While many species on Earth have been teetering on the edge of extinction in recent decades, human beings have witnessed a population boom on a scale that is quite difficult imagine. It was just in 1804 that the human population first numbered one billion, which seems quaint considering that 200 years later, there's about 6.7 billion of us on Earth. So far, no one is really sure what this unchecked population growth means for the future of mankind -- or how many more people the planet can handle. With that in mind, the Royal Society of London is launching a study on global population to better understand what an increasingly crowded world might look likeEstimates predict that by the year 2050, the human population will likely have reached 9 billion people -- 1 billion of which could be climate refugees. With more people on the planet, the impacts of global climate change will be exacerbated, as will the scale of human suffering brought about by its deleterious effects. But despite these looming crises, so often discussions related to managing population growth are embroiled in controversy.
But to better understand the implications of unchecked population growth, the Royal Society of London will be studying the potential impact of several billion more people on the planet. The project is headed by Sir John Sulston, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on the Human Genome Project. Sulston spoke recently to BBC News:
This is a topic that has gone to and fro in the last few decades, and appears to be moving back up the political agenda now. So it seems a good moment for the Royal Society to launch a study that looks objectively at the scientific basis for changes in population, for the different regional and cultural factors that may affect that, and at the effects that population changes will have on our future in term of sustainable development.
Once the population study is completed in early 2012, the Royal Society expects that it will help policy makers better plan a sustainable future -- so the world's not caught too off guard in the coming decades when two or three billion more people show up.
More on Human Population
World Population to Hit 7 Billion by 2011, New Stats Show
The Population Debate Continues: When Economics and Environmentalism Collide
Quote of the Day: Michael Braungart on Population