President's Note, March 2020

Written by John Seager, President and CEO | Published: March 2, 2020

While global population growth continues to soar unsustainably, a handful of nations are experiencing declines. Often, this is pounced on as evidence that population growth is a thing of the past. That’s just not true in a world that adds more than 80 million people annually.

We want to see more places reach population stabilization and decline—through progressive, voluntary measures that prioritize human rights.

While population decline brings many advantages, it does entail making some adjustments. Our friendly neighbors to the north have come up with a sound approach: paying residents of shrinking communities to relocate.

Last year, only 54 residents remained in the Newfoundland and Labrador community of Little Bay Islands. They had numbered in the hundreds until the early 1990s, when the local economy was decimated by the collapse of the North Atlantic fishery and the resulting moratorium on commercial cod fishing. This left the Canadian government burdened with providing ferry transportation, snow removal, and electricity for too few residents vis-à-vis the high cost of reaching the remote community with these services.

Rather than just wringing its hands, Ottawa offered between $250,000 and $270,000 to each property-owning household in Little Bay Islands to relocate, with the proviso that 90 percent of the voting residents must approve the plan. This cost would be more than offset by the elimination of all services provided by the national government. The measure passed by the required margin. As of December 31, 2019, all government services in Little Bay Islands have ceased. One couple has elected to stay and are investing in their own solar power; no one is being forced to leave, but those who choose to remain must fend for themselves.

Here in the United States, there are dwindling farming communities facing similar fates even as our national population continues to mushroom. Dairy farms have been particularly hard-hit. Per capita milk consumption in the U.S. has plummeted by 40 percent since 1975, partly due to the proliferation of more sustainable dairy-free milk alternatives.

It’s often hard to leave hearth and home behind. But it’s part of the life cycle for almost all of us, one way or another. We might do well to follow the example set by those thoughtful Canadians as one small step toward transitioning to a less crowded future.

As for the broader issue of the employment needs of our national economy, if we face shortages of workers in our increasingly technological world, let’s lift up the 13 million American children trapped in poverty. With access to good health care and sound education, they stand a far greater chance of being productive citizens and workers.

We have no people shortage, period. But we could use more creative approaches to show people that population stabilization and reduction can be positive outcomes for people as well as for our beleaguered planet.

John Seager