Sustainability a crowded street in shanghai

Published on October 12th, 2011 | by Earth Policy Institute

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World Population Hitting 7 Billion this Month

a crowded street in shanghai

A crowded street in Shanghai, China

By Brigid Fitzgerald Reading The number of people in the world is expected to reach 7 billion by the end of October 2011. Our rate of increase continues to slow from the high point of over 2 percent in 1968. Still, this year’s 1.1 percent increase means some 78 million people will be added to the global population in 2011. The human population did not reach 1 billion until the early nineteenth century, and it took more than 100 years to reach 2 billion. After that, the intervals between billions grew even shorter: we added the third billion in 33 years, the fourth in 14 years, the fifth in 13 years, and the sixth and seventh in 12 years each. Anyone alive today who was born by 1940 has seen our numbers triple. The most widely cited United Nations projection shows world population hitting 8 billion in 2025 and 10 billion before the end of this century.

Graph on World Population, 1950-2010, with Projection to 2100

With populations stabilizing in much of the industrial world, almost all population growth in the near future is expected to occur in developing countries. Of the 2.3 billion people to be added by 2050, more than a billion will live in sub-Saharan Africa. The Indian subcontinent will add some 630 million people.

Table on World Population Milestones

Differences in population growth rates are largely due to varying fertility levels. Global fertility has dropped from close to 5 births per woman in the 1950s to 2.5 births per woman today. Over 40 percent of the world’s people live in countries where fertility is below replacement level. But fertility varies widely across countries. In Niger, women have more than 7 children on average; in the United States the average is close to 2, and in Japan it is less than 1.5.

Family Planning & Population Stability

Evidence suggests that many women in poor, fast-growing countries would have fewer children if they had the resources and freedom to plan the number and timing of their births. An estimated 215 million women in the developing world do not have access to the family planning resources they need. Worldwide, approximately 40 percent of pregnancies are unintended. A study from the Futures Group and calculations by population expert Robert Engelman indicate that if all women were able to become pregnant only when they chose to, global fertility would drop close to or even below replacement level, greatly reducing population growth. Voluntary family planning programs have proved effective in lowering fertility rates. In Mexico, for instance, a national family planning program started in the mid-1970s with support from the United States and the United Nations has helped raise contraceptive use from less than one fourth to two thirds of women. Fertility has fallen from roughly 7 to 2.2 births per woman. Surveys show that across societies, women with more education tend to have fewer, healthier children. In Mali, for example, women with no schooling have 7 children on average, while those with at least a secondary education have fewer than 4. Yet many women around the world still lack access to education. In 1994, delegates from 179 countries at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt, recognized reproductive health and family planning as fundamental human rights. Participating countries agreed on the goal of universal, voluntary access to reproductive health and family planning services by 2015, pledging to invest $17 billion per year by 2000 and $22 billion per year by 2015. Thus far, however, contributions have fallen far short of pledges, and close to $20 billion per year above current expenditures is still needed. This investment could prevent 53 million unwanted pregnancies each year, improve infant and maternal health, and reduce associated health care costs. Access to reproductive health care brings far-reaching benefits to individuals, families, and whole societies. When a woman can choose the timing of her pregnancies, her education is less likely to be cut short by early motherhood. Female education and family planning reduce risks to child and maternal health and boost women’s chances of economic advancement. Smaller family sizes can help raise families out of poverty. When fertility declines quickly, reducing the number of young dependents relative to working-age adults, countries can experience what is known as the demographic bonus. Governments can spend more per person on public services, families can spend more on each child, and more money is available to invest in economic development. This “bonus” can kick-start a nation’s economy — it contributed, for instance, to the rapid economic development of several Asian countries, including South Korea and Taiwan, in the 1970s and 1980s. Some industrial countries are becoming concerned about aging populations. Japan, for example, has nearly doubled its share of the population aged 65 and over in the past 20 years. In industrial countries as a group, the share of the population aged 65 and over is expected to increase from 16 to 26 percent between now and 2050. In contrast, the youthfulness of populations remains a challenge for many developing countries. In developing countries as a group, almost 40 percent of the population is under the age of 20. Countries with large populations of young people and poor employment prospects are more prone to violence. As the world’s population grows, less land and water are available for each person. Poor people, who often depend more immediately on natural resources and are less able to compete for dwindling supplies, bear the heaviest burden. Meanwhile, rapidly growing populations stress their own local environments. In fast-growing Yemen, the population has increased four-fold over the last 40 years while the overpumping of aquifers has helped shrink the country’s grain harvest by one third. In Pakistan, the pressures of a large and fast-growing population have contributed to widespread deforestation and soil degradation, making the historic flooding events of the last two years even more destructive. The U.N. population projections do not consider how the environmental problems we create, such as water scarcity and climate change, may limit our ability to grow. Whether we are able to sustain human civilization depends on not only our numbers, but also the rate at which we consume the earth’s resources and create waste. At the global level, we are already far overshooting the earth’s capacity to support us, even as some 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty. Another 2 billion people may be added to the world population by mid-century, many of them in places where hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation are already taking a high toll. Supporting the world’s human population will mean eliminating poverty, transitioning to an economy that is in sync with the earth, and securing every person’s health, education, and reproductive choice. If we do not voluntarily stabilize population, we risk a much less humane end to growth as the ongoing destruction of the earth’s natural systems catches up with us. Data and additional resources available online at www.earth-policy.org. Image credit: TonyV3112 / Shutterstock.com



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11 Responses to World Population Hitting 7 Billion this Month

  1. GPSO 2011 says:

    Because the population of the world ultimately affects most of the issues that we all really care about, the 7 Billion: It’s Time to Talk campaign (www.populationspeakout.org)is working to open up the conversation on population to new audiences around the globe. When everyone recognizes that there is a need to talk openly about population growth and the importance of family planning, the empowerment of women, and reproductive health and rights, we can more easily find the solutions to issues like global hunger and the environment. When people discover how a rapidly growing world population affects them and their hopes for the future, we know that more people, particularly young adults, will want to lend their voices to the global discussion.

    • Much more intellectual honesty, moral courage and humane action is needed. We are about to become a species of 7 billion overconsumers, overproducers and overpopulaters on a finite and frangible planet where its resources are dissipating and environs degrading rapidly.

      During my lifetime, when human numbers explode from less than 3 bn to 7+ bn worldwide, many experts may not have known enough about what they were talking about when they spoke of human population dynamics and all causes of the human overpopulation of Earth. Their research appears not to be scientific, but rather issues from ideological or totalitarian thinking, or from specious group-think consensus. Their all-too-attractive thinking, as viewed by greedmongers, is willfully derived from what is politically convenient, economically expedient, socially agreeable, religiously tolerable and culturally prescribed. Widely broadcast and long-accepted thinking of a surprisingly large number of so-called experts in the field of population dynamics appears to have an unscientific foundation and is likely wrong. Their preternatural theorizing about the population dynamics of the human species appears to be both incomplete and misleading. Most disturbing of all, a widely shared and consensually validated theory about a “demographic transition” four decades from now is directly contradicted by unchallenged scientific research. As a consequence, and it is a pernicious consequence, a woefully inadequate thinking and fundamentally flawed theory was broadcast during my lifetime and continues to be broadcast everywhere by the mainstream media as if it is not only science but the best available scientific evidence. The implications of this unfortunate behavior, inasmuch as it appears to be based upon a colossal misperception of what could somehow be real regarding the human population, appear profound. This failure of nerve has slowed the momentum needed to confront a formidable, human-driven global predicament.

      In their elective mutism regarding an astonishing error, are first class professional researchers with expertise in population dynamics behaving badly by allowing the “ninety-nine percenters” to be misguided and led down a primrose path by the “one percenters”? The power of silence on the part of knowledgeable human beings with feet of clay is dangerous because research is being denied that appears to shed light upon a dark, non-recursive biological problem, the understanding of which appears vital to future human well being and environmental health. Too many experts appear to be ignoring science regarding the human population and instead consciously through their silence consenting to the leviathan scale and unbridled expansion of global overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities that are being adamantly advocated and relentlessly pursued by greedmongering masters of the universe, the tiny minority among us who are primarily responsible for ravaging the Earth, ruining its environs and reducing its fitness for habitation by the children. If this assessment of human behavior is indeed a fair representation of what is happening on our watch, then the desire to preserve the status quo, mainly the selfish interests of ‘the powers that be’, could be at least one basis for so much intellectually dishonest and morally bereft behavior. Could it be that the outrageous per capita overconsumption, large-scale corporate overproduction and unrestricted overpopulation activities of the human species worldwide cannot continue much longer on a planet with the size, composition and ecology of a finite and frangible planet like Earth?

      For human beings to count human population numbers is simple, really simple. The population dynamics of human beings with feet of clay are obvious and fully comprehensible. We have allowed ourselves to be dazzled by the BS of too many demographers just the way human beings have been deceived and victimized by a multitude of economists on Wall Street. Demographers and economists are not scientists. ‘The brightest and the best’ have sold their souls to greedmongers, duped the rest of us, made it difficult to see what is real, proclaimed what is known to be knowable as unknowable, engaged in the their own brands of alchemy. In their dishonest and duplicitous efforts to please the self-proclaimed masters of the universe, also known as the keepers of the ‘golden calf’ (a symbol now easily visible as the “raging bull” on Wall Street), they perpetrate frauds at everyone else’s expense, threaten the children’s future, put life as we know it at risk, and are consciously, deliberately, actively precipitating the destruction of Earth as a fit place for human habitation. Never in the course of human events have so few taken so much from so many and left so little for others.

      There are many too many overly educated “wise guys” among us who see the blessed world we inhabit through the lens of their own hubris and selfishness, and see themselves somehow as Homo sapiens sapiens and masters of the universe, as corporate kings and emperor’s with clothes. They supposedly are the brightest and best, the smartest guys in the room, like the guy who used to run the global political economy without recognizing that there was an “ideological flaw” in his economic theories and models, the same guy who reported he could not name 5 guys smarter than himself. These are guys who have denied science, abjectly failed humanity, forsaken life as we know it, the Earth and God. These ideologues rule the world now and can best be characterized by their malignant narcissism, pathological arrogance, extreme foolishness, addiction to risk-taking and wanton greed.

  2. Richard says:

    Yes, and there will be 9 billion people sharing this planet by 2050. This makes it extremely important to accept the fact that pesticides, plant biotechnology and synthetic fertilizers are ever more key to preventing the masses from starving to death. Modern agricultural methods should be encouraged and criticized. We all have to eat.

  3. err, I meant to say NOT criticized. So much for my proof reading skills. :-(

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