photo: Chip Harlan/Creative Commons
Conventional wisdom in the environmental movement is that global human population growth will plateau somewhere around 9 billion people, sometime around the middle of this century (between 2050-2070 or so). Remember that our population will surpass 7 billion sometime later this year. Well, according to a new piece at BBC News, the UN is concerned that without greater efforts to address population growth a high-growth scenario may come to pass. That means 14 billion people by 2100. Here's Hania Zlotnik, director of the UN Population Division:
There's no guarantee that this scenario [one which population peaks around 9 billion] will become a reality because high-fertility countries may not reduce their fertility fast enough ... Even countries with intermediate fertility need to reduce it to replacement level or below if they wish to avert continuous population increases to unsustainable levels.
Read more: BBC News
All that said, there's a compelling argument to be made (and Fred Pearce has made it time and again) that the great population growth bomb may be defusing itself, that the 9 billion scenario will play out.
7 Billion, 9 Billion, or 14 Billion, All Place Great Strain on Planet's Resources
From an ecological perspective I have grave doubts that the planet could support that many humans at anything other than the lowest levels of resource consumption--as in what would be considered today abject poverty. That is if we still hold on to the notion that there should be anything even approaching equality of development, equality of standard of living, as the ideal. Which I think we should, make no mistake about it.
Which brings the other crucial part of this discussion into play, the part which is somehow more difficult for advocates solely focusing on population growth all too often miss: You can't disentangle the pressures placed on the planet from both natural resource consumption and population growth.
In the big picture it's quite simple: In a world with finite resources, fewer people mean greater levels of resources equitably available to all, while greater numbers of people mean there's less to go around without running into conflict over those resources or tragically and perpetually marginalizing parts of our human family.
While it's true that efficiency in resource usage can minimize the strain placed on the environment from our activities, this simply will not be enough to extend a standard of living considered normal in industrialized countries to everyone living today on the planet--one look at the stats of ecological footprint of nations reveals that. It certainly will not be the case with 9 billion people, let alone 14 billion.
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More on Population Growth:
Population Growth, Climate Change Degrade African Soil, Threaten Millions With Starvation: Worldwatch
Australian Anglican Church Says Population Growth May Break Commandment 'Thou Shall Not Steal'
Connecting the Dots: Population Growth, Consumerism & Biodiversity Loss Tangled Together