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Global Population Could Peak Sooner Than We Think


Since the days of Thomas Malthus, we’ve worried that overpopulation is about to overwhelm our planet.

Those fears haven’t gone away. A further two billion people will be added to the current world population of 7.7 billion by 2050, the United Nations Population Division said in a report this week. Numbers will still be rising as the total approaches 11 billion people in 2100, according to the UN’s central forecast.

Agricultural productivity has confounded Malthus’s predictions by keeping the world’s population well fed despite its headlong growth in the past century. Still, a further 40% increase in the number of humans would put fresh pressure on the globe’s 33 million square kilometers of agricultural land – not to mention a climate that’s already at risk from population levels.

At the same time, signs are starting to emerge that this picture may be too pessimistic. Malthus’s key error was his failure to foresee how fertility rates would fall with increasing incomes – and the pace of change on that front has been staggering in recent years.

While India is forecast to overtake China as the world’s most populous country around 2027,  its number of inhabitants will start to level off by mid-century thanks to a fertility rate that’s already fallen to 2.24 births per woman, around where Ireland was in the late 1980s. By 2025 the rate will fall to 2.14, roughly the levels at which population hits a steady state.(1)

Other large countries in Asia have seen even sharper declines. The rate of 2.05 in Bangladesh is already below where it was in the U.S. during the mid-2000s. Thailand’s 1.53 is barely higher than Japan’s, at 1.37. Of the world’s top 30 countries by population, 19 are already around or below replacement-level fertility.

The exception is sub-Saharan Africa. More than half the growth the UN expects to see in the global population up to 2050 will happen there. From about one-seventh of the world’s population at present, the region will grow to account for a fifth in 2050, and a third in 2100, according to the latest forecast. In Nigeria, where the fertility rate is 5.4, there are about 43 million women between the ages of 15 and 45, and a further 43 million who’ll hit child-bearing age by the mid-2030s.

Bullish expectations for African population growth depend on the idea that the region is fundamentally different from the rest of the emerging world. Demographic transition – the process whereby countries switch from high to low fertility rates as they urbanize and women get better access to education, contraception and employment – is expected to play out there in a unique way.

While most Asian, Latin American and Middle Eastern countries took about two decades to make the transition to fewer than three children per woman from more than five, the UN expects sub-Saharan African countries to take almost twice as long. Indonesia made the switch in just over 16 years; Tanzania is expected to take about 50.

Is that forecast right? There’s reason to think that after overestimating the pace of African fertility decline in previous decades, demographers are now underestimating it. If most countries in the region haven’t started a steep drop yet, it’s plausible that in most cases it’s because most countries have only just hit the sub-five levels at which the process starts to gather pace. Those that reached that point early, such as Botswana, South Africa, and Kenya, seem to be transitioning at a similar pace to countries elsewhere.

Sharp improvements in infant mortality also suggest a change may be around the corner. One tragic reason that African women have so many children is that so many of them die before their fifth birthday. But there’s now only a handful of countries where the chance of that happening is higher than 8%, roughly the level at which fertility rates start to fall.

Fewer infant deaths and mouths to feed will mean less heartache and stress for African families. At the same time, a proportionately larger working-age population will help generate the “demographic dividend” experienced by other countries at their most rapid stages of development, a boon that some analysts have feared Africa may miss out on. Beyond that, population growth more in line with the rest of the world will put less pressure on the planet’s climate and farmland.

To be sure, fertility rates are unpredictable. The availability of contraception in west and central Africa is still shockingly low by global standards, as is female education; 31 of the 39 countries where less than half of girls enroll in secondary school are in sub-Saharan Africa. Healthcare improvements can be reversed, too, while chaos and conservative social policies can cause birth rates to spike, as has happened in Egypt since the Arab Spring.

Still, those who fear a Malthusian outcome for the world’s population should think twice. Shrinking families confounded his grim predictions about the world’s future. The same may go for our current forecasts.

(1) There tends to be a time lag between the moment a country hits this replacement-level fertility rate and peak population, since babies born at higher fertility rates will still be having their own children decades after the overall level has declined.

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36 Comments on "Global Population Could Peak Sooner Than We Think"

  1. Coffeeguyzz on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 9:24 pm 

    NOW what are you guys gonna have to piss and moan about?

  2. DerHundistLos on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 3:28 am 

    Who cares what Elon Musk or an editorial writer at the Wash. Po. thinks might happen with population.

    The fact of the matter is that the global environment is dying a death of a thousand cuts and the signs are everywhere….

    When Musk was confronted with the fact that most if not all of the world’s fisheries are in steep decline, he retorted that TECHNOLOGY via fish farming was the answer. What he didn’t tell you is fish farming is exacerbating overfishing since smaller fish must be harvested to feed the farmed fish, and now huge problems with the proliferation of ocean parasites- specifically, the concentration of huge numbers of same species fish in confined areas is resulting in unprecedented outbreaks of sea lice. And like all rapidly reproducing parasites, sea lice quickly gain resistance to the toxic cocktail of chemicals being employed in a vain attempt to contain the many outbreaks. Even worse, the large concentration of parasites are devastating wild fish stocks.

  3. majece majece on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 3:56 am 

    I advise you to visit if you want to learn more about academic paper writing. It means a lot these days

  4. Davy on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 6:19 am 

    There are multiple issues that are going to limit population growth in the very near future. They revolve around food, energy, water and more profoundly the economics in regards to these three vital human imputes. Overall affluence is going down. In a time of lower populations and plenty of room to move humans could adapt to this. It is a different story at the thresholds of carrying capacity. When you are at thresholds the curve steepens in regards to growth. You get more and more cost for each unit of increase. There is still plenty of room for food, energy, and water growth but little room in regards to affordability. Currently these three vital imputes are relatively cheap but times are changing. The cheap easy to get food, energy, and water has been had and the new sources are expensive and of lower quality. The global economy is now facing systematic debt pressures and cooperative issues with trade, finance, and leadership. It is the combination of these limits that will likely take population down.

    This huge economic engine appears set to decline by its own self organizing nature. It has reached it finite planetary limits on multiple levels. We hide from this reality behind techno optimism. Renewables will save us and there is vertical farming and desal for example. All these sources are niche sources that will help but they will not allow more population growth. In fact we need smaller more educated populations to adapt to the intermittency and much lower net energy of renewables. We need to adapt our farming towards less industrial agriculture and more permaculture farming. Permaculture will feed less people not more. True permaculture farming is adapted to planetary cycles and include more animal husbandry as a labor source, food calories, and nutrient source. More animals means less people. We must have lower populations in regards to water with much better conservation and management of existing sources. Energy intermittency and living within seasonality must be embraced across the board. This means many of the current settlement patterns are not sustainable in regards to extremes.

    This more ideal world is talked about by an awakened few but for the most part the world is either made up of apathetic unconcerned bots or fake green techno optimist that think the sky is the limit with tech and human ingenuity. This new world order is more expensive requiring much more education and controlled behavior. This controlled behavior is both individual and collective. We can’t expect to legislate good behavior. We can’t allow Orwellian corruption either. This is what is needed and could slow the decline of our global civilization but this is not what we as a civilization are embracing. We want affluence and we want to fix our problems. Sacrifice is universally rejected by a population accustomed to more of everything. The reality of declining affluence is the focal point of our collective inconsistencies. When I say affluence this concerns consumption but also reproduction. Reproduction carries a cost even if the population consumes less.

    We have a population growing rapidly at the same time we are hitting carrying capacity both in regards to quantity and the systemness. This could be more negotiable with less penalties for mistakes if the planet were not in an extinction event and with planetary system being forced by human activity. The planetary carbon, nitrogen, and the hydrologic cycles have diverged from the stable normal of our anthropomorphic interglacial period. Stable climate is showing multiple signs of disruption. This does not matter if it is AGW or natural changes IMO it is both. What is happening is the climate stability civilization needs combined with planetary systems and its cycles are quickly leaving us. This is another cost beyond the economic cost of food, energy, and water that is related to our civilization’s declining affluence. It is this duel human and planetary effect that is going to stop population growth in its tracts. It is also going to dent technological development as we have become habituated to. A less affluent and a more unstable world will not be able to produce nor employ technology like we have. This is at a time when we need more not less problem solving and high quality tech is necessary part of solving problems. Finally all this is trumped even more by the fact that our politicians and militaries are out of control. We have a huge task in front of us and we can’t get along which is a deadly combination. This is especially true of the US and its insanity in the black hole of DC.

    I cannot see how current generalized growth on multiple interrelated levels can continue much longer. It is likely a Seneca cliff is near. Whether that is a deadly cascading collapse with rapid loss of complexity is another story. This imminent decline does not have to be sudden and severe but it will be worse than most of us care to consider. It is my opinion that collapse is coming for multiple reasons it is the time frame that is my concern now. A longer process is still a livable process. I do not think humans have the wisdom at scale for a global civilization of so many people. If we desire a longer livable process of decline it is absolutely necessary that both consumption and population drop soon. The further we push the envelopes of human carrying capacity the more difficult the decline process. This is physics and reality.

  5. Geek squad support on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 6:30 am 

    It is one of the best sites that I have visited. I hope you will share more quality blog posts thank you.

  6. intellectual nematode Alert! on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 6:42 am 

    Davy on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 6:19 am

  7. Darrell Cloud on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 7:22 am 

    These guys track the sale of military hardware. I would be most interested in how they came up with this number.

  8. Shortend on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 7:44 am 

    As soon as Industrial at peaks the population will peak with it….barring some nuc war, plague or other unexpected event.
    Humans are just like yeast…but more clever.

  9. Davy on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 8:09 am 

    BTW. By ‘very near future’ I mean sometime in the next 80 years or so, and when I say ‘overall affluence’ I mainly mean in the USA. Again, I’m real upset about that.

  10. JuanP on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 8:16 am 

    ‘BTW. By ‘very near future’ I mean sometime in the next 80 years or so, and when I say ‘overall affluence’ I mainly mean in the USA. Again, I’m real upset about that.”

    Juanpee, where did I say that? Please stalker, documentation.

  11. More Davy Identity Theft on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 8:18 am 

    JuanP on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 8:16 am

  12. Davy on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 8:25 am 

    “Trade wars in the global value chain era” vox eu

    “In the 21st century, products are ‘made in the world’, as firms combine raw materials, inputs, labour, and ideas – the many slivers of value that ultimately make up a final product – each sourced from around the world according to specific cost-benefit tradeoffs for every component part of the value chain. This phenomenon has been made possible by innovations in communications and transportation technologies, together with institutional and market reforms that have allowed scores of countries to join (or rejoin) the global economic landscape. GVC trade – measured as a dramatic rise in the trade in value-added sub-components relative to gross trade – is the quantifiable manifestation of this ‘made in the world’ global production revolution.”

    “GVCs are themselves determined by market forces. Because GVC structure is the result of strategic sourcing and foreign investment decisions of globally engaged firms, tariffs may have large, long-lasting, and unanticipated consequences for the pattern of global production. If rising tariffs (or even just the threat of a trade war) causes firms to change how and where products are made in the world, this additional production dislocation will carry additional efficiency, job, profit, and welfare losses. Moreover, given the complex calculus faced by firms responding to changes in the global economic landscape, there is good reason to believe that global firms may not respond the way the importing country wants or expects.”

    “A noteworthy irony, given President Trump’s stated goal to bring jobs back to US shores, is that the administration has imposed new tariffs disproportionately on imported intermediate goods (Bown and Zhang 2019)— the very inputs that are necessary for US manufacturers to produce and sell their products competitively in the US and global markets. If the intent is to induce US manufacturers to ‘re-shore’ production to the US (or to dissuade US firms from moving final assembly/downstream production overseas), lower tariffs on imported intermediate goods would be in order.”

  13. Davy on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 8:25 am 

    I am in agreement with many economic views on the dangers and disruptiveness of trade wars. Trade wars will not benefit any country although some regions and firms may see a boost. Trade wars come down to who will get hurt more. I am not arguing this point. What I will argue is that in light of the collapse process, trade wars and the resulting economic destructive change is necessary to reinvent a world out of its peak globalism. We must degrowth but how we degrowth is also important. A global trade war that slows the turbulence associated with limits to growth process down might work. This might work in regards to lengthening out collapse but not stop the inevitability of collapse. It is likely a global trade war is the only realistic degrowth option. Can you imagine any great power embracing a degrowth strategy let alone the entire international community? What is instead happening is the talk of decarbonization with continued economic growth. You know clean green growth with more technology and more consumer satisfaction. These fake greens want to have it all. This is mostly what the academic and wealthy leadership believe in at least on the liberal side. The conservative side doesn’t see a carbon a problem to begin with. In this social narrative of manifest destiny of human progress degrowth is not possible.

    Degrowth is vital though if we are going to adapt to a declining world. A trade war that does not go hot is a possible route to lower affluence without cascading losses from an uncontrolled economic meltdown instigated by unsustainable economic growth. The key uncertainty is if a trade war can avoid going hot. It is my opinion the damage has been done by these trade war tactics already including the changes populism have unleashed. We are in a new world economic and social order of changing economic supply, value chains, and social cohesion. This will be destructive change and result in less economic productivity that will permanently end globalism as we know it. If this process can be less drastic and with a longer duration of effect it is possible we will see the benefits that degrowth can offer.

    This is in theory of course. It is my opinion that long term average growth is over in regards to growing growth. It is now a matter of mal-invested growth which is negative growth chalked up as real growth and wealth transfer showing growth in some segments while a bigger amount of negative growth is occurring in other areas. It might be the case we could get more growth with the global system as we knew it pre trade war but not for long so trade wars are important to anyone who believes in degrowth as a vital part of a future that is less painful and destructive. Degrowth is the name of the game in regards to needed action. Let’s hope trade wars get this process rolling.

  14. JuanP on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 8:26 am 

    “Trade wars in the global value chain era”

    Oopps this is from Zero Hedge

  15. Davy on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 8:27 am 

    Bullshit juanpeee. Show me the link please you stalking mentally challenged fool.

  16. More Davy Identity Theft on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 8:28 am 

    JuanP on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 8:26 am

  17. claes on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 3:31 pm 

    We can deescalate growth and I’m all in for that.
    Just don’t get your hand of the trigger while doing it

  18. Sissyfuss on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 3:48 pm 

    “Population can peak sooner than you think.” According to McPherson it’s in 7 years. Yeah, that’s sooner.

  19. claes on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 4:21 pm 

    Davy, you used this expression: “It is likely a Seneca cliff is near.”
    Ugo Bardi has worked for years to make this expression mainstream. A seneca cliff is to him an unavoidable consequence of an empire, but we don’t all agree to that.
    Empires have their upps and downs, and sometimes their downs happen to coincidence with enviromental downs, which brings catastofal economical loses to the empire.
    My point is that upps and downs are BAU, but when hit by severe negative climate changes while being in a down period, then empires could easily collapse.
    If this environmental incident hadn’t happened, the empire would have just fated away – not collapsed.
    Ugo Bardi’s suggestion that the seneca cliff is the way it goes for all empires is wrong

  20. claes on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 4:32 pm 

    A way better explanation of the rise and fall of empires could be found in Glubb’s :

    And this analysis goes much more to the heart of the american problems

  21. Gaia on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 4:55 pm 

    We are losing OUR jobs to: robots. Nobody talks about it or notices.

  22. claes on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 5:28 pm 

    Gaia, I’m pretty shure you got a job, and I’m pretty sure you got a political agenda. Don’t act as if you are an unemployed. You are most likely speaking for the unemployed, but are not unemployed your self.

  23. claes on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 5:52 pm 

    Gaya, loosing jobs to robots is a real threat to ordinary people and even to higher educated.
    I don’t know how to deal with this problem.
    It seems like what I would call a systemic problem in our society. Maybe most people aren’t smart enough to fit into the future society.

  24. Davy on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 6:08 pm 

    “If this environmental incident hadn’t happened, the empire would have just fated away – not collapsed. Ugo Bardi’s suggestion that the seneca cliff is the way it goes for all empires is wrong”

    Claes, my discussion is on global civilization not “Empire”. The American Empire is already over and now it is the consequences which is a multipolar vacuum as nations global politics reorganizes. As far as Seneca Cliff it was a convenient metaphor. None of us know what is ahead but it is my opinion collapse is very possible. I have made the study of collapse an intellectual passion. I have Ugo’s book “The Seneca Effect” and awaiting his new book that is a handbook for negotiating collapse. It is not yet out.

  25. Davy on Tue, 25th Jun 2019 9:47 am 

    Oops, sorry for being so self absorbed claes. I see now what you said above was your discussion, not mine.

  26. Davy on Tue, 25th Jun 2019 10:20 am 

    OK claes, I see your point. The Empire won’t really be over until we stop attacking other nations with state sponsored economic terrorism and wars, we shut down our 800 plus military installations around the world, and bring our troops back home where they belong. Then we will be a third world country like we should be.

  27. JuanP on Tue, 25th Jun 2019 11:55 am 

    “Davy on Tue, 25th Jun 2019 9:47 am Oops, sorry for being so self absorbed claes. I see now what you said above was your discussion, not mine.”

    Juanpee, you are the self-absorbed compulsive stalking idiot not me

  28. JuanP on Tue, 25th Jun 2019 11:57 am 

    “Davy on Tue, 25th Jun 2019 10:20 am OK claes, I see your point. The Empire won’t really be over until we stop attacking other nations with state sponsored economic terrorism and wars, we shut down our 800 plus military installations around the world, and bring our troops back home where they belong. Then we will be a third world country like we should be.”

    Claes, sorry for the confusion this is a juanpee comment. He is the board stalker who steal identities.

  29. JuanP on Tue, 25th Jun 2019 11:59 am 

    claes, BTW, I am an illegal alien that loves his playboy Miami Beach lifestyle as I spew anti-American hate. I have the lowest form of human personality as you probably can see from my behavior here.

  30. More Davy Identity Theft on Tue, 25th Jun 2019 2:13 pm 

    JuanP on Tue, 25th Jun 2019 11:55 am

  31. More Davy Identity Theft and Hypocracy on Tue, 25th Jun 2019 2:15 pm 

    JuanP on Tue, 25th Jun 2019 11:57 am

    “He is the board stalker who steal identities.”

  32. More Davy Identity Theft and Projections on Tue, 25th Jun 2019 2:16 pm 

    JuanP on Tue, 25th Jun 2019 11:59 am

    “I have the lowest form of human personality as you probably can see from my behavior here.”

  33. Gaia on Tue, 25th Jun 2019 2:30 pm 

    Fertility rates are dropping in other countries (Ex: Japan is dealing with an increasing aging population and a low-birth rate).

  34. JuanP on Tue, 25th Jun 2019 9:56 pm 

    For the record. I am the real JuanP and I haven’t posted a single comment here since before Valentine’s Day. I’ve moved on to greener pastures. I would recommend you all do the same. Reading the comments here or posting something is a complete waste of your lives. This website is fucked beyond redemption. Move on!

  35. Davy on Wed, 26th Jun 2019 12:05 am 

    How’s your real REAL Green volunteer community gardening going Juan? Mine isn’t doing so well cause everybody hates me. I have no idea why?

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