It is estimated that there are currently ~7.6 billion humans inhabiting this planet. That is 7,600,000,000 of us currently consuming, to varying degrees, this planet’s finite resources. World population back in the year 2000 was estimated at ~ 6.2 billion. That is a growth of 1.4 billion—-or 23%—-over a 17 year time span. What are the implications of that? Is the increase in world population accelerating, decelerating, or stable? Where will we be in 20 years? In 50 years?
Want to watch population growth in real time? Check out the “World Population Clock” at the following link:
The “clock” reflects estimated numbers but is based on years of proven statistical data. Watching the clock can be a bit mesmerizing. As of today, November 7, 2017, the clock estimates total 2017 births and deaths at 120 million and 50 million respectively. That would mean that the world population has increased by ~ 70 million thus far during 2017. That would be an average growth of 220,000 every day. 70 million is the equivalent of adding seven (7) cities the size of New York City to the earth’s population so far this year. That is difficult to comprehend. It is equally difficult to imagine how that could be sustained.
World Population History
I recall sitting in my 6th grade class in 1968 when my teacher announced that, within a few months, world population would reach 4 billion. I distinctly remember her being unsettled by that. For reasons she did not care to share with her bored 12 year old students she did not consider it to be a positive milestone. Now, a scant 50 years later, world population has doubled.
The planet reached the 1 billion milestone sometime during the early 1800’s. By the 1930’s the population had doubled to 2 billion. It took only ~ 35 years for the population to double again to 4 billion. Now, 42 years later, we have doubled again from 4 billion to almost 8 billion. As counter-intuitive as it seems the rate of population growth has actually decreased over the past few decades. From a peak of 2.2 % annual growth in the late 1960’s we are now seeing annual growth rates at just over 1%. However, in terms of real numbers, there has been little change. In the late 1960’s a 2.2% annual growth meant the addition of 88 million souls every year. Today a 1% growth equates to almost 80 million.
What About the United States
In 1922 the United States passed the 100 million population threshold. 45 years later—in 1967— we were standing at the 200 million mark. Another 50 years finds us with a total population of 325 million. A relatively stable average annual growth rate of 1.4% over the past 95 years. If that trend remains stable we will reach the 500 million mark by the year 2048.
Where is Everybody Living?
According to http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/ the top 10 most populous countries account for ~60% of the total world population. Those top 10 countries are as follows:
- China = 1.4 billion
- India = 1.3 billion
- USA = 325 million
- Indonesia = 265 million
- Brazil = 210 million
- Pakistan = 198 million
- Nigeria = 193 million
- Bangladesh = 165 million
- Russia = 144 million
- Mexico = 130 million
China and India alone account for a combined 2.7 billion—36%— of the total.
World Population-The Trend
According to the United Nations Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs http://www.un.org/esa/population/unpop.htm world population will reach 10 billion by the year 2056. That would be a population growth of 2.4 billion—from the current 7.6 billion—over the next 39 years. That would equate to a slight reduction in annual % growth, but; 10 billion is still 10 billion. Conservative projections predict a total population of 13 billion by the end of this century.
What are the implications for our planet and its inhabitants? A scant 200 years ago the earth was supporting 1 billion humans. That burden is now approaching 8 billion and will increase to 10 billion by the middle of this century. A tenfold increase in just over 250 years! What does that mean in terms of…..
- Natural resources
- Fresh water
- Habitable living space
- Increased likelihood for war due to increasing competition for limited resources
Taking fresh water as an example….
According to the Population Reference Bureau http://www.prb.org/Publications/Lesson-Plans/HumanPopulation/Environment.aspx the amount of fresh water available per person in the United States will have declined from ~16,000 cubic meters in 1950 to ~7,000 cubic meters by 2050. In other words, the amount of water available per individual will have been reduced by 50%. We are more fortunate than many. In Mexico water availability will have been reduced from ~ 13,000 cubic meters to ~ 2,000 cubic meters over that same time period.
Kicking the Can
We have a tendency to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to uncomfortable questions and realities. We shove our hands in our pockets, whistle into the air, and slyly kick the can down the road in hopes that some future generation will have the intellectual and technological wherewithal to tackle these gargantuan problems. But, in this case, it is those generations that are likely in the greatest jeopardy. Even if they are better equipped to address any forthcoming calamity it may be too late at that point for any effective, non-catastrophic, corrective action.
When will we reach the point of no return? At what point will we have finally asked this good earth to provide more than it is capable of? When will nature strike back at us with an unparalleled vengeance? It could be that we are already seeing some evidence of that.
Some among us claim that continued advances across all scientific disciplines will offset this problem. Maybe. We should all hope so. But……that sounds like a tune that could be whistled while kicking the can of accountability down the road.