Sunday, May 23, 2021

Population Bust?

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There was a recent interesting article in the New York Times here about changes in global population in the coming decades. The article is worth a read--even if it had me scratching my head a bit around the numbers. The article points out that in many parts of the world, particularly in developed nations, the birth rate is declining rapidly which suggests that there will be significant declines in global population. The article uses a Website  from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to come to their conclusions. For example, the population of China is expected to go from 1.4 billion to about 730 million in 2100. The United States population is expected to rise a bit in the coming decades and then decline to about where we are at right now by 2100. Germany, which has had a relatively stable population of 80 million or so over the last several decades is expected to decline to around 60 million in 2100.

What is odd about the article is that it suggests that overall, global population decline is going to be a serious issue with very high populations of older folks with very few younger folks around to take care of them. While that may be true in some places like Italy and South Korea, the reality is that global population is really not expected to decline at all by 2100. In fact, right now, the global population is about 8 billion and the population in 2100 is predicted to be 8.8 billion. Certainly the population is expected to decline after the world hits a peak population of around 9.7 billion people in the middle of the 21st century, but there is no global exponential decline expected for generations--and by that time, the model will have to be changed based on new data and conditions.

The other part of the article that I found odd is that there is an overall sense that the environmental footprint of human activity is going to decline due to these changes. The article references loss of populations in Germany and how that led to the demolition of thousands of residential buildings. While this may be true, many parts of the world are experiencing the exact opposite as I noted in my piece here on the population crisis in Egypt. Africa is experiencing a population boom while many areas in Europe and South Asia are seeing populations contract.

The article also notes that the population decline could somehow ease environmental problems like resource scarcity and climate change. However, the data really do not suggest this at all. The global population will be higher in 2100 than it is today. Plus, we all know that globally we are using more resources per capita than any time in global history. Even if population declined a small percentage from where we are at today (which is not what is expected to occur) we would still have significant recourse and climate change problems. It is easy to equate population decline with improving environmental conditions, but environmental improvement is not just how many fewer people there are on the planet, but how the people on the planet chose to live.

Population is definitely a hard thing to write about. The numbers are hard to predict and population planning is difficult to discuss in some quarters. However, when looking plainly at the data referenced in the article, you can draw very different conclusions and inferences than those put forward by the authors in the Times piece.

1 comment:

JonD said...

I'm glad there was a followup piece to the one purporting to a drastic drop in popula by 2100. That was counter to anything that I had read up to that point! So, we are not saved from our need for continuous growth. IA also feel that the focus on co2 is really just a diversion from the elephants in the room, population and capitalism. I'm a capitalist and yet I know how that phylosophy does not square with a limited planet. I'm not sure what the answer is to this difficult problem but I do know that 11 billion people on this planet is too many.