Population Collapse: Misinformation and Fearmongering | The Critical Thinking Files

It’s getting difficult to tell Elon Musk and Alex Jones apart these days. At least when it comes to their social media posts and intellectual preoccupations, with the mention that Jones seems the more rational one upon closer examination.

One subject that’s been on both of their minds lately is population migration; but while Jones is mainly concerned about Western populations being intentionally replaced with individuals from the East – an interpretation that, even though it sounds crazy, has many points of evidence in its favor -, Musk is afraid that soon there won’t be any humans to replace older generations at all, no matter where on Earth they reside.

The tech billionaire is posting repeatedly about the so-called population collapse, a belief that links declining birth rates with the inevitable catastrophic result of complete destruction of humanity, in a relatively short amount of time.

And he tweeted (sic!) about this quite a lot over the last few years. “Population collapse is the biggest threat to civilization” (May 24, 2022), “Population collapse due to low birth rates is a much bigger risk to civilization than global warming” (Aug 26, 2022). One can also see the stance progression: “The world’s population is accelerating towards collapse, but few seem to notice or care” (Jul 6, 2017), “Population collapse is 2nd biggest danger to civilization after AI imo” [author’s note: in my opinion] (Jul 15, 2020).

Nowadays, Musk’s take on population collapse is the following:

The problem with “Great Replacement Theory” is that it fails to address the foundational issue of low birth rates. Record low birth rates are leading to population collapse in Europe and even faster population collapse in most of Asia. Immigration is low in Asia, so there is no “replacement” going on, the countries are simply shrinking away. If this doesn’t turn around, then any countries on Earth with low birth rates will become empty of people and fall into ruin, like the remains we see of the many long dead civilizations.” (Apr 28, 2024), and “If birth rates continue to plummet, human civilization will end” (Apr 29, 2024).

There’s not much nuance in his interpretation of things. Birth rates plummet, and civilization will end; a thing that, according to Musk, many individuals fail to understand.

Now, mathematically speaking, if we all stop reproducing, then yes, that’s the logical result: there will be no people around in just a few decades. But that is not what is happening. That’s an extreme stance, a made-up scenario, not a reflection of reality. 

I will briefly explain below why I believe Elon Musk’s “population collapse” alarm is not only irrational and unfounded, but also a reckless and dangerous message to spread at this time. Please note that a comprehensive analysis of the “population collapse” phenomenon is beyond the scope of this article. 

 

THE ANALYSIS

One of the main premises of the “population collapse” claim is that the world population is declining severely. This part is simply misinformation and the result of cognitive distortion and bias.

While birth rates may have dropped here and there, the overall world population has been growing rapidly over the last two hundreds of years. We’re talking about a history of more than 300,000 years, where most of the time there were fewer than one million humans on the entire globe. By AD 1, the total population reached approximately 170 million people [Source], and kept growing, counting 1 billion humans in 1804, 2 billion in 1930, 3 billion in 1960, and so on, until now, Monday, April 29, 2024, when we’re already 8,106,070,446 people on Earth [Source]. A United Nations report, that took into consideration both the decreasing birth rates, as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, estimated that there will be over 10 billion people by 2059.

The data simply doesn’t point to where Musk is trying to lead.

The world population is not only not declining, it is rapidly and, I would also say dangerously, rising to higher and higher levels.

Reasoning-wise, there are several things wrong with the “population collapse” conclusion.

Cherry-picking Bias.  Musk and others only choose to share and consider certain types of information – birth rate decline, for example -, while ignoring other types of data, such as the long-term population reports.

Confirmation Bias.  Those convinced that “population collapse” is a real thing and an immediate threat to humanity, will often surround themselves with individuals who share, confirm, and reinforce their views. It will create the illusion of prediction validity. Their very own echo chamber.

Mental Filter They choose the limited negative data and apply it as a lens for the entire context. If birth rates and population are declining in certain countries, then they are convinced that the effect is global.

Catastrophic ThinkingThe significance attributed to temporary declining birth rates is greatly magnified in order to come to the conclusion that humanity itself is going to disappear.

Socially, there are many other issues regarding the “population collapse” prediction and the associated “everyone, do your part, and have as many babies as you can” recommendation:

It’s fearmongering. They’re sounding the alarm for things that only exist in the minds of a few individuals. As long as we’re not going to self-destruct via war or lack of social order, and no natural cataclysm occurs, we’re likely not going anywhere as a species for a long time. But then again, the Earth existed with no humans on it; when we’re thinking really long periods of time, it is not unreasonable to consider that there will likely come a day when there will be no humans once again. It’s sad, yet probable; but that’s still no reason to scare ourselves and others, and create panic regarding things we have no control over. I understand Musk and others may think that they can solve issues at galactic levels, but the reasonable version is that there will always be things outside of our control. Some of them may destroy us completely. We need to come to terms with that.

It’s reckless. We’re already 8+ billions. Many of these people are starving and homeless, most are struggling financially, a good part is involved in never-ending conflicts, and there are still individuals who don’t fully understand how they fit in this world as it presents itself at the moment.  “Let’s bring in more”, the likes of Musk say. But where’s the strategy for how you’re going to feed, clothe, defend, educate, and help these additional individuals thrive? Sure, Musk is a visionary, but visions don’t feed people. Isn’t it easy, for one of the world’s richest men – not wealthiest, in my opinion, though – to yell towards those who can barely survive from one month to the next, “Have tons of babies! Save the world!”. 

It’s dangerous. Imagine people do as Musk and his blind followers say, and the world population grows rapidly. Recent history showed us resources don’t follow the same trend, they don’t keep up. What will happen, civilization-wise, when you end up with billions of starving, depressed, or otherwise mentally struggling individuals? Who do you think they’ll turn against? How much do you think they’ll love humanity and all it has to give? It gave them nothing. Nothing but trouble, that is. Will they protect that world, or hope and even plan for its demise? Individual minds often choose self-destruction in such contexts. Will the collective one choose differently?

It’s self-serving. Musk is a businessman. He thinks economy, before anything else. Sure, he claims it’s “humanity first” but, I have my reasonable doubts.

 

POPULATION COLLAPSE VERSUS THE DEPOPULATION AGENDA

I want to take a minute here and reply to criticism that is highly likely to arise from some readers as a reaction to this article. “So, if you don’t think we should have more babies, it means that you want humanity to die. If you’re not pro population growth, then you must be pro depopulation“.

No. Depopulation, in this context, would mean to take active steps to reduce the already existing world population. I’m not supporting that in any way.  In fact, I think we should let nature follow its course. Human nature as well. Have babies if you want to, don’t have babies if you don’t; just own your decision and be responsible, no matter which path your choose.

 

But, regarding the induced population growth agenda, here is my view:

Let’s first feed the people who are already here. Let’s defend the people who are already here. Let’s educate the people who are already here. Let’s help the people who are already here feel safe, and thrive, and be happy. It is only then that we can start thinking about the expansion pack.

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