Issues to ponder on World Population Day 2018

Three years ago, I wrote, “World Population Day (July 11) should be the perfect catalyst for you to discuss with your colleagues and your family, especially your children, the topic of our burgeoning population.  The climate refugees are yet to grow to prominence, the political refugees and the economic refugees are increasingly in the news, but it is the sheer enormity of the numbers of humans on earth that is the elephant in the room.” 

In 2018, world population sits just over seven billion and is predicted by some to rise to 12 billion and others to rapidly contract to 2 billion by 2100.  Today, 55 per cent  of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68 per cent by 2050.

Our future will depend on the joined stresses of population growth and global warming/climate change.  Three books come to mind:  Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics: Seven ways to think like a 21st-Century economist (2017) gives an enlightening new take on how economic practices must change so that we all might live sustainably; The much scarier climate-fiction book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, The collapse of the Western Civilization: a View from the Future (2014) looks back at the world in 2393 after massive climate change devastation and subsequent mass migration; Jared Diamond’s Collapse (2011) looks at how rapid population growth and unwise political choices have led to the demise of societies around the world.

Putting aside the Armageddon estimates, we will still be leaving our children and grandchildren with the manifold impacts of overpopulation: The increased use of resources brings threats to the world ecosystem including rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, global warming and water shortage.  In real terms, we will need to find more sustainable ways of living.

Emeritus Professor Tim Roberts, School of Environmental & Life Sciences, University of Newcastle.