In 2100, Will Canada's 50 Million Be a Force for Good?

With courageous leadership, we could offer the world 50 million solutions.

By Crawford Kilian 3 Aug 2015 | TheTyee.ca

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

When a politician's idea of the future ends with the next election, it's very hard to get them thinking beyond that date. And an election campaign, as Kim Campbell accurately said, is no time to debate complex issues.

Nevertheless, there's no time like the present to debate the future you want, especially if you are a small, prosperous country that would like to stay prosperous in a world growing bigger and poorer all the time.

We now have some numbers to base the debate on. The United Nations recently published its World Population Prospects for 2015, with both national and world projections up to the year 2100. Those prospects look alarming, but they also offer real opportunities if we're ready to seize them.

The UN says Canada will grow from our present 36 million to 40 million by 2030, 44 million by 2050, and just under 50 million by 2100. That seems like a lot, but the rest of the world will be growing too -- some countries at astounding rates.

World population will grow from today's 7.3 billion to 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion by 2050, and 11.2 billion at the end of the century. (These numbers, of course, are projections, the median between 9.5 billion and over 13 billion by 2100.) In 1950, world population was just 2.5 billion.

Africa, now at 1.1 billion, will more than double to 2.4 billion by 2050, and reach 4.3 billion by 2100. Asia will increase from today's 4.4 billion to 5.2 billion in 2050 and then decline to 4.9 billion. Europe, now at 738 million, will actually shrink -- to 734 million in 2030, 707 million in 2050, and 646 million in 2100.

Whatever the outcome, we should do what we can to maximize our grandchildren's ability to cope on a crowded planet. They will have to deal not only with lots of neighbours, but also with the enormous stresses of climate change, mass species extinction, economic upheavals and global health disasters.

A planetary web of allies

We had better resign ourselves to going down in history as the last in a long series of pathologically stupid generations. But if we think and act fast, our grandchildren may at least admit that we finally got it, and tried to make a disastrous situation less awful.

The UN expects a handful of countries to experience most of the population growth. Nigeria, for example, is now the world's seventh largest country. At 400 million, it will become the third largest by 2050, bigger than the U.S. -- which itself will have 388 million in 2050 and will soar to 450 million by century's end. Other African and Asian countries will be growing as well.

We should understand these numbers as a triumph. Modern public health has saved untold millions in Africa and Asia despite the miseries of malaria, diarrhea and war. Canada can be proud of its own efforts to reduce those miseries -- and we should be prepared to build on our good reputation to make friends in the countries we have helped.

Nigeria, for example, is going to survive its current battles with Boko Haram. The real struggle will be to feed its own people as climate change affects food production, and to provide clean water and sanitation.

We could act as friends. We could recruit the brightest Nigerian students as the Canadian equivalent of Rhodes Scholars, and help support the next generation of engineers, healthcare workers, bureaucrats and scientists. Back home, they'd give us leverage on Nigerian politics while maintaining good will. The same policy could win us friends all over the world and give us political and economic influence far beyond our mere 50 million.

A planetary web of friends, allies and students would also enable us to support our own Canadian elders. By 2050, the UN estimates, a third of our 44 million will be over 60, and over four million of us will be over 80 -- that is, born before 1970. With 15 per cent of us under the age of 14, that won't leave many working-age Canadians to support their kids and parents. Today's millennials will be tomorrow's seniors, and proportionally we'll have more seniors than the U.S.

My colleague Geoff Dembicki asked last year if his generation is screwed. If it is, the rest of us are screwed, too. With such a small proportion of working-age people in mid-century Canada, we'd better ensure that every one of them is healthy, well-educated and highly productive -- even in industries we can't imagine yet.

'Swarms' or saviours?

The UN report points out that migrants from poor countries understandably head for more prosperous countries, whether in Europe or North America or Oceania. We have treated them like barbarians at the gates, enemies to be repelled or at least passed on to someone else.

We already see thousands drowning in the Mediterranean or battling to get through the Channel Tunnel from Calais to England, while Prime Minister David Cameron dismisses them as a "swarm."

But no wall will be high enough, and no moat deep enough, to hold off the millions yet to come.

The Europeans exported their excess population to the Americas a century ago, and there will be consequences. The UN sees Europe's population dropping sharply to under 650 million by 2100. That implies still more seniors and children to care for, and too few to do it. The European Union would be wise to quit beating up Greece and start distributing its Syrian and African refugees and asylum seekers to the northern countries that will need them.

An even wiser alternative would be to support the poor nations' best and brightest, helping them to help their country. This would be a radical departure. In the great days of empire, colonials were trained in the imperial homeland only as an administrative convenience. When the colonial trainees clamoured for independent homelands, the empires' response was to bomb them, bribe them or arrange coups against them.

That policy continues in force, ensuring endless futile wars and displacing scores of millions of people who want only to live in peace. The Americans and Europeans pretend our enemies hate us for our freedoms. No, they hate us because we've behaved like murderous jerks.

End the jerk era

Canada has been among the jerks for the last decade, but we used to be among the good guys. We could be again, if we look beyond October 19 to the 85 brutal years that will follow it, when people remember Stephen Harper (if at all) as a quaint old villainous fool. If we can think in the long-term, we'll see that our own naked self-interest depends on that of the other billions on the planet. They can't be ignored, or bombed into submission.

Nor can our own people. We can't afford to relegate our Aboriginal men to prisons, or our Aboriginal women to street corners. We need to help or heal those with mental health issues, not jail them, and get our immigrants into good jobs and their children into schools the world will envy and emulate.

We can't afford a single disposable Canadian. Canada will need everyone just to survive the rest of this century. By 2100, we will have 50 million Canadians. Let's hope they act as 50 million solutions for the problems of the world's 11 billion other human beings.  [Tyee]

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