Demographic Change in the UK and the Environment

Population Map of the United Kingdom (Gridded Population Projection)The new 29th report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution explores the environmental challenges faced by the UK as a result of demographic change. The cover of the report features my population cartogram of the United Kingdom surrounded by the commissions royal blue (see larger image of the cover map here). The report also happens to be the last work of this Royal Commission, which together with several other Defra bodies will be abolished later this year in its 31st year of existence.
Yesterday’s (16/02) official launch of this report in London was accompanied by a vigorous debate about the key findings, with much of the discussion being closely related to the demographic trends in the United Kingdom and which implications these have.
Quite interestingly to see that this often leads towards a debate about migration (during the discussion as well as in some of the comments on the media coverage mentioned below), although this is perhaps the least ‘problem’ of demographic change – if this can be seen as a problem at all, rather than a challenge or even an opportunity if handled the right way.
The media coverage of the report mainly points at the aspects of consumption and the changing age structure of the population (see reports of the BBC and the Guardian). But all major news sources do also refer to the emerging geographical patterns (which the population map on the report’s cover features too prominently to dismiss it), and mention concerns raised by the Optimum Population Trust that argues for a population reduction in the UK. That environmental concerns can’t be tackled on a national scale is neglected in this view, and solutions do require political solutions that go beyond national policies. A better start that the narrow-minded demand for stopping population growth in the UK is certainly changing patterns in our behaviour, such as our levels of consumption, waste production and pollution, which are intensified by the current demographic trends of an ageing population and changing household structures, which are all well described in the report (nb it should perhaps be mentioned here that many migrant households are the exact opposite of these negative trends). The report makes some good and balanced points on these issues and does not fall for the migration trap which certainly is used far too hysteric when the population growth is mentioned.
An assessment of these trends in a global as well as a national context for the UK has been made in 2010 as a contribution for the creation of this report. The presentation ‘Preparing for “Peak Population”: how the UK fits within world demography’ by Danny Dorling and me has been given to the members of the commission for consideration in their work. The talks elaborates on some these points and we have meanwhile made it available online as a slideshow as well as a multimedia presentation (click here to see and listen to the multimedia version):

My favourite headline related to the report has been made by the Telegraph (source):

Move to the Highlands to save the environment

This may be a severe misinterpretation of the UK population cartogram and it scrapes past the key findings of the report, which aim more at a more efficient use of resources and a more intelligent way of living rather than moving into the stunning beauty of the Highlands (and destroy the environment there as well). It is a call for a more careful consideration of “the environmental implications of demographic change” in planning. It is a mission for the future – how telling is it, that the UK government got rid of this commission?

Here are the full bibliographical details of the report and where to get it:

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