Fog of War: A Dark Sky

 (Source: EverEdge)

Unsurprisingly, this blog will be a continuation of last week’s post, focusing on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As with almost all wars (I took part in a few) the “fog of war” has already taken over and it is not easy to discern the truth. The rattle of nuclear escalation continues and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s remarks that the country has a nuclear doctrine and is not run by insane people was not very convincing to many outside Russia. The belief in the Russian command and control system is shaky and it includes doubts about how much Lavrov actually knows President Putin’s thinking.

One example of the fog has to do with the state of Ukraine’s power reactors. We see some coverage that focuses on those that have stopped working and indicates a correlation with the Russian invasion:

Six of Ukraine’s 15 working nuclear reactors have stopped sending power into the nation’s electrical grid — a high rate of disconnection compared with routine operations before the Russian invasion. The reduction in output might result from the war’s interference with operation of the plants, which require a wealth of industrial supplies and care. The cutbacks, Western experts say, may spiral into rolling blackouts that could further cripple the beleaguered country.

However, we see the same issue presented in a way that stresses the safe, stable condition of the reactors that are functioning:

The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine, in its update at 08:00 local time (06:00 GMT) on Monday 28 February said, there have been “no violations” of nuclear power plants’ “safe operation limits and conditions”.

The brief update from the regulator also said: “Radioactive situation meets established norms. Systems of NPP physical protection work in normal mode. NPP security divisions and physical protection services are on high alert.”

It said nine of the country’s 15 nuclear units were connected to the grid on Monday.

One day later we saw some “light” (fire) through the fog! Again, various news outlets presented different perspectives.

Reuters:

LVIV, Ukraine/KYIV, March 4 (Reuters) – Russian invasion forces seized Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant on Friday in what Washington called a reckless assault that risked catastrophe, although a blaze in a training building was extinguished and officials said the facility was now safe.

The New York Times:

LVIV, Ukraine — In darkness, Russia captured Europe’s largest nuclear power plant on Friday in Ukraine, prompting questions about the reasons it invaded the sprawling reactor site as well as the health risks to Ukrainians fighting desperately for their lives and freedom.

And it’s not the only power plant in Ukraine that could face attack by Russian forces. Some troops already appear to be marching toward another facility west of the Zaporizhzhia power plant, a Ukrainian energy official said.

For the moment, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex appears safe, with the plant’s array of sensitive detectors finding no releases of radioactivity above the usual background levels.

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, Russia is experiencing heavy global penalties for its un-provoked invasion. I am not referring to direct fighting back with guns and bullets; that has so far only involved Ukrainians and a few brave volunteers. However, the fog that is associated with the impact of the global sanctions on Russia is even thicker than the one that hangs over Ukraine. I addressed some of the impacts, such as the catastrophic fall in the stock market, the value of the ruble, and the country’s creditworthiness in last week’s blog. Since then, its stock market was closed for a week, and communication from Russia has been heavily censored. However, what is happening to Russian properties outside Russia has been much more transparent.

Stocks

Market Watch:

The dollar-denominated secondary listings of Russian companies continued to plunge on the London Stock Exchange on Wednesday, as the local Russian stock market remained shut for a third day. Lukoil LKOD, shares dropped 93%, Novatek NVTK, dropped 77% and Rosneft Oil ROSN, collapsed by 58%. X5 Retail FIVE, , [sic] however, surged 58%. Sberbank SBER, , Russia’s number-one lender, traded as low as a penny.

The Guardian:

The London Stock Exchange has suspended trading in 27 companies with strong links to Russia, including the energy and banking firms Gazprom and Sberbank.

The LSE said it was moving to block trading in the companies that include Severstal, Russia’s largest steel and mining company run by Alexei Mordashov, the country’s richest man.

Also barred are the aluminium company EN+, whose owners include the oligarch Oleg Deripaska, state-controlled Gazprom, the world’s largest gas producer, Rosneft and VK, the parent company of social networking sites including VKontakte, which is bigger than Facebook in Russia.

The list also includes the fertiliser company PhosAgro, which is chaired by former LSE chief Xavier Rolet and has shareholders including the billionaire Andrei Guriev, who owns Witanhurst in London’s Highgate, the largest private house in the capital and second in size only to Buckingham Palace.

Also barred are the energy firm Lukoil, Russia’s largest gold producer Polyus, which is controlled by the family of Suleiman Kerimov, as well as Sberbank, the country’s biggest lender, and Novolipetsk Steel, one of the four largest steel companies in Russia.

Oil Trade

Reuters:

LONDON, March 1 (Reuters) – Russian oil trade was in disarray on Tuesday as producers postponed sales, importers rejected Russian ships and buyers worldwide searched elsewhere for needed crude after a raft of sanctions imposed on Moscow over the war in Ukraine.

Numerous nations imposed sweeping sanctions against Russian companies, banks and individuals following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week and global majors announced plans to leave multi-million-dollar positions in Russia.

In addition, the price of oil has risen above $110/barrel—a 10 year high (As Oil Soars, OPEC and Its Allies Are Not Likely to Offer Relief). We still don’t know what the full impact of the soaring prices will be. Next week’s blog will try to explore whether such a peak in oil price is self-limiting or open-ended.

To add to our collective miseries, the second of the IPCC AR6 reports on the state of climate change became available at the end of last month: “Climate Change 2022 – Impact, Adaptation and Vulnerability.” The report contains 3675 pages, so I seriously doubt that anybody will read it cover to cover. Newspapers around the world have started to cherry-pick pieces relevant to the readers that they serve. I will do the same and ask my students to go over a few sections that I deem important, then elaborate on some of the cherry-picking in future blogs.

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Russia: The Large Gas Station With Nuclear Weapons

The current situation between Russia and Ukraine started in November 2021, when the Russian army began encircling Ukraine. It was about two months before the Winter Olympics were scheduled to start, and President Putin had promised President Xi that he would attend. All of this was a huge hint to the world that—while an invasion was being planned, it would take place after the closing. Indeed, only a few days after the Sunday, February 20th closing, the Russian army started a massive Ukrainian invasion from all possible directions.

A few days before the invasion, a Harvard economist gave a succinct description of the aggressor:

Russia’s economy is “incredibly unimportant in the global economy except for oil and gas,” Jason Furman, a Harvard economist and former advisor to President Barack Obama, told The New York Times.

“It’s basically a big gas station,” he said.

I was on the same wavelength but less precise with my February 8, 2022 blog, where I described Russia as one of the petrostates: a country whose oil & gas constitute more than 50% of all its exports. It secures about 40% of its total fiscal revenue from fossil fuels.

However, President Putin was not satisfied with surrounding Ukraine with 200,000 soldiers. He also wanted to remind the world that Russia is a major nuclear power—with probably the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet. He did so by demonstrating showy nuclear exercises:

MOSCOW, Feb 19 (Reuters) – Russian leader Vladimir Putin oversaw strategic nuclear exercises involving the launch of hypersonic ballistic missiles and other weapons on Saturday, the latest show of strength at a time of acute tension with the West over Ukraine.

Putin watched the drills from a “situation centre” in the Kremlin, sitting alongside his close ally, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

The drills involved launches from warships, submarines and warplanes as well as from land that struck targets on land and at sea, the Kremlin said.

On Sunday we were informed that Russia has put its nuclear forces on high alert.

So now we have a big gas station that is being less than subtle about threatening the world with its nuclear power.

My reaction was to go and re-read The Cold and the Dark, the 1984 book by Paul Ehrlich, Carl Sagan, Donald Kennedy, and Walter Orr Roberts about the world after a nuclear war. The book is not fiction; it is essentially a summary of a conference where scientists presented peer-reviewed pieces about the consequences of nuclear war. The main message that radiates from the book is that there is no “limited nuclear war.” The only reason our single nuclear war was so short and one-sided is that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945 were the only nuclear weapons available at the time, meaning they marked a definitive end to WWII.

Those of us who studied or experienced WWII find many parallels between the dynamics of then and now—starting with the Treaty of Versailles and ending with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. After all, the end of the Cold War and resulting breakup of the Soviet Union echoes the humiliation of Germany at the end of WWI. I was born in Warsaw three months prior to the Nazi invasion. The nuclear weapon was not available to anybody until July 1945.

It is obvious to me that with the present availability of nuclear power, no sane leader would start such a war but I can see how a miscalculation and/or miscommunication that confused a first strike with a second could lead to mutually assured destruction.

The press has been full of attempts to analyze President Putin’s psychology: what does he actually want? He came to power about eight years after the 1991 disintegration of the Soviet Union that left the US as the only functioning superpower and it is clear that he wants to reverse the clock. This is problematic because the West has used its power to admit most of the Eastern European countries into NATO. Many of these countries used to be part of the Warsaw Pact, a counterpart to NATO dominated by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Now that the Warsaw Pact is no longer in play, most of the European countries that border Russia are members of NATO, with the exceptions of Ukraine, Belarus, and Finland. NATO’s Article 5 states flatly that it considers an attack on one of its members as an attack on all of them and will respond accordingly. Russia’s attack on Ukraine is clearly designed to prevent Ukraine from entering NATO.

This crisis comes on top of the three existing global crises the world is already facing (see the February 1, 2022 blog): the COVID-19 pandemic, the worldwide population decline, and the global energy transition driven by climate change. The fertility rates of both Russia and Ukraine are well below the replacement rate of 2.1 and both countries are still COVID hot spots. The only one of these transitions in which Russia has any power is in the last one, because of the statistics that I mentioned earlier. Its position in the energy transition and control over other countries’ energy supplies will have a strong impact on how the transition proceeds.

Europe is especially vulnerable to any energy disruption from Russia. The EU depends on Russia for 40% of its gas and 20% of its oil supply. However, this dependence varies sharply among the EU members. The Netherlands and France are the least reliant on it, while the “illiberal” countries of Hungary and Poland depend on Russian export for almost all their supply.

Figures 1 through 4 show some of the complex dynamics of the global energy supply within the last few years. The global rise in the price of oil and natural gas started way before the Russian preparation to attack Ukraine became visible. There is a correlation between the consumption and production of oil (and everything else) and as we are slowly emerging out of the COVID-19 restrictions, we are also dealing with a ton of supply chain difficulties. The Russian attack is of course not helping. More than that, since the West has decided not to put any of its soldiers on the ground in Ukraine, it has instead adopted a policy that aims to inflict economic pain on Russia. On this score, there might be a sign of success. Figure 5 shows what happened to the Moscow stock market on Thursday. It lost 50% of its value at one moment and got back half of it later on. I stopped following after that but things are changing very quickly.

Figure 1Daily oil price (WTI) over the past two years

Figure 2Recent prices of natural gas

Figure 3Recent changes in production and consumption of liquid fuels.

Figure 4US regular gasoline price

Figure 5 – Recent Moscow stock market prices

Meanwhile, in other positive news (for the US): “Russia’s credit rating cut to junk by S&P as other agencies mull or take downgrade action.” The exchange rate of the ruble (Russia’s currency) against the US dollar faced a similar demotion. All of us will stay tuned.

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Power and Politics in Education

The theme of the blog may look familiar to longtime readers of this blog, even if the exact title is new. If you put the title in the search box without quotation marks, you will get many related entries. The term “power and politics in academia” (again, without quotation marks) yields one entry: a blog from July 18, 2017, that discusses the driving forces of the Anthropocene. I also discussed the role of internal politics in academic institutions recently (December 28, 2021):

This observation is routinely attributed to Henry Kissinger who in a 1997 speech at the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University, said: “I formulated the rule that the intensity of academic politics and the bitterness of it is in inverse proportion to the importance of the subject they’re discussing. And I promise you at Harvard, they are passionately intense and the subjects are extremely unimportant.”

My focus today is on the role that politics play in teaching and learning, as it directly impacts students. As I have mentioned in earlier blogs (see January 19, 2022, where I discuss cherry-picking and bias), there is a large power differential between teachers and students; bias on the part of teachers has a strong impact on student learning and needs to be discussed.

This issue of bias in student-teacher interaction has been covered extensively but mostly in terms of preferential treatment or neglect of certain students over others, based on characteristics such as gender, race, voluntary class participation, past performance, etc. Here, I want to cover biases that can be associated with an outlook on reality, including political biases.

This image is from https://whatiseducationhq.com which has some really interesting things to say on this same topic.

The first driving force that made me return to this issue is the mix of sex and power—something we hear about almost daily. The issue is institutional but not confined to academic institutions. However, when we speak of it in terms of academic institutions, we usually limit it to higher education because students in high schools and elementary schools are generally too young for consent, and our laws governing such behavior are anchored on the student’s age. In colleges and universities, most students are old enough for consent, so the laws and rules of behavior anchor instead on power differentials. Presently, every institution has its own set of regulations about the sexual behavior of its employees. My own institution (City University of New York) has a 23-page document. Here’s a key paragraph:

Amorous, dating or sexual activity or relationships (“intimate relationships”), even when apparently consensual, are inappropriate when they occur between a faculty member or employee and any student for whom he or she has a professional responsibility. Those relationships are inappropriate because of the unequal power dynamic between students and faculty members and between students and employees who advise or evaluate them, such as athletic coaches or workplace supervisors. Such relationships necessarily involve issues of student vulnerability and have the potential for coercion. In addition, conflicts of interest or perceived conflicts of interest may arise when a faculty member or employee is required to evaluate the work or make personnel or academic decisions with respect to a student with whom he or she is having an intimate relationship. Finally, if the relationship ends in a way that is not amicable, the relationship may lead to charges of and possible liability for sexual harassment.

As I said, the restrictions are strictly based on power differentials rather than age.

Since I mostly teach courses that focus on environmental issues, my thinking is as follows: Society puts so much attention on the role of power in personal relationships but gives relatively less attention to the role of power in teaching. At least in the US, however, the latter role has become highly politicized, especially recently. Here are a few examples:

When it came out, The New York Times’ “1619 Project”  became quite controversial, and remains so:

long-form journalism endeavor developed by Nikole Hannah-Jones, writers from The New York Times, and The New York Times Magazine which “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative.”

Additionally, some states have made a popular activity of banning certain books in schools. This includes Maus, the graphic novel about the Holocaust.

Many of us learned, with some horror—whether through the “Inherit the Wind” movie or otherwise—about the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1935, in which segments of society tried to censor teachers from teaching about evolution.

We are now moving through three major global transitions that impact us all: COVID-19, climate change, and the massive reduction in population growth that in many countries is manifesting as population decline (February 1, 2022). The adaptive steps that society is taking to live with these changes are a precious learning opportunity. They can be a laboratory for our students, where they can learn how to use their knowledge in practical settings that will benefit them long after they finish school. Two out of the three transitions will affect my students for much longer than they will me (just in terms of age). However, all three have become highly political.

My climate change classes best demonstrate the related societal impacts and responsibilities of various scenarios. When I ask students about the possible personal impact, I get the response (almost always from female students) that they have decided not to bring kids into this kind of world. These are big decisions, which are politically loaded. We often describe the opinions of climate deniers, but since these are science courses, the arguments must be data-based. Aside from uncertainties in predictions of the future, there is not much science to support climate deniers (according to my data-based bias).

Talks with my colleagues in different departments expose a variety of attitudes regarding how to address similar problems. A Jewish friend was teaching a course on the recent history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with a number of Muslim students taking the course. Both of us (the teacher and I) know that the version of this conflict many Muslim students know often differs from the version known to their Jewish peers. I asked him how he handles the bias disparity.  His answer was that he bases his teaching on original documents. I kept quiet. We both know that he is the one who selects which original documents his class discusses. His cherry-picking of documents might not be such a big issue because his class is an advanced elective, and it is easy for the students to research his background.

When I discussed these issues with another colleague who teaches political science and told him that I am trying to leave my politics out of the classroom, he responded that, in his opinion, everything is driven by politics.

In all these cases, none of us addressed the inherent power asymmetry between teachers and students.

Often, we are not fully aware of our biases. Even if our biases are pointed out to us, if we try to correct for them, we may end up with biases in the opposite direction. In my opinion, we cannot eliminate biases, but we can make them more transparent, such that students can normalize their analysis as part of their learning experience. One good way to accomplish this is by basing more of the course material on class conversation and group teaching: Team-Based Learning (TBL).

Occasionally, students complain about biased teachers. These complaints can go through various routes, including family, press, courts, etc. but most complaints end up with the administration of the institution. Some faculty (in the US now about 20%) has tenure for life—a measure designed to protect their academic freedom but which is conditional on following certain codes of conduct (see for various aspects of these issues:

https://www.aaup.org/article/academic-freedom-online-education

 

https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/the-role-of-tenure?aceid=&gclid=CjwKCAiAx8KQBhAGEiwAD3EiP4r2jbuhLqZM-D_aV_Yl6jWX5Ns_mspUR8qT6YXt4IoREbl_sLlgjxoCvMQQAvD_BwE )

Lifetime job tenure is not restricted to academia but without its protection, bias complaints can result in job termination.

The COVID-19 pandemic that triggered such advancement in remote learning offers one way to address these issues. Like many others, during the last two years, I have been teaching online. In one of the climate change courses that I taught, I used the TBL system. I divided the class into groups, which, during class time, I put into separate “rooms” where they could discuss the issues. Outside of class, I opened a Discussion Board on BlackBoard (A commonly used application) where they could communicate, letting them know I would visit periodically to monitor their discussions and add comments or answer questions as needed. A few students commented that opening a separate WhatsApp group might help. I agreed but I told them that group would be totally their own. The results were interesting.

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Robotics

Earlier this month (February 1, 2022), I mentioned the steps that Germany and the US have taken recently to remediate the decline in their workforces. Both countries basically declared that they are going to initiate brain drains from abroad (mainly from poorer countries). Germany said that it intends to initiate the yearly immigration of 400,000 skilled workers, while the US announced a new policy to facilitate the attraction of students in the sciences, presumably with the thinking that many of them will stay once they finish their studies.

The decrease of the “native” (excluding immigration) workforce follows a global decrease in fertility rates and an increase in life expectancy. Type “population decrease” into the search box and you will find multiple earlier entries that relate to the topic. However, only one significant entry pops up if you search for “robotics” (February 11, 2014) and it’s from 8 years ago. It addresses the global shipment of robots, using data through the year 2011. It’s time to revisit the issue.

robot, manufacturing, jobsFigure 1

Figure 1, taken from The Robot Report, summarizes the issue as it stands presently. The site adds the following information:

There are more than three million industrial robots operating in factories around the world, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). In 2020, there was $13.2 billion of new robot installations.

Robot density, a metric used by the IFR, measures the number of robots per 10,000 workers in an industry. From 2015 to 2020, robot density nearly doubled worldwide, jumping from 66 units in 2015 to 126 units in 2020. In 2020 alone, robot density globally jumped from 113 units in 2019 to 126 units.

Regionally, Asia has the highest robot density in 2020, sitting above the global average at 134 units. Europe is slightly below the global average, with 123 units, followed by the Americas with 111 units.

The total number of people employed worldwide is estimated at 3.3 billion. In contrast, about 3 million industrial robots operate around the world, meaning they account for only 0.1% of the global workforce. However, in South Korea (the Republic of Korea) robots already account for 10% of the workforce and globally, the growth rate of robotics is 10%. These are significant numbers. Presently, the shift to robotics is confined to rich countries (including S Korea).

Figures 2 – 6 show the recent population changes that are taking place in the five countries with the largest robot densities, as shown in Figure 1. Each of these countries has its own dynamic.

population, decline, Japan, South Korea, Korea

Figure 2Population changes in Japan and South Korea (Source: World Economic Forum)

Singapore, population

Figure 3Population changes in Singapore (Source: Countryaah.com)

Germany, population

Figure 4Population changes in Germany (Source: Visual Capitalist)

What deserves special attention is the relative changes in the age group composition in Germany, as shown in Figure 5.

Germany, population, change

Figure 5 Changes in the age distribution of the German population (Source: Visual Capitalist)

Sweden, population, growth

Figure 6 Changes in the population growth of Sweden (Source: Statista)

The increases in robotics and brain drain haven’t yet caused social and governmental disruptions on the level of increased immigration but we are still at the beginning of the trend. This gives us some time to address the social consequences that are sure to come.

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Petrostates

Right now, in the energy transition, there is an emerging weaponization of energy. Russia’s confrontation with the West over Ukraine is the present focal point. The following two publications provide some details:

“What Happens if Russia Cuts Off Europe’s Natural Gas?” – The New York Times

While Russia masses troops and military equipment near its border with Ukraine, parallel tensions have been building in world energy markets.

It is not hard to see why. Natural gas flowing through a web of pipelines from Russia heats homes and power factories across much of Europe. Russia is also one of the continent’s key sources of oil.

Now Western officials are considering what happens if Moscow issues a doomsday response to the tensions — a cutoff of those gas and oil supplies, in the depths of Europe’s winter.

The standoff over Ukraine comes at an inopportune time. World energy prices are already elevated as supplies of oil and natural gas have lagged the recovery of demand from the pandemic.

Russia Isn’t a Dead Petrostate, and Putin Isn’t Going Anywhere – The New York Times Opinion

Some may see Russia’s actions as the last gasp of a fading petrostate before the energy transition robs the country of geopolitical power. But that would be wishful thinking. The transition to a clean energy economy may actually empower Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, and other petrostate leaders before it diminishes them.

In a world that is “net zero” on its carbon emissions, major fossil fuel producers — especially Russia — will be greatly diminished in their power, assuming they do not find a way to remake their economies in the interim. But in the next 10 to 20 years, the energy transition will make opportunities for petrostates to wield significant geopolitical and economic power. There are at least three reasons this is the case.

Petrostates obviously have the ability to use energy supply as a weapon, one reason that they are also the most desperate to slow the transition away from fossil fuels. I am sensitive to these dynamics. I have mentioned often on this blog that I grew up in Israel. At the time, Israel was surrounded by petrostates that were in a state of war with my country, trying to weaponize their energy. As a student, I chose to specialize in alternative energy use—not because of climate change but in an attempt to help develop alternatives to the state’s energy supply.

Below is how Wikipedia defines petrostates:

petrostate is a nation whose economy is heavily dependent on the extraction and export of oil or natural gas. The presence alone of large oil and gas industries does not define a petrostate, as countries like Norway, Canada, and the United States are major oil producers, but also have diversified economies.[1] Petrostates also have highly concentrated political and economic power, resting in the hands of an elite, as well as unaccountable political institutions which are susceptible to corruption.[2]

While the largest oil-producing states are often petrostates, this is not always true. In 2014, for example, the United States and Canada were among the top-five oil producing countries, but are not defined as petrostates due to their diverse economies.[1] Various countries have been identified as current or former petrostates:[2][1]

Although Norway, the US, and Canada are among the largest exporters of fossil fuels, their economies are diversified, meaning that they can handle fluctuations of the energy markets much better than the countries Wikipedia defines as petrostates. Before the pandemic and the emergence of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, The Economist ran an article with some updated data about the need for energy producers to diversify:

Figure 1The dependency of major energy producers on income from energy exports

Revenues from oil and natural gas have plunged in recent years, as prices have fallen. A new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) puts the challenge in stark relief. In six large petrostates the IEA examined—Iraq, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela—net income from oil and natural gas in 2016 was less than one-third of its level in 2012. Such a huge drop-off is painful. In Russia, oil and gas receipts account for about 40% of the government’s revenue. In Iraq they account for 90%.

The response to sinking prices has varied. Many countries ran deficits rather than slash their generous domestic spending programmes. Bahrain requires a crude price of $113 a barrel to support its budget, according to MUFG, a bank. But most countries have started talking more earnestly about diversification. Fatih Birol, director of the IEA, predicts that countries’ efforts will gain more urgency for two reasons.

Russia stands out in this analysis both in terms of its dependence on this income and the income’s changes over time.

I have repeatedly emphasized the need to pay attention to both the winners and losers of the various transitions that we are going through— (see for example, “Winners and Losers: COVID and Coal” from February 9, 2021; “Yellow Vests, Al Gore, President Trump, Conflicts Between Present and Future” from December 18, 2018; and “Wisdom from Germany: How to Transition Away from Coal” from October 8, 2019).

As the current crisis with Russia shows, the price of not paying attention to the losers can be deadly.

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Back to the Energy and Population Transitions: Electrification and Brain Drain

In this blog, I will look at the ongoing global energy transition and the declining populations of rich countries around the world. I am specifically interested in attempts to redefine sustainable energy sources, as well as the ways in which brain drains from developing countries are affecting the populations of rich countries.

As a background, Figure 1 shows an infographic, constructed by Visual Capitalist, of the global use of nuclear energy to power electricity production:

Figure 1Global use of nuclear power for electricity production

Attempts to Define Sustainable Energy Sources

Figure 2 shows that, at least in the US, coal is on its way out. In other developed countries, the trend is similar. The issue is how to replace it as the primary energy source for electricity generation.

Figure 2Changes in US coal use for electricity generation (source: CleanTechnica)

Europe is finding itself with severe energy shortages and price increases. In an attempt to remedy the shortage, the EU declared natural gas and nuclear energy to be “sustainable energy sources.” This declaration didn’t come without serious opposition, however

Advisers to slam EU plan to label gas, nuclear investments as green-draft:

BRUSSELS, Jan 21 (Reuters) – Experts advising the European Union on its green investment rules will warn Brussels not to go ahead with draft plans to label gas and nuclear energy as sustainable, according to a document seen by Reuters.

The Commission’s proposals would grant gas plants a green label until 2030 if they meet criteria including an emissions limit of 270g of CO2 equivalent per kWh, or if their annual emissions average 550kg CO2e per kW or less over 20 years.

Germany cries foul over nuclear energy in EU’s green investment rule book:

BERLIN, Jan 22 (Reuters) – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s three-party coalition government has voiced its objections to a European Union draft plan to label nuclear power plants as a sustainable energy source in a formal letter to Brussels, ministers said on Saturday.

The EU taxonomy aims to set a gold standard for green investments, helping climate-friendly projects to pull in private capital and stamping out “greenwashing”, where investors and companies overstate their eco-credentials.

“As the federal government, we have once again clearly expressed our rejection of the inclusion of nuclear energy. It is risky and expensive,” Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in a joint statement with Environment Minister Steffi Lemke, both senior members of the Greens party.

The US is not far behind. As Figure 1 shows, the US is the largest user of nuclear energy for the production of electricity. However, in the US, nuclear energy is not currently facing serious objections.

Many US states view natural gas as a somewhat sustainable energy source because of its considerably lower carbon output per unit of electricity production, compared to coal (See May 25, 2021 blog). However, its use has not escaped the current political divide within the US. Figure 3 shows that various states have taken legal steps to either prohibit or advance the use of natural gas in the construction of new power stations.

Figure 3US States advancing and prohibiting the use of natural gas to power electrification (source: CleanTechnica)

These policy shifts are starting to have consequences.

Brain Drain From Developing Countries

In another facet of the future, there is a tremendous brain drain currently taking place among front-line personnel. Doctors and nurses from around the world have turned out to help confront the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in rich countries but this will inevitably have an effect on the countries that they leave behind. Indeed, Germany already announced plans detailed plans continue to draw such people:

Germany wants to attract 400,000 skilled workers from abroad each year:

BERLIN, Jan 21 (Reuters) – Germany’s new coalition government wants to attract 400,000 qualified workers from abroad each year to tackle both a demographic imbalance and labour shortages in key sectors that risk undermining the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

“The shortage of skilled workers has become so serious by now that it is dramatically slowing down our economy,” Christian Duerr, parliamentary leader of the co-governing Free Democrats (FDP), told business magazine WirtschaftsWoche.

The US announced its intention to attract foreign students in the sciences, with the hope that many of them will stay after finishing their studies:

The Biden administration on January 21 announced policy changes to attract international students specializing in science, technology, engineering and math — part of the broader effort to make the US economy more competitive.

The State Department will let eligible visiting students in those fields, known as STEM, complete up to 36 months of academic training, according to a notice in the Federal Register. There will also be an initiative to connect these students with US businesses.

Homeland Security will add 22 new fields of study — including cloud computing, data visualization and data science — to a program that allows international graduates from US universities to spend up to three additional years training with domestic employers. The program generated about 58,000 applications in fiscal 2020.

The programs are designed to ensure that the US is a magnet for talent from around the world, attracting scientists and researchers whose breakthroughs will enable the economy to grow. Government data shows that international students are increasingly the lifeblood of academic research.

Such brain drains, as a response to population decline, are bound to have deadly global consequences for both rich and developing countries.

Next week’s blog will start to focus on individual countries that lead attempts to confront various global transitions. I will start with the petrostates.

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How to Explain Reality

Courtesy of Wonderopolis

Last week’s blog focused on the name change of Facebook to Meta and on the cherry-picking phenomenon of selectively picking reality to fit our biases and trying to recruit more adherents to our views of reality. The borderlines between virtual, alternate, and “real” reality are getting increasingly blurred.

I have been using the break between semesters and the COVID-induced travel restrictions as an opportunity to try to learn a bit more about the nature of reality–real or virtual or somewhere in between. I started this process at the same time last year, summarizing these efforts with my February 2, 2021, blog on the “Physics of Reality.” The main arguments in that blog were that physics is quantitative and uses the scientific method,  and that the emergence of social physics now includes some human activities (climate change and networking as examples). I started addressing this even earlier, with the October 6, 2020 blog, “Arguing Over Different Realities.” Today, I will try to go a bit deeper.

I will start with some definitions.

Merriam-Webster’s most general definition of “science” is: “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation”.

Its definition of “reality” is: “something that actually exists or happensa real event, occurrence, situation, etc.”

Merriam-Webster defines “virtual realityas: “an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (such as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment”

Wikipedia gives us a more detailed version of the latter:

Virtual reality (VR) is a simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world. Applications of virtual reality include entertainment (particularly video games), education (such as medical or military training) and business (such as virtual meetings). Other distinct types of VR-style technology include augmented reality and mixed reality, sometimes referred to as extended reality or XR.[1]

Currently, standard virtual reality systems use either virtual reality headsets or multi-projected environments to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a user’s physical presence in a virtual environment. A person using virtual reality equipment is able to look around the artificial world, move around in it, and interact with virtual features or items. The effect is commonly created by VR headsets consisting of a head-mounted display with a small screen in front of the eyes, but can also be created through specially designed rooms with multiple large screens. Virtual reality typically incorporates auditory and video feedback, but may also allow other types of sensory and force feedback through haptic technology.

It seems that we are much better at defining virtual reality than the real-world variety.

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, I teach three courses on the undergraduate level: two related to climate change and one on cosmology. Within our studies of climate change, there is an obvious need to distinguish between reality (i.e. what is “factual” or “true”) and an alternative understanding of the world, based on biases and self-confirmation. The common adage is, “follow the science.” Well, that’s what I am teaching. To many, cosmology is “pure” science: anchored on the scientific method. For many others, it is heavily influenced by religious beliefs—something that I discuss in the course. Understandably, there are those that use religion to explain the things that science cannot fully understand. In my classes, after early warnings to students to try not to mix religion with science, I continue to describe cosmology as the scientific description of reality on the grandest scale.

Most of us are experiencing interesting aspects of our “true” reality. As I mentioned throughout previous blogs, I have family living in every continent other than Antarctica. The pandemic prevents us from seeing each other face-to-face, so we try to maintain contact through telephone calls or virtual meetings through systems such as Zoom. I have family in Melbourne, where the Australian Open is now taking place. The event has been in the news beyond just sports coverage because of COVID-19 vaccination issues with player Novak Djokovic. The time difference between NYC and Melbourne is 16 hours; if we want to make virtual contact with Australia, we know how to adjust the timing to be convenient for all of us. However, we never think about the possibility that time itself might change with the distance: that seconds, minutes, and hours might have different lengths on our respective watches. Such changes are essential to Einstein’s Theories of Relativity, which are essential to understanding cosmology.

I used my semester break to revisit The Road to Reality, a book by Roger Penrose, whom Wikipedia describes as a “British mathematician, mathematical physicist, philosopher of science, and Nobel Laureate in Physics.”

Penrose received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2020 for his work on black holes, much of which was done in collaboration with Stephen Hawking. In his book, Penrose quotes Hawking: “I don’t demand that a theory corresponds to reality because I don’t know what it is, Reality is not a quality you can test with litmus paper. All I’m concerned with is that the theory should predict the results of measurements.”

Penrose’s book is full of advanced mathematics that most of us are not equipped to follow but there are some publications that break down the issues in ways that are more accessible for the general public, including an article in Scientific American and Michio Kaku’s new book, The God Equation (Doubleday, 2021).

Admittedly, the type of reality that Penrose and Hawkins are trying to understand is at the furthest fringes of cosmology, which include the Big Bang and black holes. While we can use the scientific method for everything that leads up to them, measurements, as invoked by Hawkins, cannot be carried out directly in such extreme conditions. This leaves us with some open questions, on which we use mathematical theories based on the data that we actually can measure.

Often, even attempts to understand reality on such a level are compared to efforts to second-guess God’s creations. However, even on this level, cherry-picking is prevalent, mostly pertaining to our favorite mathematical theories. In Penrose’s book, he is very careful to mention whenever a statement is subjective and his opinion is not necessarily shared by many others. Most of us are not that good at differentiating.

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Meta (Facebook) and Cherry Picking

A recent announcement from Facebook informed us all that “Connection is evolving so are we … welcome to Meta.”

While I was not born there, I grew up in Israel, so Hebrew is my “native” language. In Hebrew, “meta” refers to a dead female. Following this line of thinking, Facebook chose to describe itself as a dead female company. However, according to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, meta is an adjective: “(of a film, work of literature, art, etc.) showing awareness of itself or its genre.” Its synonym is “self-referential.” In this context, the company presents itself as a self-referential communicator of reality. I am paying attention.

As I have often mentioned on this blog, I teach three courses at the undergraduate level: one on cosmology and two that focus on climate change. In these courses, I use reality to construct my syllabi. I have been using this blog to describe the three global transitions that we are now going through: the pandemic, climate change, and the shrinking global population. In both my teaching and my writing, my main objective is to help my students and readers make sense of the science that drives these transitions, using language that overcomes the need for prerequisites like traditional science courses.

One of these transitions, the COVID pandemic, is short-lived, with an end in sight (hopefully). The other two are projected to grow throughout the lifetime of my students (the “end of now” in my book on climate change).

I am trying to teach basic principles that will stay with the students (and everybody else) throughout all of these transitions and thus facilitate their adaptation to changes in their respective realities. The first thing that I am trying to share with you and my students is that while all of us are part of a collective reality, we each have biases that shape our own perception of reality. Some of these are shared biases, some are our own and come from our life experiences (see the November 2128 2017 blogs on “Collective Irrationality and Individual Biases”).

From FunkyEnglish.com

When I present to my classes and this blog, I am in a position of some authority, so my biases hold some weight. This is probably more important for my students than my readers because they are dependent on my grading and often need recommendation letters to facilitate their entry into other parts of life. It is unavoidable that all of us: teachers, students, and readers, cherry-pick details and data that will enforce some of our biases. In the past, I have described such cherry-picking in terms of Godwin’s law for applying lessons from the Holocaust (January 19, 2021), the economic risks of climate change (December 24, 2019), and who is to blame for climate change (June 20, 2017). Wikipedia has an entry that describes the practice:

Cherry pickingsuppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position while ignoring a significant portion of related and similar cases or data that may contradict that position. Cherry picking may be committed intentionally or unintentionally.[1]

The term is based on the perceived process of harvesting fruit, such as cherries. The picker would be expected to select only the ripest and healthiest fruits. An observer who sees only the selected fruit may thus wrongly conclude that most, or even all, of the tree’s fruit is in a likewise good condition. This can also give a false impression of the quality of the fruit (since it is only a sample and is not a representative sample). A concept sometimes confused with cherry picking is the idea of gathering only the fruit that is easy to harvest, while ignoring other fruit that is higher up on the tree and thus more difficult to obtain (see low-hanging fruit).

Cherry picking has a negative connotation as the practice neglects, overlooks or directly suppresses evidence that could lead to a complete picture.

Cherry picking can be found in many logical fallacies. For example, the “fallacy of anecdotal evidence” tends to overlook large amounts of data in favor of that known personally, “selective use of evidence” rejects material unfavorable to an argument, while a false dichotomy picks only two options when more are available. Some scholars classify cherry-picking as a fallacy of selective attention, the most common example of which is the confirmation bias.[2] Cherry picking can refer to the selection of data or data sets so a study or survey will give desired, predictable results which may be misleading or even completely contrary to reality.[3]

A video of Rand Paul recently re-surfaced that demonstrates the danger of such misinformation.

None of us is completely free of bias; those few who strive for “objectivity” must understand their own while filtering through those of others. This burden falls not only on the teacher or writer but must also be shared with the students and readers. This is not an easy task, however. For students, most class material is new, making it very hard for them to identify cherry-picking and biases. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the educational system to come up with a methodology that enables students to do so. This is a researchable issue that falls under the more general field of communication. A 2017 study by Luke Lefebre, Leah Lefebre, and Dale Anderson looked at 47 communication centers within US universities and tracked the changing trends in their organization, operation, services, etc.

Such centers focus on the usual tools of communication, including writing and speaking, as well as the more recent platforms for digital communications, in which Meta features heavily. I haven’t done any research on this issue yet, so I have no idea what resources these centers have to investigate biases.

Biases used to play the smallest role in physical sciences, probably because the self was removed from these disciplines. This is no more.

In an earlier blog (February 2, 2021), I discussed the connection between physics and reality. Traditionally, physics has been taught as disconnected from humans; everything connected with humans fell under the disciplines of social studies, humanities, and art, as opposed to “physical” or “natural sciences.” Now, things are changing. At Brooklyn College, where I teach, they all fall under the School of Natural and Behavioral Sciences (NBS), which includes psychology, anthropology, kinesiology, and interdisciplinary studies such as climate change (see my December 28, 2021 blog on the latter).

There are attractive opportunities for detailed studies of the global transformations that are taking place in front of all our eyes: they offer to prepare students to be part of these transitions after they finish school. The government has imposed certain mandates aimed at adapting to these various transitions. In the same way that I discussed in my “Campus Transition into Sustainability Teaching Laboratory” blog (June 18, 2019), we can use these as laboratories through which to learn the fundamentals of the disciplines that we are trying to master.

In the US, much of the funding for government-supported research comes from the NSF (National Science Foundation). When academics are applying for funds to conduct original research—whether new teaching methodology or pure scientific research, they submit proposals, which are judged on two criteria:

  • Intellectual Merit: The Intellectual Merit criterion encompasses the potential to advance knowledge.
  • Broader Impacts: The Broader Impacts criterion encompasses the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes.

The structure of the NSF is based on directorates and it mostly reflects the disciplinary academic structure of the sciences. However, it is slowly changing and has added two new directorates to reflect the more general, interdisciplinary issues that society is now facing:

Directorate for Social Behavioral & Economic Sciences

SBE Office of Multidisciplinary Activities (SMA)

SBE’s Office of Multidisciplinary Activities supports interdisciplinary research and training in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences, including SBE’s intersections with other science and engineering fields.

Directorate for Education & Human Resources

Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL)

DRL invests in the improvement of STEM learning for people of all ages by promoting innovative research, development, and evaluation of learning and teaching across all STEM disciplines in formal and informal learning settings.

Undergraduate Education (DUE)

DUE’s programs are intended to strengthen STEM education at two- and four-year colleges and universities by improving curricula, instruction, laboratories, infrastructure, assessment, diversity of students and faculty, and collaborations.

The alternative to government-supported research on biases might return us to Meta (Facebook). The net worth of Meta is approaching $2 trillion. It might be worthwhile for the company to support self-centered communication as a business expense.

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Population Transition Projections For the End of the Century

In last week’s blog, I mentioned a prediction that the global population would peak before the end of the century. This prediction was based on an analysis that was conducted by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and published in The Lancet. The IHME projections differ from the UN projections that most demographers use. The two organizations use different estimates of demographic parameters such as life expectancy, migration rates, and fertility rates. Both are highly credible. Visual Capitalist, my favorite infographics site (you can find more examples by using the search box), illustrated the difference between their projections. I have included the graphic in Figure 1, along with VC’s detailed comparison of the 15 most populated countries in 2017 and those predicted to fill those slots at the end of the century. IHME’s projections also estimate that by the end of the century, about 26% of the global population will be older than 65.

Figure 1

The end of the century is knocking on most of our doors. Today’s children already have a life expectancy that will take them there. The world may face immense changes in the size and age of its population; humanity’s ability to adapt will be equally challenged in this and the anthropogenic climate change that is now taking place. I have repeatedly discussed the correlation between these two transitions throughout this blog (just put IPAT in the search box).

Last week’s blog focused on the global decline of fertility and childbirth and the resulting changes in population pyramids. Other demographic parameters play an important role as well.

Figures 2 and 3, taken from the UN demographics site, show the changes in birth rate, death rate, and life expectancy at birth from 1950 extrapolated through the end of the century. We see the death rate reaching its minimum a few years from today, then increasing slightly until the end of the century; meanwhile, the life expectancy at birth continues to increase until the end of the century.

population, birth rate, death rate, UN

Figure 2

population, life expectancy, birth, UN

Figure 3

Figure 4, which looks at the demographics of the US, tracks both the “natural increase” of the internal population (births vs. deaths) and net international migration. Both have fallen in recent years, which the Brookings Institute credits to economic factors like the Great Recession, health issues like the pandemic, and policy restrictions on immigration.

population, natural increase, migration

Figure 4

China is probably the only major country to try to adjust its demographics through top-down dictates. For many years, its objective was to constrain population growth. However, the one-child campaign worked “too well” and China is now finding itself with a population pyramid like the ones I described in last week’s blog. Now, China is trying to lean in the opposite direction. According to the South China Morning Post:

China had just 12 million babies last year, down from 14.65 million in 2019, marking an 18 per cent decline year on year.

Authorities are rolling out a variety of measures to address the issue, from financial incentives to grandparenting classes.

Some regions saw births fall more than 10 per cent, while Chizhou city in Anhui province said the number of newborns in the first 10 months of the year plummeted by 21 per cent compared to a year earlier.

In cities such as Beijing, Tianjin and Jiangsu, birth rates have been below one per cent for more than two decades.

The coronavirus pandemic has dampened the willingness of women under age 30 to give birth even further, according to researchers at Renmin University, as the number of Chinese newborns dropped by 45 per cent in the last two months of 2020 compared to the final year of the controversial one-child policy in 2016.

Experts predict China’s population could go into decline as early as this year.

To address the crisis, China in May allowed couples to have three children, ending the two-child policy introduced five years earlier. Since then, authorities at both local and national levels have responded with a variety of appeals and policy changes.

In addition to “allowing” more than three children, China is taking additional steps on the provincial level: expanding maternity leave, providing financial support, creating dating service databases for singles, freezing eggs and collecting donated ones, and providing grandparenting classes. These steps do not seem to include any mention of automation.

I haven’t spoken much about the impact of the pandemic over the last two blogs. Relative to the energy transition, climate change, and population transition, we expect (or hope) that the pandemic will be shorter in duration and more limited in terms of impact. However, there is a high probability that it will result in permanent changes in our working habits. For instance, work from home (WFH) will probably become and remain more common. Such a shift might be important to various adaptation efforts. Here is what The Economist wrote:

For workers, the great wfh experiment has gone fairly well. Adjusting to the new regime was not easy for everyone—especially those living in small flats, or with children to home-school. Yet on average workers report higher levels of satisfaction and happiness. Respondents to surveys suggest that they would like to work from home nearly 50% of the time, up from 5% before the pandemic, with the remainder in the office. But people’s actual behaviour suggests that their true preference is to spend even more time in their pyjamas. How else to explain why, even in places where the threat from covid-19 is low, offices are only a third full?

Time will tell which adaptive steps will turn out to be productive in these transitions.

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Population Transition

Happy New Year

2021 was not a great year. We are all hoping that 2022 will be better but I doubt that will be the case. I do think, however, that we will be up to the challenges it brings.

Most of the challenges of 2021 fell under two categories of global disaster: the COVID-19 pandemic and anthropogenic climate change. I expect that the pandemic will eventually downgrade to epidemic status and that by then we will have the tools to fight it wherever it rises. Conversely, I expect the impact of climate change to get worse, with no end in sight to its impact. We have the tools to fight it, too, but our global commitments to use them are in question.

The last two months of 2021 reflected these two massive issues: due to the COP26 meeting, much of the news in November focused on climate change; December news, on the other hand, focused on COVID-19 and the emergence of the new omicron variant.

Parallel to these two disasters, another major global change emerged in the news—one that will require more and more of our attention in the coming years—population transition: fertility rates and birth rates are decreasing globally. There are a growing number of countries whose fertility rates have fallen below replacement value (around 2.1). All of this strongly suggests that soon the world population will reach its maxima even as it tends toward a shrinkage: a sort of “it gets worse before it gets better” situation, depending on your definition of “worse” or “better.” These trends result in major changes in population pyramids, decreasing the number of younger people—and the size of the workforce (roughly ages 20–65)—and increasing the number of older people.

I addressed these issues about eight years ago. You can refer to the series of blogs from December 2013 through February 2014 if some of the terms that I used in the last paragraph are unfamiliar. You will find detailed explanations with data for that period. The series of blogs includes a guest blog written by Jim Foreit (January 14, 2014), a professional demographer who actually knows what he is talking about.

This blog, and the one that will follow next week, should be considered as updates to the 2014 series. It will consist of a few recent links that indicate the accelerated pace of the global demographic transition, as well as a series of recent maps of birth and fertility rates by country.

Stacker has a decent anecdotal summary of the global demographic changes currently taking place.

Figures 1–3 describe the current global birth and fertility rates, in addition to population and annual population growth from 1700 until the end of the current century. The seriousness of the situation is reflected in the somewhat unusual voice of the Pope:

In his weekly address in front of St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday, the Pope expressed his disappointment in Italy’s falling birth rate, or as he called it – a “demographic winter.” The Pope framed the country’s birth rate – which hit its lowest level last year since the nation’s 1861 unification – as a threat to its future wellbeing. “It seems that a lot of people have lost the wish to have children,” he said. “Lots of couples prefer to remain childless or to have one child only…It’s a tragedy…which runs counter to our families, our country and our future.” The ongoing pandemic appears to have added a new contributing factor to the country’s century-long population decline, which has continued into this year.

birth rate, population, global

Figure 1 Countries by birth rate in 2020

fertility rate, global, population

By Korakys – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=92951369

Figure 2 Map of global fertility rate

population, global, growth

Data sources: Our World in Data based on HYDE, UN, and UN Population Division (2019 Revision). Licensed under CC-by the author Max Roser.

Figure 3 World population growth and annual global population growth

Other voices that emphasize various aspects of the transition are given below:

The Economist examines the acceleration of the transition.

WION gives predictions for population maximum before the end of the century: “Currently, there are about 7.8 billion people in the world. The study has predicted that the peak in the global population would expectedly be around 9.7 billion in 2064 and then decline to 8.79 billion in 2100.”

MedicalXpress.com posits a correlation between fossil fuel use and fertility:

Chemical pollution from burning fossil fuels could play a significant part in global decline in sperm counts, a fresh study finds.

An in-depth analysis in the journal Nature Reviews Endocrinology says “industrialized regions now have rates below levels required to sustain their populations.”

Results show “reproductive health problems are partly linked to increasing exposures to chemicals originating directly or indirectly from fossil fuels” plus to pollution from using oil to make plastics and industrial chemicals.

Figures 4–6 describe the ramifications of the population changes on age distribution (population pyramids). Figure 4 shows the global changes from 1950 with projections through the end of the century.

population, global, age, Figure 4 Global population pyramid 1950–2100

Figure 5 shows, in more detail, the situation in Japan, one of the developed countries whose fertility rate has been below replacement for the longest time. The Economist gives an account of how Japan is managing this demographic change. The changes in the population pyramid are quantified in terms of three main age brackets. We can see that the ratio of the oldest bracket to the youngest bracket above goes from roughly 14% in 1950 to a projected 460% by 2050.

population, global, age, Japan

Abe, Shigeyuki. (2009). Philippines’ competitiveness and global financial meltdown : a question of Japan’s role. Philippine Review of Economics. 46. 103-123.

Figure 5 Changes of the global population pyramid of Japan 1950–2050

Figure 6 shows the changes that took place in the population pyramids of two large, medium-wealth countries (Brazil and China) and two large, rich countries (France and Japan) over two 35-year intervals. The graphs are set up so that blue represents males and red represents females. As we follow each country down its column, we see that the bottom-most bracket has shrunk in all of them from 1950–2020, albeit by different amounts.

population, age, Brazil, China, France, JapanFigure 6 Changes in the population pyramids of Brazil, China, France, and Japan in 1950, 1985, and 2020

Birth rates and fertility rates are not the only contributors to the demographics of countries. Death rates and immigration are also important contributors. The next blog will focus on these two indicators.

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