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Posts Tagged ‘population growth

“There are too many of us, he thought. There are billions of us and that’s too many.”*…

 

elders

 

Ever since Thomas Malthus got it started in 1798, people have been warning that population growth, given enough time, would lead to famine and environmental destruction. There would eventually be too many mouths to feed. But now a new study, published in The Lancet, forecasts new threats to the economic and social order caused by precipitous population decline.

Damned if you do (it), damned if you don’t.

The world population is now 7.8 billion, up from 3.5 billion less than 50 years ago. Previous estimates suggested we wouldn’t reach “peak humanity,” the point at which things start going to hell, for generations. The most recent United Nations projections see population growth stopping at around 11 billion people near the end of the century. This new study from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington found that the population might peak at 9.7 billion around 2064 — much sooner than previously predicted — and then fall to 8.8 billion by 2100.

ihme-population-graph

On the face of it, this seems like good news. There’s no doubt that fewer people would relieve pressure on the environment, especially if there were fewer meat-eating, car-driving, computer-buying people. Not as many people taking long-haul flights and buying houses means that a smaller portion of the earth will be devoted to filling the human maw. The authors of this new paper acknowledge that their findings are good news for those who seek to reverse climate change and save orangutans. Moreover, if the world met the UN’s sustainable development goals — educating kids, stamping out disease, providing access to contraception, and spreading prosperity — the planet’s population would likely fall even more abruptly. It’s now clear that improving people’s lives — not population control measures — have been key to driving down fertility rates.

In the future described by this study, richer countries like Japan could age into insignificance, while Nigeria might grow to become a vibrant power broker. By 2100, the populations of Japan, Spain, Italy and South Korea could be half the size they are today. The United States treads water in this projection, buoyed by immigration. Rich European countries like Germany and the Netherlands might stop restricting immigration and begin competing with each other to attract migrants.

So what’s the problem? Picture millions of confused seniors wandering around without enough youngsters to corral them. In 2100, if the paper’s projection prove correct, there will be five people over 80 for every one kid under the age of five, and fewer people with jobs than without. There would be a big increase in elderly folks grasping for pensions and healthcare as the number of taxpayers covering the cost of these benefits dwindle. Economies would sputter and choke…

The risks, spelled out: “The population bomb didn’t detonate. Turns out there’s a new problem.”  See also “Fertility rate: ‘Jaw-dropping’ global crash in children being born.”

But to balance the dystopian sci-fi take in the title quote, this one, which would seem to suggest that fewer might be better:

Beyond a critical point within a finite space, freedom diminishes as numbers increase. This is as true of humans as it is of gas molecules in a sealed flask. The human question is not how many can possibly survive within the system, but what kind of existence is possible for those who so survive.   – Frank Herbert, Dune

* Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

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As we study senescence, we might send well-armored birthday greetings to a man who did his part to combat population growth, Samuel Colt; he was born on this date in 1814.  An inventor and the proprietor of Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company, he popularized the Colt 45 revolver (and other firearms) and made the mass production of revolvers commercially viable.

Colt’s manufacturing methods were sophisticated: his use of interchangeable parts helped him become one of the first to use the assembly line efficiently.  But as impactfully, he was a pioneer in Barnum-like salesmanship and self-promotion.  His innovative use of art, celebrity endorsements, and corporate gifts to promote his wares made him a pioneer of advertising, product placement, and mass marketing.

220px-Samuel_Colt_engraving_by_John_Chester_Buttre,_c1855 source

 

 

“What goes up must come down”*…

 

population

 

For most of human history, the world’s population grew so slowly that for most people alive, it would have felt static. Between the year 1 and 1700, the human population went from about 200 million to about 600 million; by 1800, it had barely hit one billion. Then, the population exploded, first in the United Kingdom and the United States, next in much of the rest of Europe, and eventually in Asia. By the late 1920s, it had hit two billion. It reached three billion around 1960 and then four billion around 1975. It has nearly doubled since then. There are now some 7.6 billion people living on the planet.

Just as much of the world has come to see rapid population growth as normal and expected, the trends are shifting again, this time into reverse. Most parts of the world are witnessing sharp and sudden contractions in either birthrates or absolute population. The only thing preventing the population in many countries from shrinking more quickly is that death rates are also falling, because people everywhere are living longer. These oscillations are not easy for any society to manage…

Demographic decline– the end of capitalism as we know it?  “The Population Bust.”

See also: “UN world population report predicts slowing growth rate, 10.9 billion peak by 2100” (source of the image above) and The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in a Post-Crisis World, by Ruchir Sharma.

* Isaac Newton

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As we ponder population, we might recall that it was on this date in 1845 that the first issue of Scientific American was published.  Founded as a weekly by painter and inventor Rufus M. Porter, as a four-page weekly newspaper, its early emphasis was on a broad range of inventions ranging from perpetual motion machines, through an 1860 device for buoying vessels (created by Abraham Lincoln), to the universal joint which now can be found in nearly every automobile manufactured.  It became the somewhat more substantial monthly publication that we know and love when,in 1948, three partners (publisher Gerard Piel, editor Dennis Flanagan, and general manager Donald H. Miller, Jr) who were planning on starting a new popular science magazine, to be called The Sciences, purchased the assets of the then century-old Scientific American instead and put its name on the designs they had created for their new magazine.

Scientific_American_-_Series_1_-_Volume_001_-_Issue_01.pdf

The first issue of Scientific American

 

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