The National Development Council’s Population Projections for the ROC (Taiwan): 2020-2070, released late last month, officially recognizes that from this year, Taiwan is to have negative population growth, and that the demographic dividend — the economic growth that comes from a change in the age structure of a nation — is to end in 2028. The news made many people worry — and wonder what is in store for Taiwan.
From a more objective perspective, moderate negative population growth is not necessarily bad. It could offer Taiwan a great opportunity to alleviate the pressures of overpopulation, improve quality of life and allow the natural environment to recover.
Taiwan proper has an area of less than 36,000km2, but excluding the mountainous areas, its 23.6 million people live on only one-third of this area, making it the world’s most densely populated nation. In short, Taiwan is overcrowded.
The problems of overpopulation are self-evident. First, it destroys the living environment, cities become overcrowded, the many vehicles cause traffic congestion and alarmingly frequent accidents, sewers are blocked, and emissions are polluting the air and rivers.
Overpopulation and limited land availability cause people to move to the mountains to grow vegetables and fruit, and build factories. Over time, once beautiful mountains and forests are left with bald patches on their hillsides due to logging. This in turn causes landslides during the typhoon season, destroying houses, roads and bridges, and posing great danger to people’s lives and property.
Production and consumption by humans, as well as their vehicles and machines, release huge amounts of carbon dioxide.
One example of the irreversible damage that overpopulation does to nature is rising sea levels. Greenhouse gases produced by human activities cause global warming that melts the ice caps, leading to rising sea levels, which even put inland areas at risk of being submerged by flooding.
The sea levels around Taiwan have risen at about 1.5 to two times faster than the average global rate. Perhaps this is why a report released late last month by Greenpeace specifically mentioned that if Taiwan fails to curb its carbon dioxide emissions, 1,398km2 of land would be submerged by rising seawater by 2040, affecting 1.2 million people.
More aggressive measures for reducing carbon emissions and the population are needed if this disaster is to be avoided.
The National Development Council estimated that by 2050, Taiwan would have a population of about 20.4 million people, which is still a big number.
Many people worry that a population decrease would lead to labor shortages, but at least 40 percent of the labor force would be replaced by robots, based on predictions made a decade ago by artificial intelligence and robotics experts — and this is how things have been developing.
An increasing population would cause unemployment to worsen, so why are people worrying about depopulation?
The government could also tax industries that use automation — thereby making a profit without wages or labor and health insurance needing to be paid, such as how the government ensures that it functions properly by levying higher business taxes on the hotel, restaurant, finance, retail, manufacturing and warehousing sectors.
A moderate decline in population has many benefits. Hopefully, Taiwan’s future will be as a small, beautiful and progressive country with well-educated and happy citizens who do not need to fear having their homes flooded by rising sea levels.
Eric Wang is an adjunct university professor.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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