If today you are, say, 30 years old, then during your life the population of the planet has already “added” another billion twice. When you were ten years old in 1999, the world's population reached six billion. In 2011, when you turned 22, the seven billion people bar was crossed. Today we are 7, 7 billion. What will happen when another 30 years pass? According to UN estimates, within five years, if the dynamics of population growth does not undergo dramatic changes, there will be an 8 billion inhabitant on the planet. And then what? Overpopulation, lack of water and food, not to mention other resources, and waves of refugees? Or is it really not so scary?
Warning: This article was published in Naked Science # 44, June 1, 2019. Published on the site in its original form. Has not lost its relevance.
The fear that accompanies us throughout history
How many people do you think lived on the planet when these words were written: "Our population is so huge that the Earth can hardly support us"? They seem to have been said quite recently. But these are the words of the Carthaginian writer and theologian Tertullian, who lived at the end of the 2nd - the beginning of the 3rd century AD. They were uttered when the world's population barely reached 300 million.
At the same time, Tertullian, like many who will speak out on this issue later, saw in hunger, wars and epidemics the tools that our planet has to eliminate the surplus of population. Has and periodically uses them.
An illustrative example is the Justinian plague, the first recorded plague pandemic that covered the entire territory of the then civilized world. Over the course of two centuries, it manifested itself in the form of separate epidemics and reached its climax in the middle of the 6th century AD, claiming the lives of about 125 million people.
For a long time, the world's population grew at a relatively modest pace. Negative factors that spurred mortality and prevented the birth rate from accelerating population growth accompanied humanity until the middle of the 18th century.
Our population gained the first billion only in 1804 - the year of the proclamation of Napoleon Bonaparte as Emperor of France. Another 123 years will pass, and only in 1927 will the world's population double. In the year of the decade of Soviet power, two billion people already lived on Earth.
The planet was separated from the next billion by several decades - only 33 years. The Second World War had just died down, and by 1960 the population had grown to three billion. Further - more and more rapidly: in 14 years, in 1974, already four billion (another doubling). After another 13 years (1987) - five billion, after 12 years (1999) - six. In just the 20th century, the world's population increased by 4.41 billion: from 1.65 billion in 1900 to 6.06 billion in 2000.
Thus, in the last century alone, the population has grown by 3, 7 times. And this despite two world wars and the most massive influenza pandemic in the history of mankind. On the one hand, the population is growing at an alarming rate, but on the other, nothing catastrophic is happening.
From Malthus to the Club of Rome
In 1798, when mankind was very little before its first billion, a book was published in England that influenced the minds of many who are concerned about the problem of overpopulation of the planet. It was called "Experience on the Law of Population", the name of its author, which will become a household name for many years, - Thomas Malthus. As a priest, he is also better known as a scientist - demographer and economist.
Malthus argued that limited resources inevitably lead to poverty, hunger and social upheaval.If population growth is not constrained for any reason, then the population will double every quarter century and, therefore, grow exponentially. Food production, which is growing at an arithmetic progression, cannot increase as quickly, because the planet's resources are limited. This discrepancy can lead to socio-economic collapse.
Like Tertullian, in wars, famines, epidemics, Malthus saw the restraint of population growth. Of course, he did not call for organizing wars. The only possible means for limiting childbearing, the scientist saw sexual abstinence, which he insistently preached to the poor. After all, he saw the reason for their poverty precisely in fertility. At the same time, he believed that helping the poor is immoral, since it only leads to an increase in the birth rate and, therefore, breeds poverty.
It is worth noting that when Malthus was writing his work, the population of England was growing rapidly - primarily due to a decrease in mortality. And his work, among other things, was a continuation of public polemics about the fair distribution of resources in society.
In 1972, when the world's population was approaching four billion, another work appeared - no less famous than the book of Malthus. The Limits to Growth report, commissioned by a group of authors at the request of the Club of Rome, provoked a public outcry and became a kind of classic work in the field of world development concepts.
The report presented the results of modeling the consequences of the rapid growth of the world's population with limited natural resources. The main problem was again called the problem of human growth.
It was with this report that the Club of Rome, a global think tank dealing with various international political issues, came to the attention of itself.
The authors of the report - Dennis and Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers and William Behrens III - concluded that if current trends in population growth, industrialization, environmental pollution, food production and resource depletion remain unchanged, the limits of the growth of civilization on this planet will be reached. in about a century. As a result - a catastrophic collapse of the population to one to three billion with a sharp decline in living standards, up to hunger.
At the same time, technological breakthroughs or, for example, the exploration of new mineral reserves (geological success) will not fundamentally change the situation. The only way out is in political and social changes - primarily in birth control.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), modern humanity consumes 20 percent more natural resources than the Earth can produce. And to meet our needs, it is necessary to colonize two Earth-sized planets, otherwise famine will soon begin.
Today, even in China, calls are being made to limit population growth around the world. Members of the Save the Planet Association established in China We are sure that it is high time for the world to limit the uncontrolled population growth and adopt the experience of the Celestial Empire. Chinese specialists pay remuneration to families in Africa who choose to undergo sterilization and provide contraceptives.
According to the UN forecast, 8.5 billion people will live on the planet by 2030. In 2050, the world's population will increase to 9.7 billion, and by 2100 - to 11.2 billion. At the same time, by 2030, half of the world's inhabitants will have nothing to drink, and up to $ 200 billion will have to be spent annually on desalination of ocean water. Water consumption is growing twice as fast as the world's population. And this is a more serious issue than lack of food.
Are we heading for collapse? Or is it not?
Journalist John Ibbitson and political scientist Darrell Bricker proposed their forecast of demographic trends in their recently published book The Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Shrinking.They looked at the existing trends in their own way, summarized them and expressed their own opinion about the future of mankind.
According to the authors, overpopulation does not threaten the planet at all. Quite the opposite. The processes that lead to population decline are already working, even if someone does not notice it yet.
The scenario suggested by Ibbitson and Bricker is as follows. There is very little time left until the moment when the growth of the human population stops. By about 2050, it will peak at 8.5 billion. After that, the population will only decline. By the end of this century, our population will have dropped to eight billion. What are the reasons?
Yes, we know that in some countries the population is already declining. There are about twenty of them now. And this is not only developed and rich states: the less prosperous also lose their population. By the middle of the century, the number of such countries on the planet will increase and the population will begin to decline where the birth rate has traditionally been high. This list includes India, China, Brazil, Indonesia, some countries in Africa and the Middle East.
Previously, famine and epidemics were the key regulators of fertility. But in the modern world, we have learned to deal with them, and now people limit themselves, refuse to bear children or have few children.
Even the state can no longer influence this. In the 1970s, China adopted a one-family-one-child policy. Today, the average number of children born to one woman during her lifetime (fertility rate) in the Celestial Empire has decreased from 5.8 to 1. 8. Population growth has slowed down. However, in 2013, negative results of such a policy appeared, and a decrease in the working population was recorded. Today in the PRC you can have two or more children. But, as the authors of the book note, if one child in a family becomes the norm, it remains the norm.
For young people, the birth of a child is no longer considered a duty - neither to the family, nor to God, and even more so to the state. The weakening of the influence of religion on the minds of people also affects. It was she who for many years had a significant impact on the behavior of people, including in the family.
Breaking free from traditions - family and religious - has become an important trend among European youth. For them, childbearing is just a matter of free choice. And the point is not even that raising children is expensive and takes a lot of time, which is very short for working couples. Today, the birth of children for those who go for it has become an act of self-realization. And in order to decide on it, efforts are needed, but not everyone finds them.
The behavior of women in modern society also plays a significant role. Urban and educated women have fewer children. A survey of women in 26 countries showed that the most popular answer to the question of how many children they want is two. And this is, in general, the most optimal option for maintaining the population in a stable state. In order for the population not to decrease and grow, the fertility rate should be 2, 1. True, in Europe it is already 1, 6.
Women in European countries are among the freest on the planet. They have many opportunities, they do not strive for procreation. Therefore, the process of population reduction in Europe began earlier than anywhere else, and is progressing faster. Today these same processes are gaining momentum all over the world.
Is the future not scary at all?
One of the messages that Ibbitson and Bricker want to convey is that population decline will not be a disaster for the Earth. The planet will become cleaner, the amount of industrial and domestic emissions will decrease. The environmental situation will improve.
In particular, a decline in population will lead to a reduction in arable agricultural land. Rural areas will become deserted, and fields previously used for growing crops will begin to be reforested.More forests - more oxygen, more habitat for wildlife. The massive fish catch will stop, and the number of merchant ships that pollute the oceans will decrease. A child who is born today or in the next couple of decades may live in a cleaner and healthier world than we are today.
However, upon reaching the age of 30, he will have to live in a society where there will be many elderly people. Most likely, he will not have difficulty finding a job. But the taxes necessary to pay pensions and provide medical care to the elderly will take away a significant part of his income.
A small proportion of able-bodied young people and a large number of old people can provoke poverty and, as a result, public discontent - both of those and others. All this can turn into riots and protests. And here the authors fear that the governments of countries that are not able to extinguish the internal conflict will inflate external ones in an attempt to rally their populations.
Do not forget that the book by Ibbitson and Bricker comes out at a time when US President Donald Trump is pursuing his anti-immigration policy. The authors argue that for the sake of prosperity America needs migrants, a constant flow of fresh blood and new strength. Canada is cited as an example, attracting migrants and developing multiculturalism.
However, the authors still assume the possibility of changing these trends. The period of population decline also cannot last forever. What if in the future people still do not want to meet old age without children and grandchildren?
Not everyone panics
Many researchers also disagree with the fact that the hyperbolic growth of the planet's population will continue indefinitely. American demographer Warren Thompson identified three demographic stages in human history. The first was characterized by a high birth rate, but at the same time a high mortality rate. In those days, few lived to be 50 years old. War, disease, malnutrition and high infant mortality served as natural limiters of population size. We overcame it by the 18th century. There are fewer epidemics, people eat better and get sick less. Mortality is declining, but fertility is still rising. This is the second stage. Now we are entering the third: not only mortality is decreasing, but also fertility. When it spreads to the entire planet, the reproduction of the population will be reduced to a simple replacement of generations and, as a consequence, to the stabilization of the population.
Professor Sergei Kapitsa believed that upon reaching its peak, the population of the Earth would begin to decline. He assumed that the population would stabilize by 2135 at 12-14 billion people.
The issue of overpopulation of the planet can be approached from the other side. Advances in technology can lead to the fact that the Earth will be able to feed more people than now. Such a scenario is considered quite possible by the well-known Russian demographer Yevgeny Andreev.
David Satterthwaite of the London International Institute for Environment and Development is confident that the problem is not in the number of people living on the planet, but in the number of consumers, as well as the scale and nature of consumption. The same opinion is shared by the Swiss sociologist Klaus Leisinger. He notes that if all people lived in the same way as the Brazilian Indians who live in the pristine forests of the Amazon, then the planet could be home to 20 to 30 billion people. But if everyone consumes natural resources in the same quantities as the inhabitants of America, then from an environmental point of view, our planet has long been overpopulated.