up with that figure, factored in the support required for just water and food to keep10.9 billion people eating and drinking, 80 years from now. Hopeful forecasts indeed!
China tried to limit its population growth by initiating its “One Child Policy” in 1979 but, by 2015, it was abandoned. Some religions are still actively encouraging their flocks to have more children. Others limit their families to consume less of Earth’s finite resources.
We will not stop procreating, so we should, perhaps, introduce the elephant in the room. We must manage Earth’s resources so that future generations can survive.

John Warren on Email
John Warren
John Warren is in charge of Publicity for the International Friendship Club (IFC). His articles describe the programs and charities that IFC supports, the sources of income of IFC and the social experiences, lectures and classes that members can enjoy.
He splits his time between Puerto Vallarta and Lethbridge, Alberta. In the winter months he writes for the IFC, this summer he’s focusing his writing on the environment.