Why Population Matters
May 11, 2013
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%.
NASA's Landsat program, using a series of satellites, monitors how the human species is altering the surface of the planet. Since 1984, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has accumulated a stunning catalog of images that, when riffled through and stitched together, create a high-definition slide show of our rapidly changing Earth. TIME magazine, using GOOGLE Earth, is proud to host the public unveiling of these images from orbit.
You can see Dubai, growing from sparse desert metropolis to modern, sprawling megalopolis, or central-pivot irrigation systems turning the sands of Saudi Arabia into an agricultural breadbasket. Watch the high-speed retreat of Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska; the West Virginia Mountains decapitated by the mining industry, and the denuded forests of the Amazon, cut to stubble by loggers.
Google's technology has scrubbed away cloud cover, filled in missing pixels, digitally stitched puzzle-piece pictures together, until the growing, thriving, sometimes dying planet is revealed in all its dynamic churn. The Landsat images take 1.8 trillion pixels per frame, the equivalent of 900,000 high-def TVs assembled into a single mosaic.
Dr. Charles Fowler is a recently retired American scientist who worked for NOAA at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center who in 2008 wrote a paper entitled "Maximizing biodiversity, information and sustainability" - see http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10531-008-9327-2?no-access=true
According to Dr. Fowler, in order to maximize the biodiversity of the planet we would need to reduce human population to about 1/700 (10 million people), overall energy use to 1/6000, CO2 emissions to about 1/8000, consumption of the planet's primary production to 1/13,000, and our water consumption to 1/267,000.
That means each of the 10 million people would use 12% of today's average energy, produce 8% of the CO2, use 5% of the planet's productivity and consume just 0.3% of the fresh water.
These 10 million would have a standard of living of less than 10% what the "world average" person enjoys today.
This is about half the lower-bound number arrived at in Thermodynamic Footprints and Sustainability, which was 20 million people all living a strict hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
We will eventually, somehow revert back to a situation much closer to true sustainability. However, because the gap between where we are and where we need to be is so enormous, it's essentially impossible for us to manage ourselves out of our predicament within the next century. That means an involuntary correction is inevitable, with all the hardship that implies.
Egypt imports about half of its food; however, its foreign currency reserves have been shrinking dramatically and without more external aid, it's difficult to see how Egypt will manage to feed itself.
Recently Qatar, Turkey, and Libya pledged $6.2 billion so that Egypt could continue to purchase wheat, cooking oil, and other staples, but without a continuous flow of aid, it is hard to see how Egypt survives. Egypt has been trying to negotiate a $4.8 billion loan from the IMF, but the IMF is not an international relief agency; it expects its loans to be repaid and will not extend credit when repayment is not made.
Egypt has more people than Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, and the United Arab Emirates combined. Egypt is also heavily dependent on diesel imports to transport its food and run its agriculture machinery. One-third of its population is under the age of 15, and it is estimated that 40% of Egyptians are living on less than $2 a day. In 13 years or less, Egypt's population, currently 82 million, is projected to reach 102 million, and by 2050, 135 million.
With political instability in recent years, Egypt can no longer rely upon tourism to pay the bills. And without a healthier economy, there's no end in sight to the political unrest.
Egypt's poor and middle class are heavily dependent on government food and fuel subsidies for their economic survival. The IMF is insisting that the government agree to trim them on the claim that they are wasteful. However, trimming them would almost certainly fuel widespread protests and further undermine the government.
President Morsi is banking on the large number of Egyptian young people as a source of potential economic strength, hoping that Egypt will soon join the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Not likely. It would take a whole lot of education and foreign investment to productively employ Egypt's youth; Egypt is just too big.
If Egypt had curbed corruption, educated more girls, empowered women, and instituted economic reforms two or three decades ago, it might have had a fighting chance of turning its demographic corner and joining the BRICS, but its food and foreign currency reserves are steadily shrinking and its population and number of unemployed youth are rising.
In the end, Egypt may be too big and too late to save.
Other countries may see similar dim prospects. Syria is a political nightmare. Yemen's capitol city, Sanaa, could run out of water by the end of this decade. Saudi Arabia is estimated by Citigroup Inc. to be a net oil importer by 2030.
Jonathan V. Last, senior writer at The Weekly Standard, insists that America is heading over a demographic cliff because we're not making enough babies. And the Wall Street Journal, The Daily Beast, The Los Angeles Times, and others, gave him a forum.
The U.S. has relentlessly added 2 to 3 million people per year for decades —33 million in the 1990s, 27 million in the 2000s. We added more than 100 million in the last 40 years, and in the next 40 to 50 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, we will add another 100 million, most of it directly and indirectly from immigration.
Our current population of 315 million runs a substantial ecological deficit that is pushing us ever deeper into ecological debt, according to the Global Footprint Network, which says: if every country in the world were as overpopulated and resource- intensive as the United States, it would take more than four Earths to support us all. But we only have one planet at our disposal.
Part of caring for our planet is having the collective wisdom to live within limits, including limiting the size of our families and population.
We are busily sawing off the limb upon which the entire human enterprise rests—degrading and squandering the "natural capital" that makes sustainable economic prosperity possible.
Mr. Last quotes Julian Simon who said that "…growing populations lead to increased innovation and conservation. Think about it: Since 1970, commodity prices have continued to fall and America's environment has become much cleaner and more sustainable—even though our population has increased by more than 50%. Human ingenuity, it turns out, is the most precious resource."
Commodity prices did fall from 1970 to 2000, but in the 2000s prices for almost all raw materials have increased sharply. Americans mistook temporary abundance of nonrenewable natural resources like the fossil fuels and metals as permanent sufficiency. It's a miscalculation with monumental consequences.
We have fewer wetlands, fewer free-flowing rivers, less available surface and groundwater, less open space, fewer remaining fossil fuels and high grade metal and mineral ores, fewer arable soils, fewer healthy and more diseased forests, more wildfires and droughts, record temperatures, fewer fish, less de facto wilderness, more threatened and endangered species, more harmful invasive species, higher carbon dioxide emissions, and more crowded parks and beaches than ever before. The climate is becoming more erratic; sea level is rising, and the oceans are becoming more polluted and acidic.
Julian Simon once bragged: “We now have in our hands—in our libraries, really—the technology to feed, clothe, and supply energy to an ever-growing population for the next 7 billion years."
Physicist Al Bartlett calculated that after just 17,000 years (only 0.00024% of 7 billion years), a population growing at the underwhelming but steady rate of 1% annually—about equal to the U.S. growth rate—would produce as many humans as atoms in the known universe.
Britain is facing a baby boom with 250,000 more school places now being required. The birth rate has risen by one fifth in the last ten years, adding to Britain's record population, reinforcing England's status as the most crowded large country in Europe. It contributes to pressure on housing, transport and services and worsens emerging shortages of energy, water and job opportunities.
Britain has one of the highest proportions in Europe of people with larger families (three or more children), around one in seven. In some areas, the proportion is as high as one in four.
90% of couple families with three or more dependent children had either one or both parents working.
The government would do well to limit child benefit and other child related payments to the first two children, except for the very poorest families.
Commented Simon Ross, chief executive of Population Matters, "In a planet that is not getting any bigger, people should not be having more than two children. If we are serious about sustainability, and our country's quality of life, the government needs to send out the message that two will do."
Family Planning in MalawiMarch 27, 2013
Deciding when to have a child is a small, dignifying gift. A gift more nurturing than the bully of chance.
This film is the story of Marda and Alfred, a young couple from the country of Malawi who have experienced firsthand the power and the potential that come with being able to use family planning to decide how many children to have, and when to have them.
It is also the story of Malawi, a country struggling with the burdens of extreme poverty, resource scarcity, and a rapidly growing population that could triple in size in the next 35 years. A country in which people like Marda and Alfred are not the norm, and many are forced to leave the size of their families to chance. One quarter of women in developing countries like Malawi want to plan their families, but don't have access to the commodities, services and information they need.
Access to family planning isn't just about empowering individuals like Marda and Alfred. It's also about the future of countries like Malawi, and the future of our planet. When women have access to voluntary family planning they choose to have smaller families, which reduces population growth and gives countries the chance to develop sustainably.
The Aspen Institute's Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health is a group of world leaders committed to ensuring that all people have access to family planning and reproductive health.
You can help by sharing this video or by donating to support our work.
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.
End of this page in "Population Matters" section, pg 1 ... Go to page 2