World Population to Hit 9.2 Billion by 2050

If there were ever a reason to work toward reducing our carbon footprint, building Web applications, online virtual spaces and other activities that allow humans to minimize our impact on the Earth, it’s the report from the United Nations that, “The world population continues its path towards population ageing and is on track to surpass 9 billion persons by 2050, as revealed by the newly released 2006 Revision of the official United Nations population estimates and projections.” (More detailed data is here as both a PDF and Excel spreadsheet).

Holy crap. Over 9 BILLION?

To give you some perspective on how population change is ACCELERATING, this quaint little map from the British Empire Atlas from 1918 that you see above says in part, “The population of the World is 1600 millions, the bulk of which is settled in two regions: the Indo-China-Japanese region about 800 millions (half the population of the world), and the Central European region about 360 millions. The only other densely populated region is the Eastern side of the United States and Canada with about 90 millions.” (More here).

Though population estimates are significantly more accurate today, 1.6 billion to 9.2 billion in 89 years is a pretty frightening increase.

  • As I think about these numbers, the sustainability questions flood my brain: How can the Earth sustain this number of humans? What will we eat and drink? As industrialized nations move from growing food to growing renewable energy resources, is there enough to go around? Since most of the population growth is in developing nations, will the pressure on richer nations mean more wars, negative economic impacts or, God forbid, ways to accelerate genocides like what’s happening in Darfur?
  • A continual migration from real-world to virtual questions abound: What happens as we disconnect from the natural world and move online?  Will all of us move into our heads and be less in touch with the natural world?  Even though I’ve shared many experiences with them in wilderness, I’ve found that my kids already are pretty unaware of the subtelties and nuances of the shift in seasons, how to align with nature and even their expectations as we travel down an Interstate highway in a remote area that a few miles off the highway there is….no one.
  • Lastly, the enormity of the problem, the strategic political and governmental necessities, and the moral ambiguities between cultures and religions exacerbate attempts at controlling the problem. I wonder how those who consider themselves religious ignore these realities and object to birth control (no….I’m not going to discuss abortion) as a means of population control?

Remember last year when physicist Stephen Hawking proclaimed that humans *must* colonize other planets — he believes global warming, nuclear war or a genetically engineered virus could wipe out the earth –in order to survive as a species and he was ridiculed in many circles? I read dozens of blog posts, news articles (like this one) and opinion pieces that missed the point of his central argument: humans all settled in one place (i.e., our planet Earth) are vulnerable to mass extinction.

He didn’t even get in to a discussion that we might breed ourselves into extinction.

3 Comments

  1. Bill on March 19, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    Interesting. Yes, just abt all that 3bn increase will be in the developing world and all of it will be in urban conglomerations. The sick joke is there’s enough resources and wealth to go around three times, it’s the distribution that’s the problem. The west is too fat, too selfish and too greedy. Tough luck starving millions! Did you know 18,000 kids die everyday from malnutrition? Now that’s what I call social networking, huh?



  2. Tom on March 20, 2007 at 8:39 pm

    Er, Bill – you’re on the right track pointing out that 18,000 kids die every day from malnutrition. Why this is not on the front page of every newspaper every day I do not know, it’s got to be the most appalling tragedy and leaves things like tsunamis and 9/11s in the shade. But no-one appears to give a stuff, so good on you for caring! With world population set to continue growing, this level of human misery can only increase. While there might be enough wealth and resources “to go around three times” that is only for present generations. If this generation uses up everything there will be nothing left for the tens of millions who will come after. If the human race is to live sustainably, i.e. to leave enough for future generations, it must reduce its numbers to around 2.5 billion, which it was only in 1950. If we assume the population replaces itself every 70 years, it would mean the difference between finding enough to feed, clothe house and entertain at least 18 billion people, or only 5 billion people, during the next 140 years. Which world would YOU rather live in?



  3. Bill on March 24, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    Tom, there’s plenty to round and round and round and round. Goldman Sachs paid $16 billion in xmas bonuses last year, so don’t lay this “present generations” trip on me. It’s about the distribution of wealth, the products of growth, and those products are being concentrated into ever more diminishing numbers of bank accounts, even within the west. But the west could set the world on a track of building more wealth for everyone if they gave a little more to get back a lot. The opportunity cost in terms of the lost human productivity in the developing world to malnutrition is staggering. Tomorrows markets are in the developing world. It is costing much more for us to ignore this problem than deal with it. Investment in people pays dividends. Just look at the Grameen Bank. Most western lenders would kill for a default rate on the microloans its been dishing to budding entrepreneurs who need say, US$50, to get started.

    I think countries like Brazil, India and China are going to make the 21st century their own by feeding, clothing, housing and employing as many people as we can all beget. As for entertaining all of them… I guess there’s gotta be something left for America to do.



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