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The Problematic Assumption In The UN’s 9.8 Billion People Projection

General Ideas

The United Nations has a report out today looking at predictions for the size of the human population off into the future. They say that there’s likely to be 9.8 billion by 2050 and then 11.2 billion by 2100. It should be said that the earlier number looks valid as pretty much all of the people who are going to have children by then are already alive. At least, all the people who will have them before 2040 are, so we’ve a really pretty good idea of the number of people who could have them, even if we’re only projecting how many each will have. However that higher one further out looks problematic. For it’s based upon an assumption and that assumption is highly suspect. The report is assuming something that we’ve never actually seen happen. So it’s a strong assumption to make.

It’s also true that the various UN population predictions have always been on the upside of reality. For they don’t seem to take enough account of the interaction of economic growth and fertility. The one really solid piece of evidence we’ve got is that richer populations have fewer children. They don’t need to be much richer either. It’s not access to contraception which drives this (good work shows that this explains perhaps 10% of the fertility fall, but it is desired fertility which is the main driver, not the ability to control fertility). It’s very much more the absence of children dying that does drive it. As more children survive then fewer are born, that just seems to be how humans work.

So I would be suspicious of this prediction anyway:

The world’s population will grow to 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, driven by faster growth in African countries, according to forecasts by the United Nations.

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs published its “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision” on Wednesday, raising its previous predictions for population growth from 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9.7 billion in 2050.

As I say, those closer numbers don’t look out of line. That later looks very heavy to me.

The world population is now nearly 7.6 billion, up from 7.4 billion in 2015, spurred by the relatively high levels of fertility in developing countries – despite an overall drop in the number of children people have around the globe – the United Nations today reported.

The concentration of global population growth is in the poorest countries, according to World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision, presenting a challenge as the international community seeks to implement the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which seeks to end poverty and preserve the planet.

I strongly suspect that not enough attention is being paid to how the reduction in poverty changes fertility levels. It is this very thing which has made near all previous UN projections too high. However, more specifically in this report they make an assumption which I think is highly dubious:

…as well as a slight increase in fertility in several countries where women have fewer than two live births over a lifetime.

The thing is here that we’ve just never seen this. Increased incomes, a wealthier society, in our experience so far at least, reduce fertility permanently. Other than immigration (and in France perhaps an echo of fertility levels in new immigrants’ old homes) there is no rich country that is at replacement levels of fertility. In those countries the demographic transition has already largely happened so again populations are expected to fall. This is true near whatever religion or cultural practices are. We see a direct connection between GDP per capita and fertility levels.

What’s more, we also expect all of the poor countries to get to roughly where the rich ones are today by the end of this century. That’s actually one of the central predictions which tells us that climate change is going to be a problem. If they don’t then that global warming isn’t much of a problem. It’s only if they industrialise and get rich that it is (no, really, that’s here). And if they get as rich as we are then we do rather expect their fertility levels to fall to what ours are. That has been the lived experience after all.

There’s good reason to think these UN population projections are a little high, they make an assumption about fertility that is just inconsistent with anything we’ve ever seen.


24 Comments on "The Problematic Assumption In The UN’s 9.8 Billion People Projection"

  1. onlooker on Thu, 22nd Jun 2017 7:18 pm 

    Forbes the communicator of bull. So, less children the rich have less children. Forgot about the dead, they have NO children

  2. makati1 on Thu, 22nd Jun 2017 7:36 pm 

    Forbes is all about money. They have no idea about anything like climate change, starvation, disease, or war unless it makes a profit. This is another long winded article that basically says nothing. A pure propaganda (bullshit) piece.

  3. Anonymouse on Thu, 22nd Jun 2017 8:06 pm 

    I bet forbes thought all the projections for a 7.5 billion + population were equally ‘suspicious’ too.

  4. Apneaman on Thu, 22nd Jun 2017 8:13 pm 

    The problem will be that in the very near future there are going to be major crop losses due to greater heat and flooding and rain bombs. As with all life it comes down to the food/energy.

    Heat wave suffocates American Southwest on 1st day of summer
    Temperatures soared to 50 C in some parts

  5. onlooker on Thu, 22nd Jun 2017 8:16 pm 

    Yep, Malthus was not wrong just a little premature

  6. makati1 on Thu, 22nd Jun 2017 8:17 pm 

    Anon, no one knows what today’s total population number is within 20 million plus or minus. ALL those numbers are educated guesses and are likely way off either way. Population is going to be taken care of by Mother Nature. Worrying about how many when is a fools game.

    This fixation on population resembles that on barrels of oily stuff in the ground. No one actually knows how much will ever be recovered, but they still think it is important. Hint: It will never all be recovered no matter if there is a billion barrels or a trillion barrels.

    Neither are important numbers but TPTB want the serfs to be fixated on them as if all of humanity’s future depends on the amount/number they predict as being important. Humanity’s future was locked in decades ago. All we can do now is ride out the consequences until the end. The destination is obvious to those who look with open eyes and mind.

  7. Apneaman on Thu, 22nd Jun 2017 8:17 pm 

    U.S. Climate of Troubles: Record Heat Out West, Severe Floods in the East

    “Yesterday a record heatwave affecting 40 million people cracked pavement, grounded flights, threatened power grids and risked serious injuries across the Southwestern U.S. Meanwhile, today, a heavily moisture laden tropical storm Cindy is threatening to dump 10 to 15 inches or more of rain on parts of the U.S. Southeast. A pair of opposite weather extremes of the kind we’ve come to expect more and more of in a world that’s warmed by about 1.2 C above 1880s averages.”

    “Record heat also overwhelmed grids when customers cranked up air conditioning and high temperatures put a major strain on power lines and transformers. With California temperatures climbing to historic levels yesterday, power outages were reported across Central Valley and on into the Bay area. Extreme warming of road surfaces caused highways to buckle even as hospitals prepared for a surge of various heat-related injuries from burns, to heat exhaustion, to heat stroke.”

  8. Apneaman on Thu, 22nd Jun 2017 8:19 pm 

    Climatologist: “It’s a scale we haven’t seen in recent history and it’s very concerning.” Forest Fires Worldwide Burning Longer At Greater Frequency & Intensity Across Wider Areas

    ““This irreversible, non-linear positive feedback loop is not going to do anything but get more destructive as temperatures rise. It brings with it a whole host of deleterious effects. Decreasing air quality, decreased biodiversity, increased flooding, habitat destruction, polar melt, greater greenhouse gas emissions…. Add to that acute human activity threats like logging and mining, and things are not looking good for Earth’s lungs atal. Since the advent of human “civilization” Earth has lost half of her forest cover. With humanity forecast to balloon to 10 billion in 30 years, expect Earth’s ravaged and overworked lungs to collapse sooner than later.” –OSJ”

  9. onlooker on Thu, 22nd Jun 2017 8:30 pm\
    Earth’s Most Famous Climate Scientist Issues Bombshell Sea Level Warning—Of course n8tv4o fear many will be dead by then because of fam7ne and disease

  10. Go Speed Racer on Thu, 22nd Jun 2017 8:51 pm 

    Give em all guns. The 11 Billion will shoot each other.
    A further win, republican gun makers will have good profits.

  11. Apneaman on Thu, 22nd Jun 2017 8:54 pm 

    How Do You Count 7 Billion People?
    August 19, 2011

    ” The United Nations Population Division (UNPD), which keeps track of the world population, projects that the world’s human population will hit 7 billion on Halloween Day 2011. Admittedly, that is just an estimate: There’s no way to know exactly how many people are alive at any given moment, and the true date that humanity’s ranks will surpass 7 billion could come in the weeks or months before or after Oct. 31. Nonetheless, the UN’s guess is the best there is.

    How do they make it? By synthesizing a mind-boggling array of data.

    According to a chief analyst in the UNPD, its population estimate relies on fertility, mortality and migration information gathered by government censuses, independent demographic and health surveys, vital registers (official birth and death records), the World Health Organization, the UN High Commission on Refugees, and academic studies. UN analysts revise their country and world population curves every five years to account for any new data gathered by those entities since their last revision; they completed the current population projections earlier this year.”

  12. Apneaman on Thu, 22nd Jun 2017 9:00 pm 

    Climate Scientist: “There’s a substantial loss of ice going on…It’s not a good prescription.”: Scientists Saw Nearly Unheard Of Antarctic Meltdown

    “Antarctica is unfreezing. In the past few months alone, researchers have chronicled a seasonal waterfall, widespread networks of rivers and melt ponds and an iceberg the size of Delaware on the brink of breaking away from the thawing landscape.”

  13. makati1 on Thu, 22nd Jun 2017 9:06 pm 

    Ap, it is still a guess based on the past. But, it doesn’t matter in the end. It keeps a few people in the UN busy and gives them a paycheck. Just like the Peak Oil guys who keep posting articles proclaiming this or that but never correct.

  14. Apneaman on Thu, 22nd Jun 2017 10:15 pm 

    Mak it’s a sophisticated estimate that comes from plugging millions of national census numbers into a super computer, not a “guess” like how many jelly beans in the jar at the party.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if some tech head has developed a jelly bean counting app.

    The UN may be a monster bureaucracy and riddled with inefficiencies and corruption, but just wait and see what happens when the money and cooperation is no longer there to keep it afloat. Many folks who have never met anyone who works for the UN are alive today because of the work the WHO has done in 3rd world countries fighting disease – like eradicating small pox. 3rd world people get on planes to rich countries all the time and if not for the WHO we would have already have seen pandemics in all countries. Methinks the UN haters will have their wish in the not too distant future.

  15. Apneaman on Thu, 22nd Jun 2017 10:19 pm 

    Speaking of retards, someone get a hold of Trump and let him know that no wall is needed – CO2 is going to keep most of them out. Keep pumping it out daddy.

    Major heatwave in south-west US puts elderly and border-crossers at risk

    Temperatures of up to 120F (48.8C) in Arizona could pose a life threatening risk to the old, sick, homeless, and those trying to cross the desert, authorities say

    “It is physically impossible for the average person to carry enough water to survive several days of walking through the desert,” an agency statement said.”

    Burn more fossil fuels, kill more illegals.

  16. JuanP on Thu, 22nd Jun 2017 10:36 pm 

    “There’s good reason to think these UN population projections are a little high, they make an assumption about fertility that is just inconsistent with anything we’ve ever seen.”
    This is bullshit. Low fertility levels have been reversed in many different places at many different times and it is happening now, too. While the general global trend is towards lower fertility there is no guarantee that this trend will continue into the future. I expect fertility, natality, and mortality to increase in the future as resources deplete and access to food and modern medical services decrease. Which one of these will increase faster or earlier and how it will all add up is anyone’s guess, but change they will. We can expect many trends from the modern era to be reversed in a collapsing world. I also expect population growth to continue for longer than many of us would prefer. We are very successful breeders and we have momentum and inertia on our side. We will reach 8 billion in about 5 years unless something truly tragic happens. That is insane!

  17. makati1 on Thu, 22nd Jun 2017 10:42 pm 

    Ap, junk in, junk out. There are no exact numbers to plug in nor are there any real numbers coming out. There may be 7.6 billion of us, or there may be 6.7 billion or… They are ASSUMING. Nothing more. See title.

    The UN is nothing more than a tool for the empire, like the IMF, WB, WTO, NATO, etc. ALL organizations started by the U$ for U$ interests. The numbers coming out of there are no more real than those coming out of the U$ MSM.

    I know for a fact that many are not counted anywhere. My farm partner has run into this here in the PS. He has relatives with no birth certificate, no bank account, no government connections. So, how can they be counted? Answer: They cannot. No ‘census’ like in some countries. Do you think all 180+ countries work like the 1st world? I’;m just saying that any projection is not based on fact, just number manipulation.

  18. freak on Fri, 23rd Jun 2017 2:34 am 

    I am in be belief that the Ionizing radiation from nuclear power plants and nuclear war will kill every living thing on the planet well before climate change will but because of climate change is what triggers the Nuclear holocaust.

    This recent video of Guy McPherson is his most dire.

  19. Davy on Fri, 23rd Jun 2017 6:42 am 

    Population is the key element to man’s systematic destruction. It is only part of it because his complexity and the corresponding consumption is the other part. It is when you combine the two the real damage is done. The unfortunate part for the techno optimist is you need both to have the highly complex techno civilization we call modern man in globalism. This is not to say we can’t be complex in smaller populations. What I am saying is we can’t be techno like today. It takes huge productive capacity and sinks of knowledge, capital, and labor to fulfill this techno life. We can also have highly complex humans in small groups but not highly techno. We can be spiritually complex with higher wisdom but with a very small material foot print.

    It is the techno human that is not in scale and the reason our populations are an order of magnitude too high. When you have the techno capacity to allow more people more people can and will likely occur. This happens because man has a problem with the wisdom of “no and less”. He cannot control his impulses. His emotions and imagination too strong. Why do you think there are monkey traps? Man can’t help but to stick his finger in a monkey trap. Man thinks optimistically we can do more with less and have more. This is a human defect of wisdom.

    Our populations are out of control today because they can be and we do not have the wisdom to say no to them. We are capably of draconian measures to drastically reduce population. We may do this inadvertently through global war. Our current populations are too high and getting worse that is reality. Our human arrangements can’t agree if that is good or bad although science is telling us clearly it is a problem. It is the social narrative of economics, religion, and human rights that says it’s OK. These narratives say we will power through all the problems because of it.

    We need only look to nature to see the real answer. Anytime a species gets out of scale it is brought back into scale. Never in the history of life has this reality changed. Tell me why it would change now just because we are human and think we are exceptional? A population rebalance is ahead but it is anyone’s guess when and how. Part of that is what we do and part is out of our control. Get used to more population articles as the reality of overpopulation becomes an unarguable reality.

  20. joe on Fri, 23rd Jun 2017 9:37 am 

    Davy, the world’s smartest people either say we’re in trouble or to go and live on other planets cause if we stay here we are dead. Thats their solutions, so how will the rest of us manage? Elon Musk is busy building a reusable rocket that can land on earth and lift off again, why because he probobly thinks he can come up and down to take the parts he needs to survive in space like some kind of junk harvester living off the rooting dying corpse of humanity, thats the best we can do!

  21. peakyeast on Fri, 23rd Jun 2017 1:17 pm 

    Currently we are already living way beyond the means provided by earth. With twice the population – how nice is life going to be?

    Goddamn stupid breeders…

  22. onlooker on Fri, 23rd Jun 2017 1:34 pm 

    “All life with excess resource and no predation multiply exponentially. Humans since the industrial revolution (exploitation of fossil fuels) have been caught in this trap. When any life does this (bacteria in a Petri dish, or invasive species), once they have grown their population to consume half their resources, what is left is not enough to sustain the entirety of the next generation. A dramatic population collapse occurs quickly. Peak oil is our population collapse.”

  23. makati1 on Fri, 23rd Jun 2017 8:18 pm 

    We seem to be the lucky (unlucky) ones to be living in the last years of humanity. I doubt that there will be any humans left to celebrate the New Year 2100. Maybe not even 2050.

    We have set a new record for species extinction, managing to do it in less than 3 million years from tree to our end. It took the dinosaurs 165 million years and that one was not their fault. Humans are Number One! LMAO

  24. Sissyfuss on Sat, 24th Jun 2017 10:19 am 

    We are just beginning to feel the effects of overshoot and the exponential ramping up of consequences will be mind shattering. Nothing will make sense and nothing will matter. The collective consciousness of humanity is unable to fathom our fate. Hence the stoic and calm totals of future beings by the UN are rational observations in an irrational environment which renders our lives irrational. Predicament with a capital P.

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