Image credit: Liz/Populational, used under Creative Commons license.
I recently made the case on Parentables that we parents can still worry about overpopulation, but I am well aware that it is not an easy topic. From accusations of reproductive racism to suggestions that discussing overpopulation amounts to advocating eugenics, folks can get pretty heated. Yet, even as we accept that consumption patterns in the West have more impact than population, it's hard to deny how many humans there are on the planet will inevitably influence our planet's ability to support those humans. On Friday we saw a somewhat encouraging guest post arguing that a concerted focus on access to family planning and birth control could stabilize population levels way below the projected 9bn. But new figures coming from the UN suggest that a much less rosy picture is also a possibility. In fact, we could be looking at 10bn humans on the Earth by 2100. Here's why.According to Justin Gillis and Celia Dugger at the New York Times, the UN population division has dramatically revised population projections upwards, moving from a predicted stabilization at around 9bn Global inhabitants by mid-century to over 10bn by the year 2100. Factors contributing to this reality are higher-than-expected birth rates in some African nations, as well as an uptick in population figures in a number of Western nations including the United States, Britain and Denmark.
Interestingly, and confirming a theme mentioned in my Parentables post, and in Carl Sagan's take on why tackling poverty also slows population growth, it seems that access to birth control alone is not enough to tackle population growth. Instead, say Gillis and Dugger, you have to look at women's ability to determine their own lives:
Some studies suggest that providing easy, affordable access to contraceptives is not always sufficient. A trial by Harvard researchers in Lusaka, Zambia, found that only when women had greater autonomy to decide whether to use contraceptives did they have significantly fewer children. Other studies have found that general education for girls plays a critical role, in that literate young women are more likely to understand that family size is a choice.
As mentioned above, I am well aware that there is a danger of focusing too much on population as an environmental ill, when we know that over-consumption and energy use by rich nations is a much more powerful force—at least when it comes to climate change. But given that every ecosystem has a natural carrying capacity, and that we all rely on fresh water, clean air and healthy soil to survive, to ignore the interrelationship between environment and population would be as much of a disservice as obsessing over it.
More on Global Populations, Climate Change and Sustainability
Can Parents Still Worry About Overpopulation? : Parentables
Ending Population Growth: Why Family Planning is Key
Carl Sagan Says Tackle Poverty, Population Takes Care of Itself