Peak Oil is You

Donate Bitcoins ;-) or Paypal :-)

Page added on June 27, 2013

Bookmark and Share

Unsettling truth in population data


The news on the population front sounds bad.

Birth rates are not dropping as fast as expected and we are likely to end up with an even bigger world population by the end of the century. The last revision of the United Nations’ world population prospects, two years ago, predicted about 10 billion people by 2100.

The latest revision predicts almost 11 billion.

That’s an alarming number, because it is hard to see how the world can sustain another 4 billion people. (It is 7 billion now.)

But the headline number is deceptive and conceals another, grimmer reality.

Three-quarters of that growth will come in one continent: Africa.

The African continent has 1.1 billion people. By the year 2100, it will have 4.1 billion – more than a third of the world’s total population. Or rather, that is what it will have if there has not already been a huge population dieback in the region.

At some point, however, systems will break down under the strain of trying to feed such rapidly growing populations and people will start to die in large numbers.

It has happened before – to Ireland in the 1840s, for example – and it can happen again.

Between now and 2100, six countries are expected to account for half of the world’s projected population increase: India, Nigeria, the United States, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Uganda. Four of the six are in central Africa.

In this area, where fertility is still high, the numbers are quite astonishing.

Most countries will at least triple in population.

Some, like Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia, are predicted to grow fivefold. That is on top of populations that have already tripled, quadrupled or quintupled in the past half-century.

Uganda had five million people at independence in 1962; it is projected to have 205 million in 2100. The numbers are preposterous.

Niger, a desert country whose limited agricultural land might feed 10 million people with good management, a lot of investment, and good luck with the weather, already has twice as many as that.

By the end of the century it will have 20 times as many: 204 million people.

All these numbers are based on assumptions about declining birth rates: if we all just carried on with the birth rates of today, there would be 25 billion people on this planet by the end of the century.

The key question is: how fast is fertility declining – and all the numbers in this article so far are from the UN’s “medium estimates”, that is the moderately optimistic ones. The “high estimate” for Niger gives it 270 million people by 2100: an extra 70 million.

It makes no practical difference.

Even the “low estimate” of 150 million people in Niger by 2100 is never going to happen.

That is 15 times too many people for the available land and Niger cannot afford to import large amounts of food. Even without reckoning in the huge negative impact of climate change, large numbers of people in Niger (and a few other African countries) will begin starving long before that.

So the real picture that emerges from the UN’s data is rather different. It is a world where two- thirds of the world’s countries will have declining populations by 2100. China and Russia will each be down by a third, and only the US among the major developed countries will still have a growing population: up from 320 million now to 460 million.

In terms of climate change, the huge but ultimately self-limiting population growth in Africa will have little impact, for these are not industrialised countries with high rates of consumption and show no signs of becoming so.

The high economic growth rates of African countries in recent years are driven mostly by high commodity prices and will probably not be sustained.

It is the developed and rapidly developing countries whose activities put huge pressure on the global environment, not only through their greenhouse gas emissions but also through their destructive styles of farming and fishing. Their populations are relatively stable but their actual numbers are already very large, and each individual consumes five or 10 times as much as the average African.

So the frightening numbers in the UN’s latest population predictions are mostly of concern to Africa – but the rest of the world is still in deep, deep trouble on many other fronts. Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

 Fairfax NZ News

6 Comments on "Unsettling truth in population data"

  1. dsula on Thu, 27th Jun 2013 11:09 am 

    stop feeding africa

  2. Kenz300 on Thu, 27th Jun 2013 1:14 pm 

    The worlds poorest people are having the most children. They have not figured out the connection.

    If you can not provide for yourself you can not provide for a child.

    Access to family planning services needs to be available to all that want it.

    Every country needs to develop a plan to balance its population with its resources; food, water, energy and jobs. Those that do not will be exporting their people and their problems.

  3. KingM on Thu, 27th Jun 2013 1:27 pm 

    This would be super easy to solve. Simply give people some sum of money to undergo voluntarily sterilization. Adjust the sum until you get the right number of people coming in.

    If you offered $1,000 per person, you’d have lines in some countries that stretched for miles. You could sterilize 20 million people a year for 20B, which is a fraction of the military cost that is going to come if we don’t do something to limit growth.

  4. rollin on Thu, 27th Jun 2013 1:51 pm 

    The difference between humans and other animals is we can count in large numbers.

    Since most of the world’s resource predicaments are supposed to come to a head by 2035, projections into the future are irrelevant. Everyone sees the direction things are going in, they just need to accept the fact that humans are subject to natural laws.

    Even if we could magically turn rock, water and air directly into food; would you want to live in world where everyone is bumping into each other everywhere? Just the sewage problem would be overwhelming. Controlling disease would be impossible. Even with magic the constraints of nature prevail.

  5. GregT on Thu, 27th Jun 2013 2:24 pm 

    Ocean acidification, resource depletion, deforestation, soil erosion, oil depletion, species extinction, loss of biodiversity, climate change, methane clathrate releases, ozone destruction, flooding, fire storms, famine, insect infestations, and pandemics, all point to the sixth mass extinction event.

    Our era will go down in history as the Anthropocene. It doesn’t appear very likely though, that anyone will be around to remember us.

  6. arthur plow on Thu, 27th Jun 2013 7:49 pm 

    Reminder me of a good British TV series called “Utopia”. (I don’t want to spoil the show but they have a solution.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *