Ask around about the ‘overpopulation issue.’ The reply is likely to be: What overpopulation issue? For anyone cognitively aware before 1990, that was one of the biggest issues of the era, right up there with the means of reducing the surplus population, which was called global thermonuclear war. For recent generations, it is hardly a topic of discussion. That does not mean the issue has gone away.
As a reminder, consider that the United Nations has just issued an update to its estimates of world population, World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision covered in a United Nations Press Release [03 May 2011, World Population to reach 10 billion by 2100 if Fertility in all Countries Converges to Replacement Level]. The estimate of world population for 2100 has – shock – been revised upward from approximately 9 billion to 10.1 billion. Perhaps even more thought provoking is the estimate that there will be 9 billion by 2050.
In October of this year (2011) the world population is expected to pass 7 billion, having achieved that from 6 billion in just twelve years. From some perspectives, it looks like humankind did that without breaking a sweat. And the next billion? And the next, and the next? History is an unreliable teacher, since in the 1980’s it looked like overpopulation was well on the way to destroying civilization as we knew it by 1995 or so. Then came the green revolution and the beginning of population stability or decline in many of the major developed countries. The disaster didn’t happen, which of course meant that many people began to assume it couldn’t happen – technology would always come to the rescue.
As the demographers look ahead, they see lots of unpredictability in key variables. Translated: Famines, plagues, wars, birth control, climate change, women’s education, family planning, rising standards of living, devastating shortage of resources (food, water, oil) and environmental disasters all may have something to do with where the planet’s population count meanders. More accurately, they see all of these factors coming into play unequally. Some areas of the world, even some countries specifically, are likely to be more affected by both dramatic population increases and the negative effects.
Chief among these will be Central Africa, where the population of Nigeria could go from 162 million to 730 million by 2100 or Malawi from 15 million to 129 million. The trends for this kind of growth in population are there, but the big question is whether some of the negative effects will kick in. Can these countries provide for that kind of growth? (Hint: Famine is already an issue in Central Africa.)
As population experts often point out, the population growth may not be in your country (much of the developed world has negative population growth), but every additional billion human beings puts that much more pressure on resources, the environment and the level of political instability for everyone. Any thoughts about the return of the overpopulation issue?