It was World Population Day on Friday. I don’t know why 11th July was been chosen as World Population Day, but given that we can’t really have World Population Day every day for 365 days of the year, I guess one day out of 365 is marginally better than no days at all out of 365.

Minor diversion here. I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about days, years or even decades during which we’re invited to think about some cause (or even to act upon that cause) in ways that we otherwise wouldn’t have done. Even I found it tricky, for instance, during the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, to be truly mindful of the importance of education for sustainable development more than every now and then. And even bringing this to mind right now, makes me feel really bad that the Decade suddenly came to an end last year without me having the decency to find out what had happened during the course of that decade.

The one thing that I do know for certain that happened during the decade was that Michael Gove, the incoming Secretary of State for Education in 2010, made an instant decision that education for sustainable development was of zero relevance to his incoming coalition Government – another thing the Lib Dems just let happen as if they too were of the “zero relevance” persuasion – and, within a couple of months, undid half a decade’s worth of thoughtful, creative initiatives set in train by the outgoing Labour administration.

Sorry about the diversion. This is a blog about World Population Day, not about the ideological foibles of a certain Michael Gove. But given my ambivalence about special days, let alone decades, I decided to mark World Population Day today, both to be contrary and to create, unilaterally, another World Population Day for me and for any confused readers who (if they’ve got this far) may well be feeling that it’s time for Jonathon to go on holiday after what has been a rather demanding 6 months (3 weeks and counting, just to reassure you!).

But let me just give you one little reason why every day of the year should be World Population Day.

Right now, for those who care about Europe, the new European Parliament is dominated by two big cohorts of MEPs. On the one hand, we have a motley collection of Euro-phobic fascists, sub-fascists, crypto-fascists, right-wingers, nutters and UKIP. They are obsessed by immigration, which means that they spend quite a lot of time talking about population and the impacts of inexorable population growth on the quality of life and economic wellbeing of “indigenous Europeans” – whoever the hell they may be.

On the other hand, we have a huge number of pro-Europeans federalists, sub-federalists, crypto-federalists, sort of left-wingers, nutters and Greens. They are obsessed by an already superannuated dream of a big and broadly progressive Europe bringing everybody together in a warm embrace under one big umbrella. Which means they struggle to find anything coherent to say about immigration, and never talk about the impacts of inexorable population growth on the quality of life and economic wellbeing of every single citizen in Europe.

For me, therefore, World Population Day opens up the kind of enquiry that one hears very little about in the media: are there enough progressive, left-leaning realists who would be interested in developing a new political discourse that allows us to talk about population and immigration as people who care passionately about social justice, climate change, the state of our environment, community cohesion, innovation-driven prosperity and the rights of young people (as in true education for sustainable development) to inherit a world at least as good, if not better, than the world that we ourselves were born into.
And the UK gives as good a place as anywhere else in Europe to seek to develop that kind of discourse. The latest official projection is for the population of England to rise from 53 million now to 62 million by 2037 – an increase of almost 9 million (or 16%) in just 25 years.

Yet political pundits rarely, if ever, think about the infrastructure costs of that kind of population growth, even when prompted by as authoritative an institution as the Public Accounts Committee. The Committee commented recently that “high levels of new investment in infrastructure mean that bills and charges are likely to continue to rise significantly in the future” – and identified a sum of £375 billion of planned investment over the next 15 years. As Roger Martin, Chair of Population Matters, pointed out last week:

“This broadly confirms our own research showing the enormous infrastructure costs of population growth. These masquerade as investment, but since they are only needed to maintain current standards for ever more people, they are really depreciation or maintenance costs. The fact that we are currently growing by about one more Liverpool every year means that we have to build and supply a city the size of Liverpool just to stand still in total service provision, leaving very little actually to improve anything……. The economic case for stabilising our numbers as soon as possible is overwhelming.”

Indeed. And the same applies across the whole of Europe. Anyone for a World Population Decade?