Containing the Growth of the Human Population

(E) As tweeted by Antonio Guterres: “As we welcome the 8 billionth member of our human family, we must think ahead. By 2050, the world’s population will be approaching 10 billion. Action – or inaction – by the G20 will determine whether everyone can live sustainably & peacefully on a healthy planet.

How many human beings can we be on the planet is a very controversial subject that was started fifty years ago by Professor Paul and Anne Ehrlich in their book “The Population Bomb”?

If instead of being 8 billion of human beings on our planet, we would be only 4 billion, just half of it, the fundamental questions of “why, what, and, how” to pursue sustainable economic development could be less of a priority for our present human civilization.

As noted by Professor Paul and Anne Ehrlich in their second book “The Dominant Animal”, on top of other effects, human population size is the “elephant in the living room”. Shifting population sizes for any species on Earth has important consequences for the future of all population species. And, I think that the fundamental issue of being 8 billions when the numbers of all species on Earth are declining.

We will reach 10 billion in 2050 according to the projections of the United Nations. Due to the present size of the younger population that will have new children soon, we will be adding, for sure, two additional billions people. Growth in the world human population is now coming mainly from Africa that will triple its population by the end of this century (see picture above).

The two major drivers of human population growth are fertility rates and progress in health care. We all know that with higher standards of living and better education, fertility rates are rapidly dropping. And better health care changes the profile (shaped by size per age and per sex) of a population.

In African countries, most of the size of the population is at a young age, sometimes up to 50% under the age of 15, and declining steadily as the age of the population augments while, in developing countries, the profile of the population size is most evenly distributed across ages.

The present worldwide fertility rate, or the number of children per woman, is 2.56 and expected to decrease to 2.02 in 2050.

The fertility rate of most wealthy nations is around or below two which is considered as the replacement rate. Simply put, each woman, over her lifetime, would have two children, a son and a daughter, to ensure the continuation of the population (more precisely the replacement rate is 2.1 with 105 boys for 100 girls).

In sub-Saharan and several Middle Eastern countries, the fertility rate is between 5 and 8.

We must balance our population growth with our resources. This is a difficult decision and not only an economic one but also of course a cultural and religious one as well.

So by helping the poorest countries in particular in Africa, with adequate population policies and family planning, to reduce their fertility rates and, mortality rates in particular for the youngest, we can slow down the rise of the global human population.

Containing the growth of the population in poor countries has a lower effect in the short-term on the demand for worldwide resources and the rise in greenhouse emissions than in wealthier countries but containing the growth of the population in poor countries is imperative for those countries to achieve faster prosperity and make the best use of their limited resources.

To deeper dive:

  • From the Population Bomb to the Dominant Animal:

Note: The picture above is from SESRIC SWOT Outlook 2018 for OIC Countries.

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