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The Greying of America

David Berger



Actually, it’s happening in all over the industrialized world. A few months back I saw a segment on TV about a beautiful old city in Italy where the young people have moved away and the old people are dying off. The result is that unless people move here soon, this charming medieval city will become a ghost town.   Real estate prices are very low, and some Americans have already answered the call. I may answer it myself—maybe not that particular city, but there are similar situations all over Italy. Some towns are even paying people to move there.


I can understand why young people would move away from a small town to a big city. I was born in New York City and grew up 30 miles away in the suburbs. For me, the city was magical. Everything I loved was there—culture, sports, and people.   A college buddy of mine once described New York as the major leagues of everything. It’s a cluster of the greatest minds in every field. He even said that we have the best cab drivers. I’m not sure about that, but as a jazz musician, this is where I’ve always needed to be. It’s not just the numbers of people that flock to New York to make their careers; they all create an energy that makes you strive for greatness. That’s my intellectual and spiritual endorphin.


Before World War II, America was a mostly rural country. That all changed in the last 70 years. Like that little town in Italy, young Americans left their family farms and small towns to seek their fame and fortune in our cities. Along with the post-war boom came my Baby Boomer generation. More of us went to college, married later and had fewer children. My grandfather was one of eight children in his family. I was one of four—thankfully, my mother finally had a girl, or she would have kept going. I have two children.


In order to keep a steady population, every couple needs to produce 2.1 children. The poorest countries have the highest birth rates. Niger has the highest birth rate at 7.3 per woman. Israel at #67 in birth rate (3.1) and Saudi Arabia at #84 (2.6) are the only prosperous countries with sustainable populations. China, Great Britain, and the US are at 1.8. Japan is at 1.5 and Italy, Greece and Spain are at 1.3.   So what is preventing the US and these staunch allies of ours from becoming countries filled with ghost towns? Immigration. Immigrants move in and make babies. If they come from poor countries where everyone has large families (like all of Africa and undeveloped countries elsewhere), they tend to create large families.


I’ve always wondered at why those who can’t afford children have lots of them, and those that can afford them don’t. Someone once pointed out to me that if you don’t have enough money to go to the movies, you stay home and make babies. It’s free entertainment—until nine months later. There might be something to this. But also, traditional non-industrial societies are family based. The problem is that at 7,000,000,000 people and growing steadily, the earth can’t support us and the animals we eat. We pollute the air, soil and water and pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We are choking ourselves into oblivion.


There are five solutions that I can think of to prevent the uninhabitability of our planet:

  1. Massive disease. We have suffered plagues in our past: bubonic, smallpox, Spanish flu, AIDS, etc. Through our overuse of antibiotics and sterile environment, we are unwittingly inviting strains of unstoppable bacteria and germs that could wipe out entire populations.
  2. Climate and natural catastrophes. We could be hit by a giant asteroid or go through an ice age. Ultimately, if we destroy our atmosphere, the earth will heal itself. Doing so will undoubtedly be catastrophic for the human race and most other animal and plant species.
  3. The latest estimate of deaths from World War II is upwards of 90 million people. I recently read that if Trump drops an atomic bomb on North Korea, we can kiss 1 billion people goodbye. My guess is that the radiation would kill far more than that, and possibly every person on earth. Not a pleasant thought considering Trump’s insecurity and poor impulse control.
  4. Legislated population control. The entire world could adopt China’s one-child-per-family rule. The Chinese got control of their population explosion and were able to form a sustainable economy. Like the previous two suggestions, there is going to be a lot of resistance to taking away people’s reproductive rights and letting government into our bedrooms.
  5. Mass emigration to other planets. 500 years ago Europe solved their over-population problem with emigration to the Americas. They killed and enslaved the native population and brought over in ships hordes of European settlers and African slaves to build a new world. We could build rocket ships and send settlers to other uninhabited Goldilocks planets. I applaud Elon Musk’s enthusiasm, but I don’t think this can happen in my lifetime or his. Maybe this could be an option for my grandchildren or their children. Reading about the Hubble Telescope makes me think that anything is possible, but like doctors always tell us, it’s gonna take time.


So where does this leave us? We are destroying our environment every single day. I’m a vegetarian, so this doesn’t apply to me, but do you ever think about how much water cows drink and how much water it takes to create the food they eat, and how much they fart and belch (which pours more methane in the air than all the cars on planet earth)? And what about pigs and chickens, and all the water these animals pollute with their feces and urine?


To put it mildly, we earthlings have not been good stewards of our world. This was not a problem even 200 years ago when there were fewer than a billion people. It took 123 years to get to 2 billion, and then only 33 years to get to 3 billion. Now we add a billion every decade or so, nearly all of whom live in poverty in Asia and Africa.


This situation is unsustainable. Something or some things are going to change. We have the above five solutions. I’m quite sure that numbers 1, 2 and 3 will happen soon. Hopefully legislated population control will be adopted worldwide. I don’t like the rights angle of it, but if number 1, 2 and 3 happen and/or there is a massive revolt of 5 billion poor and uneducated people taking over the world, I’ll take limiting families to one child. Basically, we’ve got to decrease the world population to less than half of what it is now. Ideally, we should have no more than 1 billion. That is going to take a lot of dying and almost no replacement.


Thomas Robert Malthus wrote Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, just 6 years before the world housed a billion people for the first time. He predicted that population growth would increase exponentially; food production, only arithmetically. Obviously, he couldn’t predict the Industrial Revolution, which increased food production and decreased population growth. For those reasons, things weren’t as dire then as he predicted, but they are certainly dire now. Actually, we can produce enough food for all 7,000,000,000 earthlings, but due to greed, most people go to bed hungry every night.


Where Malthus worried about starvation, our concern now is pollution. President Trump’s cabinet consists of former industry lobbyists who were hired by the president to eliminate their departments, so that the American public will have no protections from the abuses of industry. Nowhere is this more apparent than the EPA. The Environmental Protection Agency was formed to protect our environment, right? Why would we want to get rid of it or even decrease its power to protect us? I understand that big business can make a lot more money if they don’t have to worry about destroying the earth, water and air, and giving us all cancer, but doesn’t that seem a bit shortsighted? Don’t these CEOs and board members have children and grandchildren? Do these guys really need another Rolls Royce, private jet, home on some tropical island, or more money they will never spend in ten lifetimes? Or is it just about winning and losing? They want to be winners at all costs. As our “winningest president ever” says, “Sad.” I say, “Despicable.”

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  • Graciela on

    Having worked on the issue of poverty and hunger off and on over the last 35 years, I can tell you that there are some verifiable positive results on the issue of population control that do not infringe on human rights, rather increase them. The poorest parents are willing to embrace family planning once they realize that they can take simple measures at home to improve their children’s health, so they no longer need to have more children in case some die of preventable diseases before age 5. These methods include encouraging breastfeeding until age 2, which inhibits fertility by 60%, spacing births, learning how to prevent kids dying from diarrhea (a common killer) with a simple solution of water, salt and sugar, and getting access to vaccinations. As countries develop, the growth rate drops—Mexico is a great example. In 1970, the growth rate was 3.12% In 2015, it was 1.32% One of the crucial ways to save the world is to save the people living on it.

  • Susan Boylan on

    I’ll join you, Joyce Post!

  • Bobby Berger on

    A great article well thought out. We all have to be cognizant of what is happening.

  • Dennis Winkle on

    Stick to music, you’re better at it!

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