Report: Elon Musk’s population collapse claims reckless and flawed

11 July 2022, immediate use

“Fake News” award for father-of-nine, after he claims he is “tackling the depopulation crisis”

 

In light of his repeated, high-profile and widely-reported assertion that population collapse is the “greatest threat to civilisation” [1], campaigning charity Population Matters has produced a new report challenging the claims of the world’s richest person, Elon Musk. The report, Which planet is he on? Elon Musk and the population apocalypse, examines the arguments made in individual tweets and comments by Mr Musk and compares them with current evidence and expert opinion.

 

To accompany the report, Population Matters is sending Mr Musk a “Fake News Award” and challenges him to debate population in person “anytime, anywhere (on Earth)”.

 

The report is timely: following recent reports that he is the father of previously unknown twins, taking his personal tally to nine living children, Mr Musk went on Twitter to say he was “doing my best to help the underpopulation crisis” (240,000 likes) [2]. Meanwhile, today the UN releases its latest population projections [3], which estimate that 2.4 billion more people will be added to the global population by 2086, with the total of 8 billion to be hit this November.

 

Population Matters director Robin Maynard said:

 

“Elon Musk’s claims on population range from the just-about-grounded-in-reality to floating free in outer space. From warning us about the sun exploding to fretting about the ‘extinction’ of Japan and saying the Earth can sustain many times its current population, his claims are reckless, flawed and potentially harmful.  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. Whatever reason Mr Musk chooses to explain the unexpected expansion of his family, the fantasy ‘depopulation crisis’ is the least credible.”

 

Tweets and comments by Mr Musk examined in the report include:

 

“The world’s population is accelerating towards collapse.” “The biggest issue the world will face in 20 years is population collapse.” (2019) [4,5] In fact, human population is currently growing and no authoritative, expert projection foresees it peaking before 2050 [6]. Today’s UN projection does not foresee any significant downward trend in population for at least 80 years. Musk retweeted the video in which he made the “in twenty years” claim as recently May 2022.

“If these trends continue, humanity will cease to exist.” “Unless something changes … Japan will eventually cease to exist. This would be a great loss for the world.” [7,8] Musk’s comments imply we should be genuinely concerned about zero population, both globally and in some major countries. Even the lowest ranges of the main authoritative population projections do not foresee global population being lower at the end of this century than it was at the start, at about 6bn people. Higher range projections see it still continuing to grow at the end of the century. At 74m, the UN’s projected population for Japan at the end of this century is larger than the UK’s is today.

“Let’s not gradually dwindle away until civilisation ends with all of us in adult diapers, in a whimper.” [9] The UN projections show that the proportion of people over 65 will rise from 10% today to 16% in 2050. By 2100, there will still be fewer people over 70 than under 20 globally (18% to 22%). Half our global human population is under 30 today. Ageing does represent a substantial economic challenge in some countries but there are many positive policy solutions already being deployed to address it. [10]

“The common rebuttal is ‘what about immigration?’. I’m like, from where?” [11] Musk has dismissed immigration as a solution to low birth rates in certain countries because of low birth rates “everywhere”. Many parts of the world will be growing their populations over the coming century. According to UN projections, Africa alone is projected by the UN to add more than two billion people to the global population by 2100, and still be growing. Asia’s population will grow by 500m up until 2057 (to 5.3bn).

“Earth could maintain a population many times the current level.” [12] In 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identified population growth as one of the two “strongest drivers” of carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion, and in 2018, identified future high population growth as a “key impediment” to keeping global warming under 1.5°C [13,14]. The Global Footprint Network calculates that we are using the Earth’s renewable resources 1.7 times faster than they can be renewed. [15] Economist Sir Partha Dasgupta has calculated that global sustainability is only feasible with a maximum world GDP of US$70 trillion: if spread equally among our current population that would mean less than $9,000 per person. [16]

“We’re going to be fine even if we doubled the [population] size of the humans. I know a lot about environment stuff.” [17] As recently as 2017, Musk identified climate change as the biggest threat to humanity, [18] but this has now been supplanted by ‘population decline’. His current complacency about the environment is not consistent with any authoritative evaluation of our situation: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has described our current status as “code red” for humanity. [19]

There is a [100%] chance of *all* species extinction due to expansion of the sun, unless humanity makes life multiplanetary.” [20] This is a rare example of Musk discussing threats to biodiversity. It is true, but scientists currently expect that event to take place one billion years from now. [21]

 

Mr Musk has also tweeted that “If there aren’t enough people for Earth, then there definitely won’t be enough for Mars [sad face emoji]” [22]

 

Robin Maynard continues:

 

“The report could have been twice as long, so prolific and shaky are Mr Musk’s pronouncements on this subject. 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.

 

“The real challenge is to address the poverty, inequity, and lack of life opportunities that high fertility and population growth characterise, improve the wellbeing of the greatest proportion of our fellow citizens, and protect ecosystems here on Earth - before indulging the space fantasies of a handful of competing billionaires.

 

“Mr Musk would better use his social media reach and commitment to free speech to promote the deeper, evidenced debate needed about the real population challenges we face, rather than fire off shallow tweets. I’d be delighted to meet him any time, any place on this planet and debate the issues in person.” [23,24]

 

Which planet is he on? Elon Musk and the population apocalypse is available at https://populationmatters.org/resources/which-planet-he-elon-musk-and-population-apocalypse

 

The 'Fake News Award' is being manufactured in Scotland and will be delivered to Mr Musk at Tesla HQ in Texas.

 

Contact:

Alistair Currie, Head of Campaigns and Communications

T: +44 (0)208 123 9170 

E: alistair.currie@populationmatters.org

 

Notes for editors

Elon Musk is known to be a father of nine living children: Griffin (born 2004) and twin Vivian Jenna Wilson (born Xavier, who has recently filed to change her name and is estranged from her father); Kai, Saxon and Damian (triplets, 2006); X Æ A-12 Musk (2021); Exa Dark Siderael (2022); twins with Shivon Zillis, names unknown (2021). [Source: BBC]

In addition to seeing the release of the first UN population projections since 2019, 11 July is also World Population Day.

Population Matters attracted extensive media coverage and controversy on World Population Day 2021 by giving a Change Champions Award to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for saying they would limit their family size to two.

 

References 

[1] Twitter, @elonmusk, 24 May 2022 https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1529193812949614594

[2] Twitter, @elonmusk, 7 July 2022,  https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1545046146548019201

[3] United Nations Population Division (2022) World Population Prospects 2022. Headline figures taken from Summary of Results https://www.un.org/development/desa/pd/sites/www.un.org.development.desa.pd/files/wpp2022_summary_of_results.pdf Key findings report. Other UN figures referred to from data tables, available for download at https://population.un.org/wpp2022-embargoed/

[4] Twitter, @elonmusk, 16 July 2017 https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/882939670895755264  

[5] Twitter, @elonmusk, 24 May 2022 https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1529193812949614594

[6] The Which planet is he on? report examines projections by the United Nations, European Commission/International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington and Jorgen Randers. See p5.

[7] Twitter, @elonmusk, 16 June 2022 https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1537442531008339968

[8] Twitter, @elonmusk, 7 May 2022 https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1523045544536723456

[9] All In Summit Podcast, 17 May 2022 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnxzrX9tNoc&t=2882s  

[10] See Population Matters 2021 report Silver linings, not silver burdens: small families and ageing populations https://populationmatters.org/news/2021/10/pm-report-exposes-ageing-myth

[11] Comments made in video of World Artificial intelligence Conference 2019, featured on Twitter, @elonmusk, 24 May 2022 https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1529193812949614594

[12] Twitter @PPathole [video interview with Elon Musk]  https://twitter.com/PPathole/status/1516474757126193154

[13] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2022) AR6 Climate Change 2022:
Mitigation of Climate Change, https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg3/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGIII_FinalDraft_FullReport.pdf 

[14] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2018) Special Report: Global Warming

of 1.5ºC, https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/

[15] Global Footprint Network https://www.footprintnetwork.org/

[16] Dasgupta, A., & Dasgupta, P. (2017, August 3), Socially Embedded Preferences, Environmental Externalities, and Reproductive Rights. Population and Development Review, Wiley Online Library https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/padr.12090

[17] All In Summit Podcast, 17 May 2022 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnxzrX9tNoc&t=2882s ; The Street, 19 May 2022 https://www.thestreet.com/technology/elon-musk-names-humanitys-biggest-threat

[18] Rolling Stone, Nov 2017 https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/elon-musk-the-architect-of-tomorrow-120850/

[19] United Nations (2021) https://unric.org/en/guterres-the-ipcc-report-is-a-code-red-for-humanity/

[20] Twitter, @elonmusk, 16 January 2022 https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1482552643343904770

[21] Sciencefocus.com https://www.sciencefocus.com/planet-earth/when-will-earth-become-uninhabitable/

[22] Twitter @elonmusk  January 18 2022 https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1483486559336910850

[23] Unmet need has increased from 230m in 1990 to 270m in 2020: Kantarova et al (2020) Estimating progress towards meeting women’s contraceptive needs in 185 countries: A Bayesian hierarchical modelling study, PLOS Medicine https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1003026

[24] For more information about pronatal policies and restrictions on reproductive rights, see Population Matters’ 2021 report Welcome to Gilead and the Gilead Watch webpage, which contains links to relevant news stories

 

 

Population Matters is a UK-based charity campaigning to achieve a sustainable global population through ethical means, to protect nature and improve people's lives.

 

populationmatters.org

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