Population growth, a disaster in the making

The world’s population increased by another billion people between 1999 and 2011, to hit 7 billion. When History, Future. Now’s father was born, in 1930, the population was just 2 billion. By 2050 the world is expected to add between two and three new Indias and Chinas bringing the total to 9.3 to 11 billion. That is only 38 years in the future, or the equivalent of the world in 1974 if you look back 38 years in time.

The Los Angeles Times currently has a 5 part series looking at the world’s population and the potential consequences of it in the future.

Key passages include:

With improved sanitation, more reliable food supplies, vaccines and other medical advances, the population doubled to 2 billion by 1930 and doubled again by 1974.

The precipitous rise has not resulted in famine, disease and other catastrophes on the scale famously forecast by Thomas Robert Malthus in 1798 and by Paul Ehrlich in the 1968 bestseller “The Population Bomb.”

Malthus did not foresee that mass migration to the New World would relieve population pressures. Ehrlich didn’t anticipate the success of the Green Revolution — modern, intensive farming methods that boosted crop yields.

On conflicts it notes:

About 80% of the world’s civil conflicts since the 1970s have occurred in countries with young, fast-growing populations, known as youth bulges, according to an analysis by the nonprofit Population Action International.

Afghanistan is a stark example. Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the population has swelled from 23 million to 33 million. Nearly three-fourths of Afghans are under 30. The median age is 16.6, compared with 37 in the United States.

The bipartisan commission that investigated the suicide hijackings, carried out by 19 young Arab men, said one factor in the rise of extremism in the Muslim world was “a large, steadily increasing population of young men without any reasonable expectation of suitable or steady employment — a sure prescription for social turbulence.”

On hunger and farming it said the following:

An American plant breeder named Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for helping to develop high-yield, disease-resistant varieties of wheat and other grains, making it possible to triple harvests around the world.

Mankind finally seemed to be gaining ground on its longtime nemesis: pervasive hunger.

Yet Borlaug cautioned against hubris: “The frightening power of human reproduction must also be curbed,” he said. “Otherwise, the success of the Green Revolution will be ephemeral only.”

By midcentury, global food production could simply be insufficient. There will be at least 2 billion more mouths to feed, and an expanding middle class will consume more grain-fed beef, pork and other meats.

To meet the demand, the world’s farmers will have to double their crop production by 2050, according to researchers’ calculations.

Most of Earth’s best farmland is already under cultivation, and prime acreage is being lost every year to expanding cities and deserts, contamination from agricultural chemicals and other causes.

Carving large new tracts of farmland out of the world’s remaining forests and grasslands would exact a heavy toll, destroying wildlife and unleashing climate-warming gases now locked in soils and vegetation.

Complicating the problem is that rivers and aquifers are running dry, and heat waves and droughts associated with global warming are withering crops. Pests and diseases thought to have been vanquished are bedeviling farmers again, often in more virulent forms.

Major international research projects are underway to develop hybrid crops to withstand these challenges. But such efforts take decades, and there is no guarantee of success.

“The easy things have been done,” said Nina V. Fedoroff, a biotechnology expert at Pennsylvania State University. “The problems that are left are hard.”

The traditional low-tech solution to hunger — mass migration —is increasingly impractical on a crowded planet.

On China it writes:


China’s experience shows how rising consumption and even modest rates of population growth magnify each other’s impact on the planet.

The country’s population of 1.3 billion is increasing, even with the controls on family size. What is driving the growth is that hundreds of millions of Chinese are still in their reproductive years. On such a huge base, even one or two children per couple adds large numbers — an effect known as population momentum.

Moreover, the Chinese are living better overall: consuming more food, energy and goods than ever. One-fourth of the population — the equivalent of everyone in the United States — has entered the middle class.


Population growth, due to population momentum, is inevitable. Population growth makes all of the other issues that the world will face over the next few decades even harder to manage. All of the easy solutions to providing more resources to an expanding population have been implemented. Hard solutions are, as their name suggests, hard to implement. They are either too costly, or too politically unacceptable.

Click here to read the entire LA Times article.

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