When I was a cute young tike in elementary school in the early 1950s, the answer to the question “How many people live in the United States?” was “150 million Mrs. Fiore!”.
Clever boy. Very clever boy.
In the years since I was a kid, in one single not yet completed lifetime, the population of the United States has grown to 336 million, give or take.
Today there are more than 2 people walking around my country for every single person I saw as a child. All of them need food, shelter, education, jobs, clothing, healthcare, care in their old age and all will have dreams.
Further, when I was born, the U. N. Population clock tells me that the total population of the world on September 10,1942 was 2.349 billion. Today it is 7.511 billion. The population of the planet has more than trebled in my as yet uncompleted lifetime.
While the United States population has grown to 326 million and is now the world’s third largest, both China and India each have one billion more people than us.
1 China 1,387,932,22
When I saw the above list of the countries with the world’s largest populations I was a bit surprised by some of the entrants. The relative positions of Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Congo, Bangladesh and Ethiopia were not where I would have expected.
And the population of Russia at 143.4 million, is less than half of that of the United States while controlling the largest land mass on earth. Russia was only one spot ahead of Mexico and that my friends constitutes a long term strategic issue for Russia and the rest of the planet. The population density of Russia is only 9 people per square kilometer compared to 96 for the U.S., 452 in India and 1,266 in Bangladesh. Russia controls a lot of empty space. Since the fall of the U.S.S.R. and the closing of the collective farms, some 20,000 villages have been completely abandoned and another 30,000 have ten or fewer inhabitants.
It took all of man’s existence on earth until 1804 to reach a total population of 1 billion and we didn’t reach 2 billion until 1927. We reached 3 billion in 1959, 4 billion in 1974 and 5 billion in 1987. Six billion was reached in 1999 and 7 billion in 2011. We are expected to reach 8 billion in 2023 and 10 billion by 2056.
Clearly a tremendous change occurred with the industrial revolution: whereas it had taken all of human history until around 1800 for world population to reach one billion, the second billion was achieved in only 130 years (1930), the third billion in less than 30 years (1959), the fourth billion in 15 years (1974), and the fifth billion in only 13 years (1987).
During the 20th century alone, the population in the world has grown from 1.65 billion to 6 billion. In 1970, there were roughly half as many people in the world as there are now.
Not that space is a problem. It has been argued that the entire world population could fit inside of France creating a density similar to metropolitan Paris, a gigantic “city,” leaving the entire remainder of the planet to grow food and for all other species.
Population in the world is currently growing at a rate of around 1.11% per year (down from 1.13% in 2016). The current average population change is estimated at around 80 million per year.
Annual growth rate reached its peak in the late 1960s, when it was at 2% and above. The rate of increase has therefore almost halved since its peak of 2.19 percent, which was reached in 1963.
The annual growth rate is currently declining and is projected to continue to decline in the coming years. Currently, it is estimated that it will become less than 1% by 2020 and less than 0.5% by 2050. This means that world population will continue to grow in the 21st century, but at a slower rate compared to the recent past. Maybe.
Sub-saharan Africa is set to be by far the fastest growing region, with population rocketing from 1 billion today to between 3.5 billion and 5 billion in 2100. Previously, the fall in fertility rates that began in the 1980s in many African countries was expected to continue but the most recent data shows this has not happened. In countries like Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation, the decline has stalled completely with the average woman bearing six children. Nigeria’s population is expected to soar from just under 200 million today to 900 million by 2100.
The cause of the stalled fertility rate is two-fold: a failure to meet the need for contraception and a continued preference for large families. “The unmet need for contraception – at 25% of women – has not changed in for 20 years.”
Wolfgang Lutz, director of the Vienna Institute of Demography, highlighted education as crucial in not only reducing birth rates but also enabling people to prosper even while populations are growing fast. In Ghana, for example, women without education have an average of 5.7 children, while women with secondary education have 3.2 and women with tertiary education only 1.5. But he said: “It is not primarily the number of people that’s important in population policy, it’s what they are capable of, their level of education, and their health.”
Meanwhile in Europe and North America the fertility rate is falling while population growth is lagging significantly behind less developed countries. Russia is currently at virtually zero and population is actually falling. Additionally, populations are aging, particular in Japan, creating the burden of supporting the elderly with a dwindling workforce.
A child scavenging for food in Angola
Will we be able to feed 10 billion people? This year, for the first time in history, over 1 billion people go to bed hungry every day. High food prices and the recent global economic recession pushed 100 million more people tinto chronic hunger and poverty. And, looking ahead, we know that climate change, rising energy prices, and growing water scarcity will make it harder, not easier, to grow the crops necessary to feed an expanding population. Mounting soil erosion and the loss of farm land will also add to the challenge of boosting food production.
And it’s not just food that’s potentially in short supply. Water scarcity is a growing concern. In many parts of the world today, major rivers at various times of the year no longer reach the ocean. In some areas, lakes are going dry and underground water aquifers are being rapidly depleted. And climate change, of course, will make the water situation even more critical.
.As food, water, and other resources are strained by the escalating demands of a growing world population, the number of environmental refugees in the world will rise…and so will the potential for conflict and civil war.
This century may turn out to be the hundred years migration and mark the return of genocidal starvation, the failure of states, religious warfare and climate change resulting in the frantic stockpiling of food. Those nation states with insufficient stockpiles will face mass starvation.
Lebenstraum, Hitler maintained was necessary for the German people to be able to feed themselves from their own land. He vehemently denied that science and land management would be sufficient to increase crops and keep up with a growing German population. These were “Jewish” ideas. Germany needed land in the east.
And that land needed to be de-populated through starvation and settled with German farmers.
In the coming century population growth and climate change threatens to provoke a new ecological panic. So far, poor people in Africa and the Middle East have borne the brunt of the suffering.
China for example, like Germany before the war, is an industrial power incapable of feeding its population from its own territory and is thus dependent on unpredictable international markets. It was not that long ago (in my lifetime) that Chinese died from starvation by the millions.
China is already leasing a tenth of Ukraine’s arable soil, and buying up food whenever global supplies tighten. The Chinese leadership already regards Africa as a long-term source of food. Although many Africans themselves still go hungry, their continent holds about half of the world’s untilled arable land. Like China, the United Arab Emirates and South Korea are interested in Sudan’s fertile regions — and they have been joined by Japan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia in efforts to buy or lease land throughout Africa.
We live on a planet with finite resources. It cannot support both infinite population growth and ecological pollution and destruction.
None of our pols speaks of population growth and its affect on sustainability save our criticism of China’s now revoked “one child” policy. Our religious folk rail against the availability of contraception. Our illustrious President recently rejected the Paris Agreement and embraces climate change deniers.
Ask yourself what would our right wing, anti-science, anti-immigrant supporters do to protect our “way of life”. Our “lifestyle”. Would they support shooting starving Mexicans migrating north in mass at the border? Taking Canada’s resources to support our consumer society? Would they be willing to live more simply? Smaller houses. Public transportation, Less heat in winter. Less air conditioning. Fewer choices. Would they be willing to give up anything?
Or would they follow Dr. Goebbels, supporting the extermination of others (so long as they didn’t have to see it) if it meant continuing a “big breakfast, a big lunch, a big dinner?”
While people are hungry we feed corn to our cattle to sate our desire for meat. And we use more water to irrigate our lawns and golf courses than to irrigate all the corn in America.
Malthus will be right – eventually.