The Depopulation Bomb

10 min readMar 11, 2024


Green manufacturing. Photo by Cédric Dhaenens on Unsplash

There is a silent aspect of civilizational decline: a marked fall in population numbers. I write silent deliberately, as it happens in the background without too many of us taking notice, or realizing the gravity of the situation. When talking about the collapse of civilizations, most people envision mass casualty events (famine, war, natural disasters), wiping out half of the population in almost an instant. Sure enough, this looks both terrifying and extremely powerful in Hollywood movies, but nothing could be further from the truth. Especially not when it comes to our modern civilization, and its unfolding demise. A radically different world is unfolding in front of our eyes, and we are not the least prepared.

In a recent essay, which I highly recommend reading for reference, John Micheal Greer has steered my attention back to this topic. A couple of weeks ago I already touched on the theme of a slow but steady population decline, but now its time to take a deeper look into the matter, to see its implications and how it relates to the decline of modernity in general.

“Nearly everyone alive today grew up hearing about the population boom; it requires a major shift in mental gears to adjust to the imminence of the population bust.”

John Michael Greer

First let’s start with the basics, why current population levels aren’t sustainable, not even from a statistical standpoint. According to Greer:

It requires a total fertility rate of 2.1 live births on average per woman to maintain population at any given level; this is called the replacement rate. (That .1 is needed to account for the children who die before they reach reproductive age themselves, or who never reproduce for some other reason.) In 1970 the world’s total fertility rate was well above 5 live births per woman; now, it’s right around 2.3 and is falling steadily. Africa still has a total fertility rate of 4.1, down from nearly double that in the mid-20th century and still falling; but Asia and Latin America both have fertility rates of 2.0, North America (including Mexico) is at 1.8, and Europe is down to 1.6 live births per woman.

While I was reading JMG’s essay, I kept wondering: are there any other factors behind the population bust? If yes, then what are the implications? First, take a look at this map, posted by the American Geographical Society:

World Median Ages. Median age means: half of the people are younger, half are older than this age in a given country.

The results shown by the map above really surprised me: humanity was never this old in its million year history. Let’s cut the BS: with such a rapidly ageing population I find it impossible that we will keep growing our numbers — as touted by the article in which the above map appeared — even without all the predicaments facing humanity. People at, or around, such high ages do not start a family, especially not a large one. One child, maybe two. Is it any wonder then, that the average fertility rate is falling like a rock? Folks, there are simply not enough young couples in the world to maintain such high population numbers. Again, just compare these age statistics with the data provided by JMG and try to remain baffled.

And it doesn’t stop with age. Another, even more under-reported problem is the accumulating pollution load from endocrine disruptors like PFAS, and the various pesticides and herbicides sprayed on crops in reckless abandon. The recent 3M scandal in the Netherlands, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Perfluoralkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) do not break down quickly and have in recent years been found in dangerous concentrations in drinking water, soils and foods. The chemicals have been used in everything from cars to medical gear and non-stick pans due to their long-term resistance to extreme temperature and corrosion.

These chemicals are called ‘forever chemicals’ for a good reason: they tend to circulate in the food chain for an awful long time, causing harm to all participants, and most importantly: reducing female fertility by as much as 40%. Perhaps needless to say, that combined with ageing, fertility loss is a sure killer when it comes to population growth.

Finally, then there is the topic of children becoming a liability. And I not only mean that in financial terms, but also in terms of time. Finishing university, starting a career, then trying to raise some cash for the first flat (which becomes increasingly unaffordable for young couples), simply drains all time and resources away from having children, and starting a family. Again, the result is: a rise in median age, and a drop in live births. And as for the upshot, here is what Greer has to say:

The consequences of sustained population contraction are the stinger in the tail of our current predicament, because it wasn’t just our technologies that were designed around the short-term condition of rapid growth driven by abundant fossil fuel energy — so were our economies. It seems like simple common sense to most people nowadays that assets will on average increase in value, investments will yield a return, and businesses will make a profit. Stop and think about that for a minute, though. Why does this happen? Because the economy grows every quarter. Why does the economy grow every quarter? There are many reasons, but they all ultimately boil down to the fact that the population increases. With every passing year, there are more people joining the workforce, buying assets, making investments, and purchasing goods and services. Thus population growth is the engine behind economic growth.

Now, let’s zoom in on Europe, and on it’s most industrialized parts: Germany and Italy to see how things could unfold. With a median age above 46 and 44 respectively, they are not only facing a demographic collapse, but also a collapse in highly trained workforce. Experienced skilled workers have been retiring in droves during the recent decades, leaving their countries populated with millions trained in humanities, law, economics, political science, philosophy (and the list goes on), but very few who are actually willing or able to work in a job requiring welding skills, or a training in metallurgy (let alone years of practical education on how to operate complex machining centers).

Is it any wonder then, that 90 percent of German companies cannot find qualified candidates? Perhaps not surprisingly it is even harder to find qualified teachers, policemen and people for other public service roles, due to the fact that German is not the world’s most popular language, and that essential jobs pay very poorly. In a deeply ironic statement the German Immigration Office has recently admitted that the it is “on the edge of dysfunctionality” due to this problem. Another key sector in search for labor is agriculture, and this is not a European predicament only. According to the FAO: “65 is the average age of farmers, and there are not enough young farmers to replace them”. Do I need to say more? I let you draw your own conclusions.

The ongoing de-industrialization, triggered by Europe’s amazingly wise policy of self-sabotage, has just accelerated this process, with manufacturing, chemical and metallurgical companies leaving the continent in droves. Add to this the rise in interest rates, a loss of people’s purchasing power due to inflation, CO2 tariffs on imports, losing market share both East and West, or the complete loss of Europe’s technological edge over other nations, and you see that the continent’s biggest economy is facing a deep and structural crisis.

Europe seems to have lost all its competitive advantages. Without skilled workers, heavy industries, chemical plants and the rest, soon there will be nothing left to do than to assemble other people’s products. With the collapse in purchasing power, however, no one will be able to buy those products here, so why bother bringing over those factories to Europe in the first place? Why not produce locally (in Asia), where there is still some energy left to power those industries?

All this happens against the backdrop of a persistent global energy crisis due to a worldwide peak in net energy from oil, with all its implications on mining, manufacturing, transport and the economy in general. As Tim Morgan summed up the situation brilliantly:

As material prosperity contracts, and the costs of energy-intensive necessities carry on rising, a series of sectors supplying discretionary (non-essential) products and services reach the point of inflexion. We have now, as outlined in the previous article, entered a mountain range of discretionary peaks — peak smartphone (which has already happened), peak media (which is unfolding now), peak hospitality, peak travel, peak gadget, peak property price, and many, many more.

We can also anticipate the counter-productive responses to these trends. Suppliers of discretionaries will scramble to provide credit to would-be but impoverished customers. Governments and central banks will try — as they’ve been trying for many years — to fix the faltering economy by lending and printing ever more liquidity into the system. Asset prices will reach giddy heights from which they’ll be dragged down by the forces of material economic gravity.

In this environment of falling population numbers, plunging net energy and ‘peak everything’, soon it will be impossible to grow the economy in any meaningful way. The disappearance of buyers — due to a population bust and a cost of living crisis — could all to easily lead to an oversupply on the market, resulting in a deflationary spiral, causing supply to diminish even further. Investments, as a result, will inevitably lose their value, be them in real estate, corporate stocks or bonds.

Europe, as we have seen above, is in an especially disadvantageous situation. Led by a wholly incompetent and self-serving ruling class, dreaming about a unified Europe with its own military and “war economy”, together with a central government (and eventually taxation), the situation looks to be rather hopeless. As a direct result of its many ailments, and the lack of a viable economy to back up such plans, the European project seems to be coming apart at the seams... Therefore, instead of a re-militarized stronghold, what we will likely end up having is a museum full of failed states, for the rest of the world to visit.

Nothing to see here, move along. Photo by ashutosh nandeshwar on Unsplash

Civilizations die when there is no more will left in the people to maintain them. This is not a problem, you see, which can be solved by importing labor from other lands. All migration managed to achieve was a fall in wages, making locals even less willing to accept mundane jobs requiring hard work… Should things deteriorate as I expect, soon enough we will see these guest workers deciding that Europe is no longer the promise land they were told: it has a cold, rainy climate with lots of grudgy people mourning the loss of their famed empires. And as their sending countries continue to industrialize, and can no longer afford losing their labor-force due to the very same reasons (ageing and falling birth rates), one day they will all leave. What happens when guest workers decide to go home then…? Will refugees fleeing from climate change, wars etc. be able to replace them…?

You see, when people used to live like kings of old ages see their prospects falling away, they rather opt for a child free ‘live for the day’ lifestyle, than to pick up the hard task of rebuilding society from the ground up. This is how masses walk away, or rather: silently lay flat, as their civilization declines and crumbles into the dust. No big fuss, no mass casualty events needed… It increasingly looks like to me, that as JMG suggested, we are not headed towards a loud bust, but to a radically different world characterized by a silent hissing sound, as all the hot air leaves the balloon we used to call Europe in particular and the West in general. At the very end of the Colombian age we are about to see a largely depopulated landscape, littered with empty houses and manufacturing halls collecting dust and litter, and with a few people trying to earn a living as gig workers with a degree in corporate law in their hands.

We, especially in Europe, need to think and actively plan for degrowth: not so much as to drive it, but to survive what is coming… The economic processes driven by centuries of relentless population and material growth will soon go into reverse. This will not only make some academics look outdated, but will have a profound impact on the money system, debt, pensions and much more… Ultimately — as Tim Watkins put it—it will lead to the tearing up of the social contract itself.

As the over-financialized economy goes under, however, self-sufficiency, hard skills on how to actually do stuff, and how to get along with people will prove to be the only investment not losing its value. Living through decline is certainly not what one wishes to do, but it is what it is. Not that this hasn’t happened many times before: modernity is just one of the many failed projects to bring about infinite growth in a finite area (or this time: planet). Some experience only the rising tide lift all boats part. Our generation, however, got the task to carry on with life, no matter how hard it might get.

Until next time,


Note: this article is not intended to be financial or investment advise, but an educational piece on the larger context of current events. Please always consult your certified advisor first on your investment / divestment decisions.

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A critic of modern times - offering ideas for honest contemplation. Also on Substack: