Oopsie! There Will be a lot More Humans Than Previously Estimated


Illustration courtesy Jennifer Dickerson - Population Ecology Webquest

In recent decades, a panoply of social scientists has estimated that our planet’s human population would round off at mid-century with a little over 9 billion inhabitants. That’s about 22 percent more than our current 7 billion. But earlier this month, experts at the United Nations Population Division issued revised estimates.

            They contend worldwide human population will continue to grow until the turn of the century, with an increase up to 10.1 billion. The revised estimate comes just five months before humanity reaches 7 billion in October of this year.

           Africa’s population is now projected to – get this – rise to more than three and a half times its current number. Although Africa is our second largest continent measured in area, it has “only” about 1 billion inhabitants. That number could rise to 3.6 billion.

       The Population Council is an international, nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that seeks to improve the well-being and reproductive health of current and future generations around the world and to help achieve a humane, equitable, and sustainable balance between people and resources. Quoted in the May 6th New York Times, a council demographer, John Bongaarts, said, “Can we feed 10 billion people? Probably. But we obviously would be better off with a smaller population.” Duh (no reflection on Bongaarts).

       What is behind the revisions by this agency with a track record of accurate forecasting? For one, fertility rates are not declining as quickly as anticipated in some Third World countries. There had been an expectation that with fanily planning education and an increase in middle class population, family size would decrease. In addition, there has been a slight uptick in some wealthier countries, including the United States, which has been growing faster than many rich countries, partially due to high fertility among Hispanic immigrant families.

       So why should we Americans think twice before making children, or more children?

       The U.N. report projects that the U.S. population will grow from its current 311 million to a whopping 478 million by 2100, although a high proportion of that does not contribute to an increase in world population by virtue of the fact that much of the U.S. increase will come from immigration. Nevertheless, America’s population, by these calculations, will increase by more than 50 percent over the next 88 years.

            Hania Zlotnik of the Population Division warned a Commission on Population and Development meeting that projections depend on a lot of variables. “We produce other variants that illustrate the sensitivity of projection results to small changes in fertility. The high variant, which sets fertility half a child above that in the medium variant, yields a world population that continues to add billions every 12 to 15 years and reaches 14 billion in 2100.” In other words, if the projections for the number of kids per family go up by half a child, we’re screwed; the world population could double in 88 years.

            Fertility containment is now a crucial issue for the United States and all wealthy nations. As family planning funding paid for by developed countries has stagnated due to ideological issues such as abortion, sex education, and women’s rights, we need to set an example by increasing education and access to contraception, and by setting an example at home. There are Enough of Us. In fact, there are too many, and it’s not going to get any better. Human, ecological and quality-of-life sustainability are at stake.

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