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Saturday, July 16, 2005

Europe: Triple Time Bomb Effect & Challenge Of Civilized Depopulation

(Via NWeek)Home to 22 of the world's 25 lowest-birthrate countries, Europe will lose 41 million people by 2030 even with continued immigration, recent UN studies indicate.Germans are getting used to a new kind of immigrant - Wolves returning to the heart of Europe. A hundred years ago, a burgeoning, land-hungry population killed off the last of Germany's wolves. Today, it's the local humans whose numbers are under threat.Villages are emptying out, thanks to the region's ultralow birthrate and continued rural flight. Some villages have lost more than one third of its residents in the last 15 years. Such trends are a harbinger of the future. As rich european nations produce barely half the children needed to maintain the status quo—and rural flight continues to suck people into Europe's suburbs and cities—the countryside will lose close to a third of its population. Lisbon demographer Nuno da Costa says, “It’s a Triple Time Bomb” - "Too few children, too many old people and too many of the remaining young people still leaving the village."
All across the southern Alps, villages have emptied out and forests have grown back in.Schools have not opened for decades - Sunday church bells no longer ring, old people dying, everything abandoned,only a fraction of the 50,000 goats currently survive,land that has been orchards and pasture for some 2,000 years is now covered with a parched scrub that, in the summer, frequently catching fire all characterize the “New Europe”. The implications of this transformation touch on everything from tourism to retirement locales to government conservation and agricultural policies. The continent of the future may look rather different. Big parts of Europe will have to renaturalize. Rural Europe is the laboratory for demographic change. One third of Europe's farmland is marginal. Most of these farmers subsist on EU subsidies, since it's cheaper to import food from abroad. Already, the EU is trying to limit costly overproduction by paying farmers not to farm but without subsidies, some of the most scenic European landscapes would not survive. Keeping biodiversity up by preventing the land from going wild is one of the reasons the EU pays farmers to mow fallow land once a year. France and Germany subsidize sheep herds whose grazing keeps scenic heaths from growing in. Once the baby boomers start dying out around 2020, population will start to decline so sharply in many European countries that there simply won't be enough people for every town to reinvent itself as an exurbanite enclave or tourist resort. It's similarly unclear how long current government policies can stave off the inevitable. In some villages there are now too few people flushing for the sewage to properly flow, requiring costly investments to redimension the pipes. Shrinking, they've found, can be an expensive proposition indeed.
Western Europe looks toward Eastern Europe as a fallback source for easy-to-integrate migrants, but with ultralow birthrates - Ukraine and Bulgaria will see their populations drop by a third by midcentury. With the EU alone needing about 1.6 million immigrants a year above its current level to keep the working-age population stable between now and 2050, a much more likely source of migrants would be Europe's Muslim neighbors, whose young populations are set to almost double in that same time. But that's a hot-button issue few are as yet willing to address. Today's unprecedented population decline, amplified by the shifting economics of farming, puts the future of many of those green landscapes in doubt, just as pressure to cut the subsidies that fund them rises. Many Europeans are reluctant to just let nature do its thing.

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