The Infertility Trap

A colleague who happens to be a professor in New South Wales shared this video with me. I am tempted to just recapture the presented content here, but I feel everyone should just watch it for full impact. I intentionally used a cover image that is counter to the narrative. The challenge is not overpopulation. Rather, it’s the opposite. Find out why.

Video: RSNSW Clarke Memorial Lecture 2021: The changing tide of human populations: an infertility trap

I’ve cued the video beyond the introduction—feel free to rewind for context, but there is no material content to be missed—, and there are a couple of minutes of additional material at the end, making the content closer to 50 minutes (48.5) than an hour.

The Infertility Trap was published last month as a book. I’ve not read it, but it was referenced. Countdown, by Shanna Swan is also referenced.

Some highlights follow:

The Rise and Rise of Humankind

Geometric growth commenced after the Black Plague was driven by the discovery of how to harness fossil fuel. As with Malthusian predictions, The Population Bomb missed the mark—but not for all of the reasons you might be thinking.

Changing Pace of Population Growth

Population growth rates were already on the decline when The Population Bomb was published in 1968. This trend was a result of the fertility trend that became precipitous circa 1963.

The Demographic Transition: Population Momentum

Though birth rates may seem to be increasing, this is merely optics as this is a legacy of positive population momentum stemming from high birth rates a few decades prior to the impending decline in fertility.

The Malthusian Paradox

Thomas Malthus didn’t grasp the paradigmatic shift technology would provide nor the relationship between fertility and prosperity.

Charts: Prosperity, infant mortality, child mortality, and fertility rate

As prosperity (as measured by GDP) increases, infant and child mortality as well as total fertility rate, each decrease. (I’m calling out the poor statistical representation of the non-zero-based Y-axis, but I don’t believe this was done to exaggerate the slope. It’s apparently just out of index.)

Reproductive Patterns: Australia vs !Kung Hunter-Gatherers

Notable in the charts above, are the delays in reproduction by the average Australian woman to around 30 years effectively limits the delivery to about 2 (1.7) whereas the hunter-gatherers commence closer to 20 years, yielding them an average of 5 children.

Rapid decline in semen quality

Semen quality (motility) and count are down.

Projections: Countdown to sperm count of zero in Paris and New Zealand

If declining semen count trends remain unabated or unaltered, one might anticipate a point where male fertility (potency?) reaches zero. This is characterised as azoopermia and projects this on Parisian males just past 2030 and by 2026 for New Zealanders.

Secular trend in declining testosterone levels

This downward trend is not constrained by region.

Trends in Testicular Cancer (NSW)

A correlated trend in fertility rate is an increase in testicular cancer, as shown with NSW data, even as ovarian cancer remains steady and cervical cancers are decreasing.

Reproductive Cancers in New South Wales

Conversely, other reproductive cancers (in NSW)—uterine and breast cancers—are on the rise in sync with testicular cancers and the drop in fertility.

My intent with this post is to share rather than editorialise. The video speaks for itself. I’ve provided some excerpted content for those who can’t spare the time to view the source.

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exstinctionem hominum

Would human extinction be a good thing for the good of the planet? We’re all familiar with the concept of the greater good, but what is the domain of the greater? We presume it to be the domain of all humans or at least our chosen in-group. But if we dilate the aperture, we might encircle the entire biosphere. In my experience, humans rarely extend the circle beyond themselves and barely even do that, opting to extend it to their race or tribe. Whilst some humans are not as self-centred as some narcissists and sociopaths, the radius doesn’t go too far.

Human beings really are this virus upon the earth, and the earth's running a fever, you know? If you step away from that kind of inherent human sentimentality and just look at it neutrally, the universe is neutral morally. —Eef Barzelay

Is one a misanthrope if one considers the greater good to be the earth devoid of the human virus? Perhaps, yes, if stated in those terms. But if one calculates that humans do more harm than good, doesn’t the cost-benefit calculus indicate that fewer people or no people would be better for the earth. I’ve long been fond of the late George Carlin’s routine where he proses that we don’t have to save Earth; the earth will remain long after humans no longer inhabit it. It’s been said that 99.9% of species that ever occupied the earth as no longer extant. Humans are past the mean duration of a species. Perhaps it’s time to move on.

I started to write this post some time ago after having had a discussion on antinatalism. Rather, I defended anti-natalism in the course of a conversation on the inherited notion that humans as sacred.

I supposed I am not a strict antinatalist, but neither do I feel that life is somehow sacred. Mine, of course, but except that. Just kidding. If you are reading, yours is, too. Just kidding, not you either. Interestingly, this ties into the post on the narrative gravity of the self.

As I write this in a world with a population of almost 8 billion people dominated by a handful and no picnic for that lot either, there are likely enough people already. I do feel that even if population trends continue upward—given offsetting depopulation trends in some regions—, humans will cap out at around 10 billion anyway. Perhaps in a Malthusian manner, but I am thinking in terms of deer herds and population limiting factors as expressed by equations like Xn-1 = rxn(1-xn).

Life does appear to have at least common characteristics and perhaps only one: the need to procreate. The second is the need to live, but that can probably be reduced to the need to live long enough to procreate. This is core to Richard Dawkins’ Selfish Gene theory. I like Robert Sapolsky’s treatment of the subject in Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.

The concept of ‘sacred‘ is a religious vestige. I’m not sure why this needed to be codified, but religious dogma seems to capture the notion ‘thou shalt not kill’, as if it needed to be said. I won’t spend any time on the hypocrisy of the many people who espouse this edict.

Except for that motherfucker right there!

It may be a valid position to consider me a misanthrope, but that’s probably overstated, but I’m generally not a fanboy. I guess what bothers me most is the hype and self-promotion. I don’t find it to be particularly inconsistent to see the small positive aspects humans bring and still consider them to be parasitic. This is a compositional challenge–a dimensional consideration that moves away from binary-trending heuristics, the age-old right and wrong, good and bad, good and evil, and on and on.

As with geocentrism, we put ourselves at the centre because this is how we experience life—inside out. All else seems to extend from this model, except there is no centre. It’s just our perspective. I experience life the same way. I’m no exception. Nonetheless, I don’t seem to need to cling to this central notion—this notion of centrality.

When all is said and done—when the last human has made their exit, there will be no epilogue or postscript, afterword, or coda. Humanity is a story in need of a narrator. The ongoing codicil will cease, and to copy-paste the high art of Monty Python’s parrot sketch:

E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!

Monty Python – Pet Shop Skit