Saturday, October 15, 2011

Shattering a Population Myth

Late in October, global population will reach seven billion. To mark this auspicious but depressing milestone I’d like to confront the widely held belief that global population growth is slowing. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute, for example, states that population growth peaked at over 2% in 1968, and today, the global population growth is 1.1%. This certainly sounds like a significant decrease, doesn’t it?

Wrong! Let’s look at actual numbers, the actual number of humans involved, rather than percentages.

In 1968, the world’s population was 3.6 billion. An annual growth of just over 2% means that the population increased by about 75 million people that year. Now, in late October, 2011, we are on the verge of reaching 7.0 billion souls. The present growth rate of 1.1% means about 77 million additional people will be added to the world this year.

Wow! Real population growth, that is, the increase in actual living, breathing, consuming humans, is virtually the same today as it was in 1968, over four decades ago. So much for the myth that human population growth is slowing down.

Another set of frequently quoted statistics is that in the 1950s women bore approximately 5 children each, while today that number stands at 2.5 children per woman. This sounds like a huge decrease. But it’s not. Although the birth rate has halved, the number of women has doubled. One cancels the other so that we’re still producing the same number of children. Dealing with percentages rather than actual numbers hides the disturbing fact that global population growth hasn’t slowed at all. It is still increasing at a robust level — about 75 million per year — just as it has since 1968.

Let’s delve deeper. Since about 1950 we have witnessed incredible prosperity. Every generation has had a better, richer lifestyle than their parents. The GDP, number of cars per family, home size and electronic gadgets have all increased significantly during this golden era of human civilization. To provide the improving quality of life, each generation requires more oil to be drilled, more forests to be cleared, more aquifers to be drained than for the preceding generation. Although the increase in number of humans was about the same in 1968 as in 2011, the cohort of 2011 uses far more resources, they have a larger ecofootprint, a larger environmental impact. And that’s what counts.

Human society is at the brink. We need to deal with immense global problems such as approaching peak oil, diminishing fish stocks in oceans, loss of good agricultural lands, global warming, oceanic pollution and much more. A central cause of every one of these difficulties is human population, which continues to grow at an alarming rate.

We must not believe the myth that population growth is slowing, nor let it lull us into complacency. There’s too much at stake.

18 comments:

Mary said...

I just found your blog. While I greatly appreciate your effort, I personally don't see any hope for the human situation (the Earth is just evolving). I've been aware of the problem for 50 years (thanks to my high school Chemistry teacher's lesson that matter is finite). During that time, I have been considered eccentric in my views (childfree by choice (for the child's sake) and mindful of my real needs and therefore my impact on the Earth's resources). Also during that time, I have seen all warnings ignored, government policies moving in the wrong direction and things getting progressively worse as you describe. Still I commend you and hope that you will continue to get the word out - young people are increasingly listening to the message although the problem is growing exponentially so I fear for our collective future.

Anonymous said...

It is a shame that 'the brightest and the best' among us have perpetrated a sham on the human community and, as a result, are ravaging the world we inhabit as well as turning it into a shambles.

The idea that our descendants would make the same colossal mistakes we are making now, because knowledgeable people in our time chose to remain hysterically blind, deaf and electively mute rather than acknowledge science, is anathema to me as well as absolutely unacceptable to those I respect. If such an impossible thing was to occur, would a conscious determination not to fulfill both a responsibility to science and a duty to warn humanity be tantamount to the greatest failure of nerve by the brightest and best in human history? If aware and responsible human beings were to be granted the opportunity "to will one thing", let it be that we share widely an adequate enough understanding of all extant science which discloses the population dynamics of the human species to the family of humanity, so those who come after us do not take the "primrose path" we are trodding now, a path that has been adamantly advocated and relentlessly pursued at the behest of the most arrogant, avaricious, foolhardy, wealthy and powerful movers and shakers on our watch, a path to confront some unimaginable, human-driven sort of colossal global ecological wreckage.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
established 2001
Chapel Hill, NC
http://www.panearth.org/

Unknown said...

Agree with your views and added my support on a blog called - Amazing - 7 Billion People - www.myamazingpeople.com

fertility rate said...

The key statistic in all this is an average children per woman rate (fertility rate). This rate has been steadily declining over the years. Here is the chart:

world fertility rate

This means that if this continues, we will see declining population somewhere in the mid century.

thegrinner said...

totally with you all the way and makes me happy i am not alone one thing that these growth generaters do not like is when i talk about the gap between rich and poor and the bigger the pop the bigeerr the gap that can not be good for the economy in the long run because if people dont have money they can not spend it but none can argue with any substance

Anonymous said...

The current DAILY population increase is around 250,000. There is a complete lack of urgency to deal with this incredible problem. While people talk about the symptoms such as global warming, the actual disease (population explosion) is a taboo subject.

All of our modern cities are entirely based on the free flow of petroleum and many other finite resources. In good time gas/petrol/fuel will be perhaps $40 / gallon and more. With that we will no longer be able to pollute to such an extent because it is expensive. Food will be very expensive too. And the self sufficient subsistence farmers in third world countries might be better prepared than us in the so called "developed" world where we have long forgotten how to live without plundering the planet.

Medicine needs to develop an simple procedure that allows both genders to control their fertility. We have polio shots, why not a fertility shot in the early teens that can be reversed with an antidote when ready to start a family? We have developed many technological miracles, this one has been completely overlooked.

And aid programs should focus on family planning and birth control. It is unbelievable to see very large and very poor families in Africa. It is time for some tough love and demand that these issues are dealt with in exchange for medical and food assistance.

Anonymous said...

If find it more shocking to think of daily increases rather than very large annual ones. And the country with the world's most wasteful consumers, the United States of America added and average of 6,400 people PER DAY during the years 2008-2010 (see Google public data). Accordingly several thousand dwellings have to be completed every day and farmland and nature turned into sprawling suburbia every day.

What can you do about it? Next time your girlfriend talks about another B A B E E Y take her on and sell her on a better upbringing on the child you already have.

Also far too many kids are accidents that the girl did not prevent. We need workable male contraception. Condoms or vasectomy seem stone aged technologies.

Anonymous said...

Very intresting blog. I was disgusted but not surprised by the lack of attention this milestone received. The myriad of issues surrounding our explosive population growth is astounding, as is the seeming lack of concern but much of the world. I read the following blog just before this one. It's also eye-opening.
http://www.promotinggoodhealth.com/2011/12/seven-billion-and-counting/

Exponentialist said...

Hi,

Good blog - I share your concerns. You might like my own blog

http://exponentialist.blogspot.com.au/

or web site:

http://members.optusnet.com.au/exponentialist/

I've been working on it since 1999 - I hope you find it interesting.

Regards,

David

Exponentialist said...

Hi,

I've been working on my Exponentialist web site since 1999:

http://members.optusnet.com.au/exponentialist/

and more recently my own blog:

http://exponentialist.blogspot.com.au/

It's all to do with population growth and evolutionary theory.

Power to the people!

(just not too many of them...)

David

Anonymous said...

Even if the population growth were slowing, its all to late. We were not dedigned for an ant colony existance, but that is what we have. We are an infestation and few feel an incentive to do anything about it. The left and right still quibble over there agendas, oblivious to the fact that their agendas are becoming more and more irrevelant within the larger picture. People live there work-a-day lives and don't want to think about this problem. Seems to me the first step is to establish over-population as a major problem and get it on the agenda.

WonderYonder
Torrance, California

I would like to ask Mary: Evolving into what?

Anonymous said...

Humanity could save itself from itself while there is still time, but chooses not to do so with every passing day because many too many movers and shakers consciously and deliberately refuse to acknowledge their understanding of reality and respond ably to ‘what is’. Leading elders know what is happening but willfully reject speaking out loudly, clearly and often about what is true to them. A pervasive and pernicious dearth of intellectual honesty, moral courage and willingness to do the right thing by powerbrokers and their sycophants and many minions, all of whom dominate the mass media, is everywhere in evidence.

Steven Earl Salmony

Brooke said...

I have to research an environmental issue for my science class. I was wondering how quickly you think we might run out of natural resources if our population continues to grow.

Brooke R.
High School Student

Brooke said...

I am a high school student. I have to research an environmental issue for class. I was wondering how quickly you think we could run out of natural resources if our population continues to grow.

Brooke
High School Student

Anonymous said...

There are so many issues regarding the Earth today including population growth and resource consumption, and they are all very important. The question is, which issue is most important to fix? The answer is all of them. You have to think of it as all as one problem. Human population growth, resource consumption, waste exposal, etc. all tie into the health of the Earth and the existence of the human race. The whole world population has to work together to progress on this, and governments have to educate and enforce solutions upon their nations. The biggest question for me is, how are we supposed to lower the population growth rate and eventually lower the population size?

Anonymous said...

We need to send a message to our politicians that population matters.

http://www.populationparty.org.au

BgLue said...

I feel that in order to change, or reverse the problem, at this point that there would have to be drastic measures taken. But you know what...if we don't, it's not going to get any better. I do feel that something needs to be done about it, but I'm not sure what. I think that a lot of people are not really thinking about actually having a child and raising it, and all that entails before they decide to reproduce. Also, that a lot more women are working, and that still has not decreased the number of births because there are more women! Part of this issue is the pressure from older generations, men, and even other women that we feel the need to have a baby to be complete. I understand that many do, and that is a wonderful, wonderful thing because holding a baby that's yours, and raising it, and watching them grow up and (hopefully) be successful is an amazing experience, but not everyone wants that. We should be okay with women (or men) being able to say "I don't want to have kids right now." Or "I don't want to have kids.". Please let me know your opinion on the epidemic that is...us!

BgLue said...

I feel that in order to change, or reverse the problem, at this point that there would have to be drastic measures taken. But you know what...if we don't, it's not going to get any better. I do feel that something needs to be done about it, but I'm not sure what. I think that a lot of people are not really thinking about actually having a child and raising it, and all that entails before they decide to reproduce. Also, that a lot more women are working, and that still has not decreased the number of births because there are more women! Part of this issue is the pressure from older generations, men, and even other women that we feel the need to have a baby to be complete. I understand that many do, and that is a wonderful, wonderful thing because holding a baby that's yours, and raising it, and watching them grow up and (hopefully) be successful is an amazing experience, but not everyone wants that. We should be okay with women (or men) being able to say "I don't want to have kids right now." Or "I don't want to have kids.". Please let me know your opinion on the epidemic that is...us!