Elon Musk is obsessed with ‘population collapse’ - but what is it and is it really a threat?

Elon Musk is obsessed with ‘population collapse’ - but what is it and is it really a threat?
Elon Musk plans to counter-sue Twitter over $44 billion deal

If there’s one thing Elon Musk does on Twitter even more often than posting dodgy memes, it’s talking about ‘population collapse’.

The Tesla CEO and billionaire has been very vocal over recent times about the threat of a reduction in the human population size.

“We should be much more worried about population collapse… if there aren’t enough people for Earth, then there definitely won’t be enough for Mars,” Musk wrote in a tweet earlier this year.

"USA birth rate has been below min sustainable levels for ~50 years. (The) past two years have been a demographic disaster," he also posted.

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Musk also said that Italy, where the birth rate has been falling since the 1960s, would have “no people” if that rate continues to decline.

Leaving aside Musk’s ambitions to put people on Mars for the moment, his posts have turned more people to talk about the idea of ‘population collapse’.

He’s also joked that he’s doing his part to get the population numbers, with nine known children of his own. After the news broke about Musk having twins with Shivon Zilis, who is an executive at his artificial intelligence company Neuralink, he wrote: "Doing my best to help the underpopulation crisis. A collapsing birth rate is the biggest danger civilization faces by far."

But what’s it all about? And is there a cause for concern? Let’s take a look.

What does “population collapse” mean?

Musk has been vocal about the concept on social mediaCreative Commons/Pexels

Essentially, the notion of ‘population collapse’ is the idea that the world could not have enough people living on it in future to function.

The fear is born out of a fall in fertility rate. The average number of children a woman gives birth to, also known as the fertility rate, is falling. If the number drops below around 2.1, then the size of the population begins to come down.

In 2020 the current global fertility rate was 2.5, but it is reportedly set to fall to 1.9 by 2100.

Musk has described population collapse as his biggest fear, claiming that low birth rates would lead to the collapse of “civilisation”.

Musk also recently posted an article published by BBC News from 2020, which states that “falling fertility rates mean nearly every country could have shrinking populations by the end of the century.

“And 23 nations - including Spain and Japan - are expected to see their populations halve by 2100.”

Is “population collapse” really a threat?

Could Musk be right?Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

Musk and others might claim it’s a real issue, but the latest developments have seen the claims about the so-called “population collapse” debunked – and labelled as coming “from outer space”.

It comes after a UK-based non-profit focused on population research and environment sustainability group, Population Matters, looked into the claims made by Musk in a new report.

Population Matters director Robin Maynard said that Musk’s “underpopulation crisis” theory was “reckless, flawed and potentially harmful”.

“Elon Musk’s claims on population range from the just-about-grounded-in-reality to floating free in outer space,” said Maynard. “It would be easy to laugh them off, if he didn’t have 100 million Twitter followers and a stratospheric media profile lending them spurious credibility”.

“It’s easy to mock him for his extravagant claims but there’s something really serious here too. The number of women with an unmet need for modern contraception in low-income countries stands at 270 million and is growing.”

“Covid, climate change and the economic downturn all threaten to push back the vital gains in health, poverty reduction, family planning, gender equality and education that have reduced family size and population growth and improved the lives of billions. And we’re seeing hard-won reproductive freedoms from Iran to China to the US being pushed back, sometimes explicitly to promote higher birth rates.”

Also, rather than the claim about there being “no people'' left in Italy soon like Musk did, figures from Istat, the Italian statistical institute, show the country’s population will be 20 per cent smaller by 2070, and won’t disappear at all.

The Independent reached out to Musk's representatives for comment when the Population Matters report was published earlier this month.

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