Earth’s big problem: Too many people.
But how can we ease population without taking draconian steps? By developing in ways that we should be anyway, experts say.
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Despite the fears of some, rising living standards in the developing world don’t mean that the environment will be devastated in the process, he says. The idea that Chinese and Indians will all be driving around in Humvees and flying in private jets is “not true,” he says.Skip to next paragraph
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The concept of some environmentalists that humans are somehow an intruder or “a scourge on the earth” disturbing an otherwise harmonious nature, needs to be challenged, Nordhaus says. “The reality is that nature is neither stable nor harmonious,” he says. “We’re as natural as anything else, and a world with us is as natural as a world without us.”
Short of government limits on family size, both advocates and opponents of population control agree that many other useful steps can be taken that may lead to reduced population growth. Among the most crucial are better education, economic opportunities, and access to contraceptive and reproductive health care services for women in developing countries with high birth rates.
As economist Robert Cassen put it in 1994, “Virtually everything that needs doing from a population point of view needs doing anyway.”
What effects will world population growth have by the mid-21st century? Joel Cohen, head of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller University and Columbia University, makes the following points:
Emerging trends in Global population
• In 1950 the less-developed (poorer) regions of the world had roughly twice the population of the more developed (richer) ones. By 2050 the ratio will exceed 6 to 1.
• Human numbers currently increase by 75 million to 80 million people annually, the equivalent of adding another United States to the world about every four years.
• At present, the average woman bears nearly twice as many children (2.8) in poor countries as in rich countries (1.6 children per woman).
• Some 51 countries or areas will lose population between now and 2050. Germany is expected to drop from 83 million to 79 million people, Italy from 58 million to 51 million, Japan from 128 million to 112 million and the Russian Federation from 143 million to 112 million.
• If recent trends continue as projected to 2050, virtually all of the world’s population growth will be in urban areas.
• Everyone born in 1965 or earlier and still alive has seen human numbers more than double from 3.3 billion in 1965 to 6.8 billion in 2009.
• The peak population growth rate ever reached, about 2.1 percent a year, occurred between 1965 and 1970. Human population never grew with such speed before the 20th century and is likely never to grow with such speed again.