Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Older world, greener world

I could be here forever
Environmentally, an aging human species will be a greener one. Median-age-46-and-rising Germany may, at the end of this century, see its CO2 emission quantity returning to pre-1950 level. This will be quite an achievement as so far emission-cutting efforts only dare to have timid-but-realistic targets of slowing down emission growth, not a returning to lower levels of the past. The coming older world should deliver a better living environment: less pollution (elders consume less), fewer crimes (older humans are less violent), more housing space (Japan's house price has been trending down for 24 years now while purchasing power remains stable)... It's not all gloom and doom at a closer look.

Amid fears of rising healthcare costs, soaring pension bills and a declining workforce, it seems that ageing could return Germany to carbon dioxide emission levels not seen since before the 1950s.

The average age is rising in most nations, as people live longer and birth rates fall. This process is most advanced in industrialized nations. Germany has a fertility rate of 1.4 children per woman and a life expectancy of 80. Half the population is aged 46 or older, a world record shared with Japan.
Fanny Kluge of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, and colleagues found that per-capita CO2 emissions in Western countries rise steadily as children become adults and as adults become more affluent. But after the age of 60, emissions decline by roughly 20 per cent when individuals retire and travel less.

As a country's population as a whole ages, it will follow the same pattern, says Kluge. As baby boomers grow into middle age, the country's emissions soar, but when the proportion of pensioners becomes greater, emissions fall. The dip will be accentuated by any drop in population, if death rates exceed birth rates.

Kluge calculates that since 1950, ageing has caused a 30 per cent increase in German CO2 emissions. But, after 2020, "as the proportion of people older than 80 continues to increase and the population size shrinks, emissions will decrease and reach pre-1950 levels by 2100"

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