This afternoon I had a conversation with some friends about potential world disasters, which I brought up with them because of yesterday’s post. It evolved into an argument about whether the human population explosion was coming to an end. Some thought that because living standards were improving that women no longer wanted to have large families and therefore population was stabilizing and perhaps shrinking. Others commented on how there was plenty of food, so why worry. My feelings were more somber because to me it appears that with 6.7 billion people we are mining the topsoil of nutrients and because of irrigation we are loading that topsoil with salt and we are eroding it away rapidly even with careful farming practices. Long ago in 1798 Thomas Malthus wrote his essay on population which made the point that population can expand exponentially to the limit of the food supply.
The Population Bomb was published by Paul R. Ehrlich to warn us of this problem but it fell on semi-deaf ears. So far the Green Revolution has kept the world’s population well fed. The pockets of starvation are wholly caused by political strife and not by lack of food, even locally. Everyone agrees that population growth can’t go on forever at the current pace but people, my friends included, say not to worry because women are having fewer children and things are just fine.
Unfortunately, the world seems to agree with them, but my observation was that in 1925 there were 2 billion people and that now there are 6.7 billion people and that measuring population growth in percentages is the wrong way to look at the problem. The total increase of people this year will be about x million which is x percent but if this same number of new people was added to the 1925 population it would be x times 3.35
Estimates of world population summary:
1900 – 1.550 Billion people.
1910 – 1.750 B
or 1.75B – 1.55 B = .2 B increase in 10 years or .02 B increase per year.
2008 – 6.66 B
2000 – 6.1 B
2005 – 6.45 B
or 6.45 B – 6.10 B = .35 increase in 5 years or .07 B increase per year.
In other words the world population is increasing three and a half times faster now than it was in 1900. That was considered a population explosion. We kid ourselves if we think we have a handle on the population problem. You can claim there is a tapering off but in real numbers, and they are what count, there is an ongoing super explosion.
The usual way of looking at these figures is found at the US Census Bureau but their population projections are clearly absurd. For example they have a nice chart going from 1950 to 2050 but they don’t show the same data from the previous 200 years which is much less speculative and would give you a much better perspective on what is actually happening. What they do choose to show is absolute speculation. I have played the stock market enough to be totally skeptical of these kinds of projections. The only kind and responsible reaction to the purveyors of these projections is to call the projectors either insane fools or unscrupulous charlatans. Your choice. Your basing any future projections on them would be unfettered folly. One is better off following the logic of Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his ideas presented in the book The Black Swan as a more realistic approach. For example, look at the risks that will most likely ensue from various approaches you might choose and make your adjustments to those possibilities.The Wikipedia world population article covers a broader time span but still doesn’t get at the crux of the matter. The world population is still exploding in such a way so as to insure a catastrophic eventuality. With the vast population there is increased stress on all of the Earth’s limited resources and as these resources are depleted and become scarce there will be conflict and that conflict will be waged with all of the resources of every nation and that means WMDs. Therefore we must bring the population within reasonable limits immediately or the natural processes we call Mother Nature will take care of our problems for us.