Population dynamics: Sustainable populations

Many countries face issues when it comes to population and matching supply with demand. In order to comply with changes within a population, countries develop policies and systems whilst also coming up with innovative ideas to maintain quality living spaces.

A prime example of population dynamics is China and the famous One-Child Policy. This policy is applied as a result of an overflowing population which outgrows the resources available and poses serious stress on the state. The One-Child policy aims to alleviate this by allowing every couple to only give birth to a single child and thus halving the population in every household over the generations. Issues do arise from this however, for example it stimulates a rise in selective childbirth. Boys are thought to be the economic force ofChinaand can also help parents in their old age. Therefore, boys are preferred, and this leads to increased amounts of female infanticide, killing female babies to make sure that the parents had a boy. Abortions are also carried out more often with the use of ultrasounds to avoid parents having a female baby.

Due to a greater amount of abortions occurring in the country, the Chinese government decided to make the practice illegal, but it still continues. As a result of the One-Child policy there is now a noticeable gender imbalance in the country. Government incentives, such as tax rebates and bonuses, were also introduced to encourage bigger and smaller families depending on whether the population was too great or too small for the resources available in areas of the country.

In Singapore, similar proposals were made in order to deal with population dynamics. A ‘Stop at two’ policy was introduced to control rapid population growth but had to be altered due to too great a success with the policy – the population was starting to decline. This occurred as a result of families realising the benefits of smaller families such as more money available in the family which leads to a higher quality of living. Women were also beginning to diverge from the conventional ideologies of what a woman has to do and hence, started to pursue careers rather than sit at home all day. The government responded to a decrease in population levels with a ‘three or more, if you can afford it’ slogan and policy to address the social side of the issue. The main aims of the new policy were to deal with an ageing populace and rejuvenate the whole population. Incentives that the Singaporean government introduced to promote childbirths included a rebate of $20,000 for a fourth child and more for additional children – easing the stress and strain that families, especially younger ones, would face in terms of the financial burden and as a result they would be more confident and likely to have a greater number of children.

On the whole, governments are able to deal with changing populations with the use of various policies and propaganda. When looked at more closely however, the effectiveness of all these are dependant on the susceptibility, mindset and cultures of a country. As well as immigration affecting population numbers, which can be dealt with quotas and barriers, migrants in a country can affect population dynamics on a regional scale within a country which follows a similar structure to that of which is on a national scale.

Contributed by V Mankaleswaran

New Capital Cities; a good idea?

Every nation needs a capital city. They act as focal points for business, culture, government and international relations, becoming symbols of their nation and famous all around the world. They evolve and change with the time in which they currently exist; endlessly adaptable and dependable. Well, most of them are.

During the American Revolution, Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania was the capital of the colony, and this situation persisted for a few decades after independence was achieved. However, as every geographer knows, Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States, so why was the capital city changed? In the early years the US experienced much turmoil in deciding how this new country should be run; and one of the primary issues was whether a Federal (such as in the US now) or Parliamentary (such as in the UK) governing system should be employed. During this, the state of Virginia complained about the location of the capital. This movement grew in momentum and it was decided that the location of the Capital city would be changed. Over the next few years the Americans moved their Capital from city to city, with a swarm of complaints being created by competing states when a new location was settled on. So it was decided in 1790 after the Civil War that a new city would be created on land that was not part of any existing state that would be under the direct control of Congress. The States of Maryland and Virginia both ceded land to the Federal Government to form the shape of a diamond around the Potomac River and create the District of Colombia. Construction started the same year, and Washington D.C. officially became the Capital city in 1801.

Washington D.C. can be considered a successful capital; a centre of Government and international relations, a huge boost to the US economy through the businesses that reside their and through tourism, and a name known throughout the world. Ottowa is another successful ‘new’ capital; but this model of creating a new capital away from the established centres of nations doesn’t always work. This is true in the USA on a minor scale; if you ask someone to name a US city, more often than not they will name New York first; which is the centre of the US economy; however, Washington D.C. will normally be in the top five. The city is only the 25th most populous area in the USA, and the 7th largest metropolitan area by population. But look at other countries who have tried to create a new capital and the results have not been quite as successful. Canberra was built as the new capital of Australia in 1913, but it is outshone internationally by Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. The Capital of Brazil? Not Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo but Brasilia, founded in 1960 (and is now the largest city in the world that did not exist in 1900). Islamabad is the ‘new’ capital of Pakistan, and Nigeria moved their capital from Lagos to the newly constructed Abuja in 1991.

These newly constructed, purpose built capital cities have not always been a success; outshone by neighbouring cities they have failed to become the centres of their nations’ economies and have not reached the same levels of international fame as pre-existing cities. Brasilia has become isolated in the geographical centre of Brazil, people and businesses refusing to move to its concrete streets, leaving it somewhat devoid of culture and activity in comparison to Rio and Sao Paulo. Abuja lives in the shadow of the ever growing Lagos, people not wanting to take a chance in the new city; immigrants choosing to head to where everyone else has already gone. These cities were not necessarily a bad idea; they were created usually as a sign of a fresh start after conflict, independence or political changes of heart; however they have just not lived up to what their creator hoped they would be.

Recently, according to the UN, South Sudan became the world’s 194th nation after a referendum in the nation resulted in its split from the rest of Sudan. People crowded the streets of Juba celebrating this, and the government announced plans that included a new capital to celebrate this new nation. Juba is claimed as not being suitable for becoming the capital of this landlocked nation; its dusty and ramshackle buildings not being suitable for the future influx of embassies and businesses ready to exploit new-found oil. The city is unable to expand due to neighbouring tribal lands, and there are no suitable buildings to house the new government. Some people in the country and abroad say that they can cope with substantial redevelopment, but to others it seems that South Sudan does have a good case for needing a new city.

However, South Sudan does not only have to contend with international precedent along with internal disagreements and tribal disputes on this issue, but money. Over 90% of South Sudan’s people live below the poverty line, and the nation which is the size of France has only 60km of paved roads. The project would cost over $10billion, money that many say could be better spent elsewhere. The government remains defiant, but they are also looking into much cheaper and less risky plans to redevelop Juba, and not move to the area that has been highlighted as a potential location, Ramciel, a sparsely populated area 200km north of the current capital. Will this new city be a success like Washington D.C., or will it fade into obscurity as people and business fail to adopt it? Only in a few decades time will we be able to tell.

Contributed by Chris Cockerill

Beringia – Lost World of the Ice Age

Climate and Sea level change are cited as the main evidence that humans are changing the planet. However, the earth’s history has been dominated by these same two phenomena, even before mankind started to pump harmful gases into the atmosphere.
Over the past 2 million years, much of the Northern Hemisphere was dominated by vast glaciers. This meant that much of the planet’s water was locked up in vast ice sheets, which lead to sea levels up to 150 metres lower than today. This meant that shallow areas of what is the modern day sea became exposed land masses, completely changing the planet’s characteristics.

One of these areas was a land bridge which connected the eastern most reaches of Siberia and the US state of Alaska in place of the Bering Striates. This body of water is approximately 53 miles wide and 50 metres deep, connecting the Arctic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, whilst separating North America and Asia. Previous fluctuations in global sea level lead to it giving way to the “lost world of the ice age” (Professor Elias) or Beringia.

This land bridge was never covered by ice as the region was too dry for glaciation to occur as the land mass blocked moisture from the pacific, leading to very little snow. This, coupled with the fact that there was a layer of unfrozen soil 20 – 30 cm thick lying on top of the permafrost, allowed grasses and herbs to grow, as well as shrubs in the wetter areas. The vegetation was, in turn, able to support large herbivores such as Mammoths, Horses and Long Horned Bison. Inevitably predators soon followed, leading to Beringia being populated by animals such as the Pleistocene Lion, the Scimitar Cat and of course, Humans.

It is thought that humans migrated to Beringia about 15,000 – 3,500 years ago. This was during a period when the earth’s climate had warmed sufficiently for them to survive here, but the ice sheets had not caught up with the new temperatures. This meant that the sea levels remained low enough for Beringia to not be submerged, whilst humans were able to live here.

There is little archaeological evidence of humans in the area, especially compared to the numerous animal and plant fossils, because permanent settlements were not established. These early humans had to follow the herds, and so lived in tents or caves. There are also no graves, as the permafrost meant that it was impossible to dig below the 30 cm deep active layer. However, there is sufficient evidence for the theory to have developed that this was early humans’ route into the Americas from Asia. Amongst this evidence there are unique carvings of people wearing tailored clothing, which would have enabled them to survive the harsh conditions.

This land bridge began to shrink due to rising sea levels 11,000 years ago, before the continents of Asia and North America were finally separated 10,000 years ago. As the ice receded, humans were able to move down new corridors in the ice sheets, spreading south into Canada- an area which had been dominated by ice. Other animals which had populated Beringia were not so fortunate, most of which became extinct.

Beringia is evidence of the complicated climatic history of our planet, and proves that sea levels fluctuated long before industrialization and the emission of greenhouse gases. However, as well as being an interesting geographical case study, Beringia is also a key piece in our understanding of the history of our species which helped to shape the world as we know it.

Contributed by Matthew Cockerill

This article was written using information from the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre’s website, as well as my own notes from a lecture at the Royal Holloway University given by Professor Scott Elias.