Why Population Matters
January 22, 2014
Population Matters Index
Though more than two-thirds of the planet is covered with water, only a small fraction - around 0.3% - is available for human use and reuse. And no more of this renewable fresh water is available today than existed at the dawn of human civilization.
1915: 1.8 billion | 1967: 3.5 billion | 2006: 6.5 billion | 2011: 7.0 billion (World Population) October 2006, U.S. Census Department
June 2005, U.N.
World population, currently 6.5 billion, is growing by another 76 million people per year. According to the UN the world will add another 2.6 billion people by 2050. Rapid population growth has placed incredible stress on Earth's resources. Global demand for water has tripled since the 1950s, but the supply of fresh drinking water has been declining because of over-pumping and contamination. Half a billion people live in water-stressed or water-scarce countries, and by 2025 that number will grow to three billion. In the last 50 years, cropland has been reduced by 13% and pasture by 4%.
Vaclav Smil's books have been recommended by Bill Gates. Smil, a professor emeritus of environment and geography at the University of Manitoba has written nearly three dozen books analyzing the world's biggest challenges - the future of energy, food production, and manufacturing. They're among the most data-heavy books you'll find, with a remarkable way of framing basic facts. (Sample nugget: Humans will consume 17% of what the biosphere produces this year.)
He was aghast at Penn State because it was like the academics there sat at the bottom of a deep well looking up and seeing a sliver of the sky. They know everything about that little sliver of sky and nothing else.
Smil argues that the demise of US manufacturing dooms the country not just intellectually but creatively, because innovation is tied to the process of making things. "In every society, manufacturing builds the lower middle class. If you give up manufacturing, you end up with haves and have-nots and you get social polarization. The whole lower middle class sinks," he said.
Innovation comes companies that want to extend their product reach, improve their costs, increase their returns. It usually arises from somebody taking a product already in production and making it better; innovation always starts with a product. Germany and Switzerland have maintained strong manufacturing sectors by starting kids in apprentice programs at age 14 or 15. They started young and learned from the older people, leading to products can't be matched in quality.
Smil likes renewables, but they move slowly. In 1950 people were only consuming 66,615 kilowatt-hours per capita. But few people had air-conditioning. Now we demand electricity 24/7. This is very difficult with sun and wind.
In Germany where they heavily subsidize renewable energy, when there's no wind or sun, they fire up their old coal-fired power plants, increasing greenhouse gas emissions from 917 million metric tons in 2011 to 931 million in 2012, because they're burning American coal, according to Smil.
With nuclear, we rushed into it, trying to beat Russia. So we took the submarine reactor, which was the wrong reactor and pushed it. The last power plant was ordered in 1974. While the Chinese, Indians, and Russions have nuclear power intentions, most countries are out.
Efficiency gains are limited. Take combustion machines -the best one in the lab now is about 40% efficient. In the field they're about only 15 or 20% efficient.
The same thing is true in agriculture. You cannot increase the efficiency of photosynthesis.
We could make products more energy-efficient - but then we consume so many more products that there's been no absolute dematerialization of anything. We still consume more steel, more aluminum, more glass, and so on.
What about reducing consumption? Smil said: "My wife and I did. We downscaled our house. It took me two years to find a subdivision where they'd let me build a custom house smaller than 2,000 square feet." He put 50% more insulation in my walls, adding very little to the cost. "I pay in a year for electricity what they pay in January. You can have a super-efficient house; you can have a super-efficient car."
On food, Smil said: "We pour all this energy into growing corn and soybeans, and then we put all that into rearing animals while feeding them antibiotics. And then we throw away 40 percent of the food we produce". He says there's nothing wrong with eating meat. It helps to make our big brains. But we eat too much meat - 200 pounds of meat per capita per year. If we eat like they do in India, China, and Malaysia - three people can eat one chicken breast cut up in a Chinese stew - all we need to eat is maybe like 40 pounds a year. But we need to stop giving antibiotics to the animals we eat.
We need better economic policies, better education, and better trade policies. It's like, "Let's not reform the education system, the tax system. Let's not improve our dysfunctional government. Just wait for this innovation manna from a little group of people in Silicon Valley," Smil said.
Britain's continuing population growth threatens our future prosperity.
The number of people in the UK grew by more than that in any other EU country in the last year, according to the latest data from the EU. We had the second largest number of live births, over 800,000, and just below that of France, and the second largest excess of births over deaths (natural change), over 240,000, again just below that of France. These positions were due to Britain's relatively high fertility rate rather than a particularly low mortality rate.
With this natural change being negative in some countries, the UK's natural change was higher than that for the EU as a whole. Add in net migration (the excess of immigration over emigration) of almost 150,000, and Britain's overall growth in the last twelve months was almost 400,000, over one third that for the EU as a whole.
Commented Simon Ross, chief executive of Population Matters, "The cause of our rising cost of living is staring us in the face. Rising numbers and hence demand is putting pressure on limited resource supply, from housing and transport to energy and even water. The cost of the enormous infrastructure projects being added to all of our bills is ultimately due to this population growth.
Rising numbers also affect our quality of life, from easy access to health and education to cramped house sizes and easy access to playing fields and green belt land.
Don't Panic - The Truth About Population: broadcast on BBC Two, 11:20PM Thu, 7 Nov 2013; available on BBC iPlayer until 9:59PM Thu, 14 Nov 2013 Duration 60 minutes (Editor's note: parts of this presentation may only be available in the U.K.; see http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03h8r1j )
This widely publicised programme is introduced as follows:
‘Using state-of-the-art 3D graphics and the timing of a stand-up comedian, world-famous statistician Professor Hans Rosling presents a spectacular portrait of our rapidly changing world. With seven billion people already on our planet, we often look to the future with dread, but Rosling's message is surprisingly upbeat. Almost unnoticed, we have actually begun to conquer the problems of rapid population growth and extreme poverty.
Across the world, even in countries like Bangladesh, families of just two children are now the norm - meaning that within a few generations, the population explosion will be over. A smaller proportion of people now live in extreme poverty than ever before in human history and the United Nations has set a target of eradicating it altogether within a few decades. In this as-live studio event, Rosling presents a statistical tour-de-force, including his 'ignorance survey', which demonstrates how British university graduates would be outperformed by chimpanzees in a test of knowledge about developing countries.'
To that, we respond as follows:
Yes, the UN projects that the human population may well peak at around 11 billion in around 100 years, time. Yes, the UN is seeking to end extreme poverty.
We in Population Matters are not reassured.
That is because the programme failed to consider in any detail resource scarcity and depletion, environmental degradation and climate change.
The Global Footprint Network, in association with the WWF and the Zoological Society of London, tell us that humanity is already consuming renewable ecological resources at a rate 50% higher than can be produced sustainably, while non-renewables are steadily depleted. The consequences, which are already with us, are rising resource prices, and environmental degradation. These will of course be increased by a world population some 60% higher than the current level, as well as by rapid industrialisation of countries which have not yet done so.
We cannot be sure to what extent the consequences will be a gradual decline in living standards and quality of life or a series of economic and environmental crises. However, we can be reasonably sure that changes in technological use or affluent lifestyles will be insufficient to avoid one or both of these in the absence of early stabilisation in human numbers.
The programme reported a widespread fall in the birth rate and seemed to leave it at that. In fact, birth rates are increasingly diverse, both between and within countries. The programme acknowledged that birth rates are a variable, not a given - they are affected by a wide range of factors, including the provision of family planning services and clear messages that smaller families are better. Consequently, if we act now, we can reduce that population peak to the enormous benefit of mankind, other species and future generations.
Rosling may be a good statistician, but he is an ecological illiterate. He assumes that ‘demography is destiny' - that all current trends will continue. He ignores the facts that: while the proportion of people in poverty is shrinking, the actual number of such people in the high fertility countries is rising; the fertility decline he celebrates has recently stalled - the UN increased their 2050 projections by 300 million this year; the danger of discontinuities or ‘tipping points', leading to a sharp increase in mortality, is visibly approaching (cf the ‘perfect storm' foreseen by the last UK Chief Scientist); the reduction in fertility rates does not happen automatically, but has taken years of effort, resources and priority to achieve in developing countries; no non-oil country has achieved economic take-off until it reduced its fertility to three births per woman or lower; and the timing of countries' achievement of replacement fertility radically affects their eventual population equilibrium number, which means there is great urgency in achieving it as quickly as possible.
It is also unclear what Rosling, like Fred Pearce and Danny Dorling, aims to achieve with his complacent message "The population problem is solved - don't worry about it". If he succeeded in persuading governments, both donors and recipients, to reduce the still inadequate priority they give to family planning and women's empowerment programmes, the effects would be: to increase the number of unwanted births, unsafe abortions, maternal deaths, and stunted children; to increase the rate of planetary degradation and the probability of crossing a tipping point, with a rapid increase in premature deaths; to reduce the number of people, the Earth can sustain in the long-term; and to reduce the likelihood of all our children enjoying a decent quality of life. Why does he do it?
UK will reach 70m in 15 years
November 7th 2013
The latest official projections confirm that the UK population is likely to rise by six million or around 10% over the next fifteen years (64 million in 2012 to 70 million by 2027).
This growth, equivalent to twelve cities the size of Manchester, will be strongest in England, though also occurring in the rest of the UK.
Additionally, over the next 25 years, people over 75 years of age will almost double in number, rising from ten million (16% of the population) in 2012 to 19 million (26% of the population) in 2037.
These factors, singly or in combination, feed into current policy debates on housing availability and affordability, easy access to education, employment and health, transport and travel congestion, rising energy and water prices, green belt, biodiversity and amenity protection, carbon emissions, air pollution, and room for waste disposal and even burials.
Most (60%) of the projected growth over the next 25 years is due to net migration, either directly (43%), or indirectly (17%), i.e. due to their age and fertility characteristics.
While more distant projections are less certain, the expectation is for continued growth, to 73 million by 2037, 75 million by 2050, 80 million by 2071, 85 million by 2087 and 90 million by 2112.
Variant projects produced at the same time and based on differing levels of births, deaths and migration, indicate alternative possible outcomes, ranging from a low of 63 million by 2112 to a high of 123 million by the same year.
Commented Simon Ross, chief executive of Population Matters, "England is already Europe's most densely populated country. Why should we also have Europe's highest population growth rate? More people make things worse. If we are serious about tackling the many issues we face as a society, we need to address one of the principal underlying causes, which is population growth. Caring for the growing number of elderly should not be an argument for ever more people, but for reducing the costs contingent on population growth. The variant projections indicate that human numbers is something that human ingenuity can address, if we choose to. We can choose to have smaller families, and the government and local authorities must provide the encouragement, sex education and family planning to help us to do that. The government should also limit net migration further and we should all support them in that."
July's column described two Nicaraguan boys with severe malnutrition. Miguel had kwashiorkor, caused by lack of protein. Poor Van's problem was inadequate food energy; he died from marasmus.
There is hunger even in Durango. Before the Manna Soup Kitchen, poor people had no place to go for a free meal. Years ago the Herald ran a haunting story about a woman who had been living in the stables at the Fairgrounds on Main Avenue. Her emaciated body was found at the end of winter. There were decreasing numbers written on the wall that appeared to be her weight at different times; she had starved to death.
What can we in the USA do about world hunger? Why should we care?
The second question is easier to answer than the first. We in rich countries should care because we are all part of the human family, because the world is smaller so we know more about suffering in far off lands, because we have strong spiritual beliefs. Perhaps we should care most because we have seen our own children suffer and know how much it hurts parents who cannot provide for their kids.
I do know that the worst way to help with hunger in poorer parts of the world is to send food. Gifts of food are typically distributed in cities. Hungry people move away from their farms so food production decreases, causing people to become more and more dependant on handouts.
Childhood hunger is a complex problem, not just caused by lack of food. Hunger is the contributor to most of the deaths of children in poor countries. Male preference may be a factor; boys are often given more food than girls when there are limited resources. Furthermore, in some cultures boys are more likely to be taken to the doctor when they are sick than are girls. Sometimes there are just too many mouths to feed. We do know that children are healthier when their mothers are educated, and when pregnancies are spaced at least 24 months apart. Smaller family size helps make sure that everyone has enough to eat.
Of the estimated 17,000 children who die daily, about 4,000 die because of polluted drinking water. Many agrarian societies have poor sanitation and unsafe water supplies. Water is often contaminated with microorganisms, leading to diarrhea and dehydration. For an adult this is a nuisance. For an infant or child an intestinal upset can be life threatening—especially if her nutrition is already borderline. In many places, especially in the tropics, parasites sap kids' nutrition and energy.
Breastfeeding an infant is the best protection against intestinal problems. Unfortunately, commercialism has made artificial formula seem healthier than breast milk for infants. Wanting to do the best for their infants, parents are duped into buying what they cannot afford. The expense of formula can suck away a significant portion of a family's income. Made with contaminated water, the artificial formula will sicken the baby. All too often, formula kills babies.
It is typical in a pre-industrial society to have many children die. With improved sanitation and clean water, with better nutrition and health care and with educated parents, children are much more likely to survive. It seems paradoxical that child survival should slow population growth, but it is true. When people know that their children will grow up to be healthy adults they choose to have smaller families.
This change in a society's makeup, caused by better living conditions and nutrition, is called the "demographic transition". The transition is from high fertility and high death rates to fewer deaths and lower fertility. A society's population grows rapidly while it is making this transition, when child survival is high but before the birth rate drops. It took two centuries for England and Western Europe to complete this transition; fortunately, now many societies make the transition more quickly.
Access to birth control is a prerequisite for the drop in fertility, however. Modern contraception has been available for less than a century, so presumably coitus interruptus (withdrawal) was the primary method in the past.
Perhaps the best we can do to save children is to hasten the demographic transition. This means supporting programs for sanitation, clean drinking water, education and especially family planning. There are many aid organizations that provide all these services to people in poor countries; we should support them in preference to ones that just supply food.
Human Over-Population: Creation of the Modern ExtinctionOctober 12 , 2013, WOA website By: Gabrael Stclair
There is an elephant sitting in the middle of the climate change activists' living room. It is human over-population. We are crowding out and killing off other species, especially trees. We are polluting the planet with our nitrogen moving mass agriculture, and sending the skies toxic levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
Few have the courage to address it directly. Most of us hedge about it and hope that by pointing out moral responsibility for stewardship of the earth that somehow we can sidestep the fact that we now have 7 billion folks on this planet, and that is too many. It is a clear and present danger to our planet's resources.
I am a woman of faith, of Catholic faith. I have spoken to other Catholic women of faith and I am not alone in my values. Since I am over child bearing age, and have never had any children, perhaps I can ask the question. How do we bring down human population in a compassionate and ethical way? We educate women and empower women with control over family planning and family decision making, especially in rural areas.
Pope Benedict XVI referred to this obliquely in his 2006 message to the Director General of Food and Agriculture Organization for the Celebration of World Food Day, when he stated, "Education and formation programs in rural areas need to be broadly based, adequately resourced, and aimed at all age groups. Special attention should be given to the most vulnerable, especially women and the young."
Al Gore, directly outlines the over-population problem and a compassionate approach in an entire chapter of Our Choice: a Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis (Ch. 11, "Population," Rodale, 2009). Mr. Gore observes that we must, move "to a new equilibrium pattern, characterized by low death rates, low birth rates, and small families." He goes on to highly endorse the "widespread education of girls," as pivotal in this process.
As Pope Francis has pointed out, women are very good at making important decisions, important informed decisions based on the signs of the times. How do we make womens' education/ empowerment a primary focus? As people of faith, how would we put the following on the agenda?
“Most investigators now concede that the number of extinctions that have occurred since the end of the last glacial period, some 12,000 years ago, clearly defines the Holocene time interval as one of pronounced and elevated extinction rates. There are many estimates of how many species are currently going extinct each year …. What is clear is that the world's forests are being felled inexorably to make way for agriculture and that the removal of forests leads to extinction …. Estimates of the fauna tally vary, but all carry the grave message that Earth is losing a great number of species rather quickly. Perhaps the most sobering estimate comes from Peter Raven of the National Academy of Sciences, who has suggested that two-thirds of the world's species may be lost by the year 2300. The ultimate cause of this extinction is the runaway population of Homo sapiens." (P. Ward & D. Brownlee, 2000, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, Copernicus, NY, 183)
There are several process networks working our planet today. Humans seem oblivious to this fact. We just keep making more of us! I wonder why more attention is not paid to the Rockstrom et al, 2009 article, “Planetary Boundaries: exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity,"
“Humanity has already transgressed three boundaries (climate change, the rate of biodiversity, and the rate of interference with the nitrogen cycle) ….The Earth system is defined as the integrated biophysical and socioeconomic processes and interactions (cycles) among the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, biosphere, geosphere, and anthroposphere (human enterprise) in both spatial—from local to global—and temporal scales, which determine the environmental state of the planet within its current position in the universe. Thus, humans and their activities are fully part of the Earth System, interacting with other components." (Ecology and Society 14(2):32) http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss2/art32/
Politicians of western countries avoid talking about population control, but if we invest in family planning we might just save our planet.
A 60-year-old Bolivian woman, mother of eight, was born and raised in a mountain community in Bolivia. High above her home, a glacier is retreating three times as fast as predicted ten years ago. All but one of her children have already migrated to other parts of the country. Because of the dwindling water supply, she must spend hours hauling water and the fodder for her llamas and sheep is more difficult to find, with some of her llamas starving to death.
She and women like her are on the front line of the struggle against climate change. But her plight as a mother dramatizes an issue that was largely ignored at the UN summit last December and is missing from the agenda of the UN summit in Mexico (COP16), scheduled for late this year. It is the problem of human numbers.
Britain's premier scientific organisation, The Optimum Population Trust, has launched a two-year study into global population levels. A growing body of scientists believe the time has come for politicians to confront the problems posed by the future increase in human numbers.
The Royal Society has established a working group of leading experts to draw up a set of recommendations on human population that could set the agenda for tackling the environmental stress caused by billions of extra people on the planet.
We really do have to look at where we are going in relation to population. If we don't do it, we may survive but we won't flourish. We will be examining the extent to which population is a significant factor in the challenge of securing global sustainable development, considering not just the scientific elements but encompassing the wider issues including culture, gender, economics and law.
The planet's population stands at 6.8 billion and although fertility rates in most countries are falling, the number of young people alive now who are destined to become parents in the future suggests that this figure could rise to 8.3 billion by 2030 and 9.2 billion by 2050.
Human numbers have shot up since the Industrial Revolution. In 1800, there were about a billion people, and by 1900 the figure was 1.7 billion. It then multiplied four-fold to six billion within a century, powered by advances in medicine and public health, cheap fossil fuels and a technical revolution in food production.
Much of the coming increase in human numbers will be in the poorest developing countries, notably in sub-Saharan Africa, where the population is set to rise by about 50% over the coming decades. Scientists estimate that food and energy production will have to increase by 50% and water availability by 30% to meet the demand caused by the extra 1.5 billion people living on Earth in the next two decades - an increase of nearly 10,000 people per hour.
Many countries have already exceeded their capacity to be self-sustainable without having to import resources. 77 out of 130 countries that have been studied can be classified as "overpopulated" based on the fact they are consuming more natural resources than they are producing. Britain's "ecological footprint" shows that it comes 17th in the table of overpopulated nations, which are dominated by the high-consuming countries of the Middle East and Europe.
If Britain had to rely on its biological resources, its sustainable population would be about 15 million rather than the present 60 million.
"Overpopulation is a much used and abuse word, but we believe the index helps to anchor it firmly in the realm of sustainability; of people living within the limits of the place they inhabit."
The "ecological footprint" was developed more than 15 years ago. It is a measure of the demand placed on the biosphere by human activity, calculating the amount of biologically productive land and water area required to produce all the resources that an individual, population or activity consumes, and also to absorb the waste they generate, given prevailing technology and resource management. The "footprint" is measured in global hectares, or average world productivity, allowing one area or population to be compared with another.
The Gendered Face of Climate ChangeNovember 20, 2009, Livemint.com
A new report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says that women, who make up a large share of the agricultural work force, are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, but are also key players in mitigating its effects on humanity.
Women also manage households and care for family members, which restricts their mobility, so they often lack the social capital necessary to deal effectively with climate change.
On the other hand, woman often desire to reduce the number of children they might have, which would, in turn, reduce population growth, contributing to a reduction of greenhouse gas-emissions in the future.
The UNFPA report comes a few weeks before the Copenhagen climate talks and follows just a short time after the release of the World Economic Forum's gender gap index, which ranks India at 114 out of 134 countries, on the basis of economic participation, political participation, education and health.
Population growth plus a weakened economy in Burkina Faso have sparked calls for a new population control policy.
The population is growing at 3.1% a year, or more than 400,000 people, after factoring in deaths, which have declined over the past decade which requires immediate action. Burkina Faso's population nearly tripled over 30 years to more than 14 million people, cancelling out benefits from the country's 2008 5% economic growth.
From a conference at Redlands University in California, with speakers from the Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, and the Center for Environmental Studies -- Human population has a direct effect on environmental sustainability. If you look at the health of the planet's ecosystem, you find that humans have done more damage in the last 50 years than in the entirety of human existence, said the director of the Center for Environmental Studies. These things unfold over millennia, which is why politicians and the media don't pay attention. It is encouraging that people are realizing that having more children will limit their economic freedom. If we leave our future generations an impoverished planet, we're in for a lot of trouble. Less than 1% of the world's water is potable, and it is a challenge to walk 8 kilometers to obtain water for a family. Only .14% of the U.S. Federal Budget went to foreign aid. Only $425 million of the $1 billion we've pledged for the UNFPA has been contributed. A lack of family planning in the world was a crime against humanity. Environment and population control go hand-in-hand."
Trinidad and Tobago experienced a loss of natural vegetation equal to 0.8% a year over five years .Only 32.9% of natural vegetation remains. The Environmental Vulnerability Index (EVI) revealed a very nice place without the climatic or geological extremes of other nations. The downside is a small island with a population density of 266 people per sq km. The only reason for the environmental stresses "is us" and we have the capability to reverse these impacts. It was "urgent" that we "adopt specific measures" to deal with these challenges. EVI forms part of an effort by the UN to produce a global EVI spanning 235 countries that highlights the vulnerability of a country's environment in the future based on events from the recent past. Trinidad and Tobago ranked as the country with the eighth-least likely chance of halting "major environmental deterioration over the next several decades": 3,441 forest fires occurred between 1987 and 1992, destroying 46,942 ha ( about 114,538 acres ) of forest cover, but only 167 ha were reforested in that period. Tobago faced serious problems, but emerged a better place to live than Trinidad from an environmental standpoint. Tourism-driven Tobago falls badly with degradation/rate of habitat loss; loss of natural vegetation; water resources; and coastal settlements (stress on coastal ecosystems). The island scores "sixes" for its low percentage area of marine reserves; its hazardous municipal waste and human population density. The only good news was the performance in Trinidad of the Beetham Wastewater Treatment Plant that now treated all the raw sewage that once flowed from Port of Spain and suburbs east and west but it should be pumped by pipeline to Point Lisas for cooling industrial processes.
Population control was a big part of the environmental agenda when Earth Day was established in 1970. The Population Bomb, by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, was a bestseller. The executive director of the Sierra Club at that time, David Brower, said "You don't have a conservation policy unless you have a population policy." President Nixon's Commission on Population Growth and the American Future declared that the U.S. would be unlikely to meet its environmental goals unless its population was stabilized. However, since 1970, over 70 million people have been added to the U.S., an unprecedented increase.
Nearly half the population lives along our coasts where ecosystems are most fragile. Air and water pollution, traffic congestion, habitat destruction and loss of farmland are the consequences. "Sprawl" is treated as if it were separate and divorced from the weight of the extra humanity.
Immigration discussions in environmental groups such as the Sierra Club often lead to divisive internal squabbles. Immigrants seek admittance to the U.S. because of fear of political persecution, war, famine and deteriorating environmental conditions in their home countries, as well as for economic reasons. It would seem that strategic use of American development aid, coupled with family planning support, can help reduce these emigration pressures. Even minor adjustments to immigration levels could have major impact on our environmental stewardship. When we should be protecting our farms and dedicating new open space, we're paving paradise and putting up a parking lot.
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