The World Population 'Bomb'
The world population was estimated to be 6.96 billion by the United States Census Bureau as of July 1, 2011 and is supposed to have crossed 7 billion on 31st October according to the UN. Latest predictions from the UN estimate a higher population growth than previously of 9.3 billion by 2050 and over 10 billion by 2100 with higher rates possible. These are discussed below.
Biocrisis Updates : Mass Extinction : Biodiversity Pages
Overpopulation and its impact on the world's natural systems is the single most significant threat to our long-term viability.
Killing the Girl Child: Female Infanticide and the Sexual Imbalance of Population
The cultural imperative that boys are more desirable is causing acute gender imbalance in countries from India, through China to Korea and results in the termination of millions of female offspring.
Patriarchy and Population Boom and Bust
Historically the world population grew only very slowly from about 2.5 million at the beginnings of urbanization to some 50 million around the time of the black plague of the middle ages. It is only with the industrial, scientific and medical revolution and the colonial expansion of Western powers, that the world population has climbed to the dizzy heights. During the 20th century, the world's population increased almost fourfold, from 1.6 to 6 billion. Until very recently there were fears that in the next century, world population would explode to some 12 billion people, leaving little room for wilderness areas to preserve wildlife and putting extreme pressure on food production, water and non-renewable resources.
At a time when there has been a manifest need to curtail runaway population growth, the leaders of the world's great patriarchal religions have, almost without exception been ordering their populations to continue to multiply making frontal attacks on any effective form of contraception and family planning. The Catholic church has waged war not only on abortion but cursed any effective form of contraception as simple and protective of disease as the condom. Islamic leaders have also roundly opposed family planning. The leaders of both the Christian and Islamic world share an agenda of male reproductive right and a calculated determination to multiply the faithful by advocating unrestrained fertility even in the face of the manifest damage such policies have caused. Desmond Morris makes no bones about it:
"If we are honest there is only one root cause of the disaster facing the planet, and that is the appalling rate at which our human species has increased its population in recent centuries. ... Who is to blame for the crisis we face? First and foremost, I accuse the religious leaders of the world. They have fed mankind with the dangerous myth that humanity is somehow above nature and that it is our god-given right to hold dominion over the Earth and subdue it. In many cases, they have actively encouraged over-population and have gone out of their way to prevent family-planning schemes. They are a disgrace. Secondly, I accuse political leaders, almost all of whom follow a policy of national growth, regardless of the consequences. ... But we are not designed as a high-quantity species. We are a high-quality species, and all our social thinking should be directed to this thought" (Porritt R550).
The attitude of world leaders has also been irresponsible and self-serving. While leaders of major western powers push for ever greater gross national products, honing their economies as if there was never an end to increasing production, 9/10ths of the world population sinks further into poverty, losing educational, resourcing and livelihood opportunities.
Genographic project study of mitochondiral origins shows a deep split separating Khoisan mitochondrial inheritance from other groups, including those migrating out of Africa, and a deep division between two Khoisan types L0k and L0d going back 140,000 years, suggesting a separation of some 100,000 years possibly caused by long term drought in Africa Behar et al. 2008.
Boom and Bust is a characteristic of short term male reproductive investment to try to secure the most offspring possible trhough sexual investment at minimal cost to the male. Only in ecological situations which are severely unbalanced, e.g. by monoclonal agriculture and absence of predators do we see such population explosions. Patriarchal cultural and religious attitudes to reproduction tend to stoke population growth and cultural dominance, exacerbating what is already an explosive migratory expansion of Homo sapiens, as a dominant world species lacking natural predators and held in check only by parasitic disease and human-human conflict.
By contrast, female reproductive strategies, particularly in humans, where pregnancy is at an extreme, involve a massive parential investment in gestation, with substantial risks to the mother, extended breast feeding, and long infant care, all of which severely drain a woman's physical resources. Women thus spread their investment more sustainably over a longer time period more consistent with the long-term survival of all their offspring and with the survival of future generations.
The most outstanding evidence that this is so comes from the most ancient gatherer-hunter populations that form the 'Mariana Trench' of our genetic African Eve. !Kung-san mitochondrial DNA is more diverse than any other human group because mitochondrial DNA is carried only through the mother's ovum and becomes more and more diverse when each generation is replacing itself without amplification, or migration, so the high diversity of the mitochondrial DNA indicating their ancient African origin also demonstrates their reproduction rates have been in balance with death rates so that resident populations have remained relatively constant over 140,000 years. The !Kung-San mitochondrial tree even contains two ancient branches which show the population was divided for around 100,000 years, proably due to drought in the Kalahari. San women have thus regulated their fertility according to the difficulties of their environment, by various means, including protracted breast feeding, sometimes up to the age of four, which delays ovulation.
Fortunately 2002 figures showed a drop in fertility from the explosive figures of the 1980s. Current trends suggest a population in 2050 around 9.2-9.3 billion. To everyone's surprise in 2002 a very significant drop was detected in the fertility rates of a broad spread of diverse countries spanning the developed and developing world comprising half the world's population and with little in common between their governments and social attitudes. In 1950, worldwide the average woman had five children. Today she has just 2.3. Although in many countries there are still a large number of people at or below child-bearing age and actual birth rates will remain very high for some years to come, this fall has already led to a downgrading of future population predictions and fears of a population crash with societies full of the elderly unable to support their own services. However 2004 predicitions have incresed again from around 8.9 to 9.2 billion.
Top left: Historical population trends. Centre: Falling fertility rates in 2000. Top right: Falling predictions 2002 may see the world population peak at about 8 billion by 2050 although current UN predictions in 2011 anticipate 9.3 billion by 2050 and more than 10 billion by 2100. Increasing use of contraception (lower left) and improved female education (lower right) both correlate with falling fertility rates and reduced population pressure.
Few of the countries showing declines, bar China, have forced contraception or sterilizationon their populations. Opposition from the Catholic Church has ensured that Brazil has no state family planning programme. Even so, millions of its women have attended sterilisation clinics, and fertility has halved in 20 years to today's 2.3. The case of Iran is even more remarkable. In 1994, the mullahs ruling the country went to a UN population conference in Cairo and declared opposition to much of the international agenda for cutting birth rates. But back home, women were taking charge of their bodies and sending fertility rates crashing from 5.5 children per woman in 1988 to just 2.2 in 2000. Italy the country that is home to the Catholic Church, noted for its opposition to artificial birth control, is notching up super-low fertility rates way below replacement levels. At just 1.2 children born to each Italian woman, the rate is little more than half the figure needed to prevent the population plummeting, closely matched by Greece, Spain and Czechoslovakia (Pearce R540).
There are some notable exceptions. Conservative Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan still have some of the highest birth rates on the planet. In India the Muslim community grew by 36% between 1991 and 2001 and now stands at 13.4% of the total population. Hindus account for 80.5% of all Indians, a growth of 20.3% in the same period, down from 25% in 1981-1991. The Muslim community fares poorly in literacy compared to other groups - which is seen as one reason for their increasing numbers (Indian Muslim community growing BBC 7 Sep 2004). African results are uneven, but here HIV is wreaking havoc on young populations. The UN expects 15 million deaths from AIDS in the next five years, the great majority in Africa. Life expectancy in Botswana and Zimbabwe has plunged from 60 years to close to 40 years.
The Current Predictive Dilemma
Do the dead outnumber the living? BBC Feb 12 Number who have ever lived: 107,602,707,791
U.N.: World can 'thrive' as population reaches 7 billion (CNN 27th October 2011) Seven Billion Infographic
A U.N. report published in May predicts a global population of 9.3 billion by 2050, and more than 10 billion by the end of this century. "With only a small variation in fertility, particularly in the more populous countries, the total could be higher: 10.6 billion people could be living on Earth by 2050 and more than 15 billion in 2100," says the Population Division of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
These are much higher than previous estimates and are discussed below.
When will the 7 billionth human be born? Fred Pearce New Scientist 14th October 2011 PDF
On 31 October, a newborn baby somewhere in the world will become the 7 billionth member of the human race. Or so says the UN - alternatively, this date could be at least a year too early. Behind the UN's patina of certainty may lie outdated and unreliable census data. The suspicion is that millions of births and deaths have not been counted and there is huge uncertainty about the rate at which women are giving birth. The precise "day of 7 billion" may not matter much. But the inaccuracies make it harder to answer a more important question: is human population set to peak within the next few decades or will it carry on growing beyond that?
Wolfgang Lutz of the Vienna Institute of Demography says the UN is "under political pressure to disregard uncertainty and name a date" for 7 billion. But he and colleague Sergei Scherbov estimate that the world probably won't reach 7 billion until early in 2013, though it could be as late as 2020. The director of the UN population division Hania Zlotnik defends her data but agrees that "an interval of a few months or even a year would be a reasonable range of uncertainty".
One problem for demographers is undercounting. Even developed countries reckon their censuses miss up to 3 per cent of people. Up-to-date figures have to adjust for both this and the changes since the last census, which could be decades in the case of some African countries. So adjusting for extra people is routine.
The big danger, Scherbov says, may be overadjusting. The world has seen a dramatic decline in fertility in recent years, with the average woman now having only 2.5 children, half as many as her grandmother 50 years ago. So there may be far fewer new arrivals than demographers assume.
Take China, the world's largest country. Raw census data suggest that the average woman has 1.2 children, but this hides a multitude of problems. State demographers believe people are hiding tens of millions of babies to evade the one-child policy, and so estimate that the rate is 1.8. But Zhongwei Zhao of the Australian National University in Canberra says other figures in the 2010 census suggest the raw data may be nearer the truth. The UN currently plumps for 1.5 children per woman.
Discrepancies in estimating populations are amplified in long-term projections. Zhao says China's recent overadjusting of its fertility rate will turn into an overestimation of as much as 100 million by 2030.
India's demographic future is even more uncertain. The UN estimates that the country's population will grow from 1.2 billion to 1.7 billion by 2050, making it substantially bigger than China. But Scherbov and Lutz predict 1.4 billion, with a possible range from 1.1 to 1.7 billion.
All this is of huge importance for the planet. Earlier this year, the UN unexpectedly raised its estimates of future population, suggesting that the world would have more than 10 billion people by 2100. But Scherbov says there is no demographic evidence to justify this gloomier prediction. It arose from "a new set of assumptions about future fertility". For instance, following what Zlotnik calls "a major change in methodology", the UN upped its estimate of the number of children Nigerian women will be having in 2050 from 2.41 to 3.41. The UN says world population will still be rising in 2100. Scherbov says there is an 85-per-cent chance it will have peaked by then. But nobody knows for sure.
In the latest 2011 UN predictions, a population of around 10 billion is conceived of for 2100 without yet reaching a peak. Critiquing this analysis in Nature, Fred Pearce points out that the revised estimate from 9 to 10 billion is not a result of incresing current trends, but of future estimates of fertility:
Dubious assumptions prime population bomb Fred Pearce Nature News 11 May 2011 | Nature 473, 125 (2011) | doi:10.1038/473125a)
"The latest global population projections, published by the United Nations last week, say that the world will be awash with 10.1 billion people by 2100, a billion more than previously supposed. Already, there is talk again of a ticking population time bomb. ... The heart of the problem is this: the new UN estimates record that both world population and global fertility rates are currently slightly lower than presumed when the last projections were made two years ago. Yet, they project significantly higher growth rates than those estimated two years ago. ... The past few years have seen a plethora of scientific papers asking 'can the world feed 9 billion?' It won't be long before the work is revisited to see whether we can feed 10 billion.
Women today, on average, have half as many babies as their grandmothers did. World fertility has fallen from 4.9 children per woman in the early 1960s to an expected 2.45 between 2010 and 2015, a projection revised down from the 2.49 figure of two years ago. The trend is near-universal. ... Falling fertility doesn't instantly translate into fewer babies. That is because of the huge demographic bulge of twentieth-century baby boomers — now adult and fertile. But as they age, and if fertility rates continue to fall, population growth must subside and could go into decline. The key questions are how fast and how far fertility will fall. ... The UN's previous 'medium variant' projection, published in 2008, concluded that world population would rise from the present 7 billion and peak in mid-century at around the 9.15 billion expected in 2050. The new projection finds no peak. Instead, world population reaches 9.3 billion in 2050 and 10.1 billion in 2100, with further growth still in the works.
The UN has yet to publish its detailed reasoning, but a collection of frequently asked questions issued alongside the new projections says that most of the difference is due to an upward revision of its fertility forecasts — a revision unrelated to current trends.
For many years, demographers reckoned that world fertility was headed inexorably for the rich-world replacement level of about 2.1 children per woman. But in ... almost all developed countries, fertility rates have fallen to well below replacement levels. Despite a minor bounce-back in recent years, most of Europe remains below 1.5.
With much of Asia and Latin America on the same path, almost a decade ago the UN rethought the 2.1 end point. In 2003, its UN population division, under then-director Joseph Chamie, decided that its 'medium variant' projection should instead assume convergence at 1.85. ... The projections made in 2008 retained the figure of 1.85, but it has now reverted to 2.1 - the predominant reason for the leap from 9 billion to 10 billion."
Population Control, Sex and Population Crash
Contraceptive use in the developing world has risen from one in 10 couples to more than half of all couples. A 15 percent increase in the use of contraceptives means, on average, about one fewer birth per woman. Thus, in Ethiopia only 4 percent of women use contraception and the fertility rate is seven, while in South Africa 53 percent use some method and average fertility is 3.3. The desire for smaller families is spreading. In 1998 researchers associated with the Asian Development Bank in Laos, one of the world's poorest countries, invited people there to say what help they wanted most. The men requested jobs, but the women's number-one priority was family planning (The Unmet Need for Family Planning Scientific American Jan 2000).
The reasons for this reduction are complex, but the critical factor is that cultural changes have increasingly liberated women from the home and child-rearing. In poor countries with a traditional patriarchal society, the spread of TV has opened many women's eyes to a whole new world, and modern birth control methods have allowed them to turn those aspirations into reality. Demographer Tim Dyson attributes this to 'cultural diffusion'. Not having children has become a statement of modernity and emancipation, and women are unlikely to give up the new freedoms. They are also taking over from their brothers and husbands the role of shaping their societies. "Go to rural India, and you find that women are fed up with the men, who seem to be going nowhere. It is the women who are running the farms. It is the women who are getting jobs and taking charge. They don't have time to have children any more." With men no longer in charge, their usefulness to society and the old Indian preference for sons may diminish as a result, he says. That, too, will help reduce fertility as couples see daughters as well as sons as potential heads of a new generation (Pierce R540).
In Sweden they have 1.6 children per couple, Norway 1.8 and Britain and Finland 1.7 much closer to replacement. The difference is more chance of combining a career with motherhood. Suitors are more likely to have set up home on their own before marriage, are better house-trained, and Nordic governments are better at helping couples juggle family and work. About half the jobs held by Swedish women are part- time, creches are near-universal and paid parental leave lasts for a year. All this is unheard of in Italy, where only 12% of employed women have part-time jobs, and in eastern Europe, where fertility rates have plunged since the collapse of communism wrecked state-funded family support services. To cope with this Singapore's prime minister has announced financial incentives for families, increased maternity leave, and cut working hours so single people can meet more easily.
Peter McDonald, argues that the southern European phenomenon is a result of the lopsidedness of moves to gender equality. Women have got the freedoms that arise from better education and employment, but not in their relations with their men or in terms of state services for the family. Economic liberalism has clashed with social conservatism. Result: a childbirth strike. Jean-Claude Chesnais goes further. With poor state child-care provision, and most men unlikely to help in looking after their offspring, "the obstacles to childbearing in countries like Italy [and Japan (BBC Japan sounds alarm on birth rate 3 Dec 2004)] are enormous and the economic sacrifices made by mothers are viewed as unbearable". Caldwell thinks the signs are clear: "The Mediterranean patriarchal model is far more common in the world than the northern European model of more helpful husbands." McDonald says we can already see this in eastern Asia, where conservative family values lie behind the ultra-low fertility rates from Shanghai to Tokyo (R540). These low rates could bring about a serious crash in populations. McDonald calculates that the population of Italy is set to crash from 56 million now to just 8 million by 2100. Likewise Spain would lose 85 per cent of its population within the same time frame and Germany 83 per cent. Russia's population decline is accelerating, according to the country's official statistics agency, equivalent to 100 people dying in Russia every hour.
The UN warned that Russia's population could fall by 1/3 by the middle of the century. Many solutions to the problem have been proposed, ranging from family-friendly tax breaks to legalising polygamy. The WHO suggests putting up the price of alcohol or forcing people to wear seatbelts (Russia's population falling fast Steven Eke BBC 23 June, 2005).
Japan has seen a rise in its birth rate for the first time in six years, government statistics show. The number of births for 2006 has been estimated at 1,086,000, an increase of 23,000 from a year earlier. But the health ministry expects the rate to fall this year and continue a downward trend that may see a 30% drop in the population in the next 50 years (Japan birth rate shows rare rise BBC 1 Jan 2007).
Scarcity of oil may exacerbate falls in birth rate and cause a reduction in infant survival (Energy crisis 'will limit births' BBC 13 Feb 2004). Paradoxically perhaps, the more feminist attitudes that have helped bring about the dramatic decline in family size in the past 50 years will need extending rather than dismantling, if family sizes are to rise from the worst-case Italian model. But the new agenda may be less about creating new freedoms for women and more about instilling new responsibilities in men and the state. In most of the world , fertility rates are plunging because women have decided they want to become more like men. Right now that leaves little room for babies. To change that, men must take the plunge and start to become more like women. The future of humanity could depend on it (R540).
By any standard of ecological biodiversity conservation, all these population figures are vastly too high to preserve existing ecosystems. More than a third of the planet's land surface including its most productive land is now commandeered for human monoculture. In the midst of this situation the Bush administration encouraged by the religious right, has cut funding for the UN Population Fund, on the basis the agency was supporting coercive family planning in China. The White House continued to withhold funding even after the State Department declared these charges were false (Sachs R605). Population in the sub-Saharan Africa is expected to rise from 667 million to 1,085 billion by 2025 where total fertility rates remain at 5.4. The Middle East with fertility rates at 3.5 will also se very high birth rates. These high rates reduce economic growth, stress environmental resources and young populations with excess adolescent men cause manifest political instability and violence. The world rate of population increase has fallen from 2.1% per annum to 1.3% but the overall increase is still continuing with large young populations with high birth rates. These religiously-motivated actions continue to be manifestly irresponsible.
The Exploding Population
Although world population growth is now beginning to slow as a result of social factors associated with the media, increasing education and role of women in society, the exploding population and its consequences in inevitable human impact on all aspects of the biosphere has been described as the most serious crisis ever to face the planet. Indeed Anne and Paul Ehrlich, authors of "Population, Resources and Environment" and "The Population Explosion" have described population as the issue around which all the others pivot, without which saving the environment cannot be seriously achieved:
"People can learn to treat growth as the cancer-like disease it is and move towards a sustainable society. The rich can make helping the poor an urgent goal instead of seeking more wealth and useless military advantage over one another. Then humanity might have a chance to deal with all those other seemingly intractable problems. We shouldn't delude ourselves: the population explosion will come to an end before very long. The only remaining question is whether it will be halted through the humane method of birth control, or by nature wiping out the surplus" - Anne and Paul Ehrlich (Porritt 119)
Although population growth has complex sources in the industrial revolution, and improvements in medical technology which have reduced the infant mortality rate in underdeveloped countries, many of which have cultures which have traditionally sought large families, both to compensate for early deaths and to provide additional family help with traditional labour-sharing, the ultimate source of the population explosion is gender-based - the desire by men to secure their fertility rights over women to ensure they can control a fertility process in which they are less secure than the female according to the adage: "Momma's baby - Poppa's maybe."
Indeed reproductive insecurity appears to be at the root of a major social shift which accompanied the social epoch of urban culture and the rise of patriarchal religious monotheism across the world. Ultimately correcting this 'spermatogenic imperative' which we can see manifested, not only in population but also the the exponential growth principle which drives utopian vistas of endless economic growth and the dominion over nature and woman alike founding the Judeo-Christian-Islamic beliefs and aspects of Indian philosophy can only be corrected by the patriarchal religions coming to terms with their own errors and mending their ways, some of which have been adopted holus bolus by world political leaders in their pursuit of economic growth at the expense of the environment and our natural resources:
"If we are honest there is only one root cause of the disaster facing the planet, and that is the appalling rate at which our human species has increased its population in recent centuries. ... Who is to blame for the crisis we face? First and foremost, I accuse the religious leaders of the world. They have fed mankind with the dangerous myth that humanity is somehow above nature and that it is our god-given right to hold dominion over the Earth and subdue it. In many cases, they have actively encouraged over-population and have gone out of their way to prevent family-planning schemes. They are a disgrace. Secondly, I accuse political leaders, almost all of whom follow a policy of national growth, regardless of the consequences. ... But we are not designed as a high-quantity species. We are a high-quality species, and all our social thinking should be directed to this thought" - Desmond Morris (Porritt 115).
This conflict of views is illustrated by the Nov 1996 criticism expressed by Nafis Sadik, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, at Pope John Paul's statement that hunger is not linked to over-population, saying the world's future food needs would be inextricably linked to demographic changes.
The world's population is now about 5.9 billion and it is still expanding very rapidly, despite a marginal slowing over the last couple of years. Every day we share the Earth and its resources with 250,000 more people than the day before; every year, there are about another 90 million mouths to feed. It is the equivalent of adding a Philadelphia to the world population every week; a Los Angeles every two weeks; a Mexico every year; and a US and Canada every three years.
Though fertility rates are dropping, the sheer momentum of population growth ensures that at least another 3 billion people will be added to the planet between now and the year 2025; it could be as high as 4 billion taking it close to 10 billion total. At present growth rates, 1 billion people are added to the human ark every 11 years. There will be 6 billion mouths to feed by mid-1999. If current trends are not reversed, or at least slowed down, we could be facing a global population of close to 14 billion by the year 2100. But the problem is not population growth per se. It is that over 90 per cent of births now take place in the countries least able to cope with the resource and environmental consequences of burgeoning populations. Between now and the turn of the century, the number of people in the Third World will grow by over 900 million, or 24.6 per cent. Meanwhile the population of industrialized countries will grow by only 56 million, or 5.2 per cent.
World population is a very significant factor in both poverty and hunger and in habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity. There is urgent need to realize an abatement of population growth before we all suffer the consequences severely next century. However the population problem is complicated by severe economic and energy-consumption inequities. While population growth in much of the developed world has declined or even reversed as a result of the "demographic transition" accompanying higher living standards and better education, the developing world is caught in a vicious cycle of exploitation which results in poverty, hunger, lack of education, population growth and habitat destruction. Population cannot be addressed without addressing educational, gender, and economic inequity between the developed and developing world.
Enforced population control measures, including sterilization often act selectively against women and have also resulted in atrocious rates of female abortion and infanticide, particularly in China, India and Korea. Education, and empowerment of women are the key to informed, voluntary non-destructive population abatement.
Sept 1996: The world's population is expected to increase by about 72% between 1995 and 2050, from 5,700 million to 9,800 million. Because the population densities are substantially lower outside Asia it should be possible to limit the loss of diversity in most continents (NZ Herald).
FOCUS Gloom about a population explosion is probably misplaced, say demographers. Next century we may have to worry about failing birth rates, not rising ones
Aug 98 Observer "The State of the World Population 1998" report of the United Nations Population Fund shows a slowing of population growth, but still predicts population rising to 9.8 billion by 2050. It is however not clear how well these people are going to be fed. Lester Browm, president ofthe Worldwatch Institute is not optimistic "both the area of cropland and the amount of irrigation water per person are shrinking, threatening to drop below the level needed to provide minimal levels of food security". Some people have suggested that reducing meat production could release grain areas currently devoted to animal feed. However meat-eating trends in China could have a reverse effect. But even sufficient food production in theory is not necessary going to solve malnutrition problems. The United Nations Childrens Fund notes: "For most families the real food problem is not lack of food on the table but the inordinate costs in moeny time and energy putting it there".
World Population Growth Eases A December 1997 report of The Population Institute shows there is a slowing in the rate of population growth. The world's population grew more slowly in 1997 than in other years and the population of about 5.9 billion will reach 6 billion by mid-1999. The growth rate has slowed because of lower fertility rates in countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the Population Institute said. In Bangladesh the fertility rate, a measure of the number of children born per woman, dropped to 3.57 from 6.2. In Turkey the fertility rate fell to 2.5 from 4.1; and in Kenya it dropped to 4.4 from 7.5, the report said. The global average is 4.96. Increased use of contraceptives, delayed marriages and a rise in death rates in many countries contributed to lower fertility rates. From the mid-1980s through the mid 1990s, world population rose by 85 to 100 million people per year. The population grew more than 80 million people in 1997. Over-population is a problem particularly in less developed countries, with almost 98 per cent of the increase in population occurring there. Environmental degradation, stagnant economies, hunger, malnutrition and child-deaths plague poorer countries experiencing runaway growth. About 80 per cent of the world population lives in less developed countries and 74 of these countries are on a course to double their populations over the next 30 years. The Population Institute estimates that about 1.3 billion people more than the combined population of Europe and North America live in absolute poverty on the equivalent of $US1 ($NZ1.7) or less a day. China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Brazil and Russia are the five populous countries in the world. Paul Ehrlich [author of "Population, Resources, Environment"] said "This is welcome news, but we aren't out of the woods yet"
New Scientist 17 Feb 1996 p8
Given these easing trends, the world's population will probably never double again, according to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna in 1996 (New Scientist 17 Feb 1996 p8). For the first time, fertility rates appear to have declined in every region of the world. Unlike most previous population estimates, the IIAS's new numbers consider not only the effect of future changes in the number of children per family, but also the possibility that death rates may change in the future because of changes in the rates of starvation or disease and in the quality of medical care.
This study also tried to estimate the uncertainty surrounding its predictions. "Wolfgang Lutz and his colleagues divided the world into 13 regions and asked 12 population experts to predict the most likely rates of fertility and mortality for each one in 2050 and 2100. The experts were also asked to choose high and low extremes that were 90 per cent certain to embrace the true value. Their predictions were then combined statistically into an approximately bell-shaped curve, and these aggregate predictions were used to project the world's population. The institute's best estimate is now that the world's population will grow from its present 5.75 billion to 10 billion by 2050, reach a peak of around 11 billion by 2075, and remain almost level or decline slightly towards 2100. There is a 95 per cent probability that the population will be between 6 and 17 billion in 2100, says Lutz. And there is a 64 per cent chance that the global population will never reach double its present level." (New Scientist 17 Feb 1996 p8).
Previously, sub-Saharan Africa had lagged behind the rest of the world in this critical component of population control, but in this study Africa had joined the trend. Nevertheless, Africa's population is still forecast to triple before it starts to decline. However some resources, such as fuel for heating depend in a more complex way on whole families, so one has to take into account more than the raw figures to estimate how the impact is accommodating. With increasing divorce rates and more elderly people living alone, the trend is towards smaller, more numerous households, especially in the developed world.
The population explosion began in the West, around the middle of the 17th century. "Until then the numbers of people in the world had grown, but slowly,from about 150 million at the time of Christ to somewhere around 500 million (see first figure above). Births and deaths had more or less cancelled each other out, but then the rate of increase quickened dramatically: by 1850 there were some 1,200 million people on earth and the growth rate continued to rise." (Lean 17). Birth rates stayed much the same as before, but death rates fell, causing population to grow. People had no more babies but that they lived longer, as food supplies increased, public health improved and, eventually, proper sanitation spread.
"Its not that people suddenly started breeding like rabbits: it is just that they stopped dying like flies" (Peter Adamson, a consultant to the United Nations Children's Fund - Lean 17).
As people in industrialized countries became more prosperous, birth rates fell until once again they virtually matched the number of deaths, slowing the population growth again in the developed world. Populations in Europe and North America have all but stabilized. In almost every country they are growing by less than 1 per cent. Sweden, Denmark, West Germany, Austria and Hungary actually have a declining population. Industrialized countries have thus completed the "demographic transition".
Third World nations are only beginning to do so, and it is this that is fuelling the world's current prodigious growth. Since the Second World War, death rates in developing countries have fallen dramatically, partly as a result of the reductions in killer diseases like smallpox and malaria, much faster than they had done during Europe's population explosion.
But the fall in death rates has not been preceded by an equivalent agricultural revolution, nor accompanied by similar economic development. Migration is not an answer as it may have appeared in colonial times. Birth rates have declined somewhat, but they remain high, and may not fall enough to complete the demographic transition before other constraints such as malnutrition and the costs of environmental damage become limiting factors.
Higher Third World Birth Rates
The populations of most developing countries have been growing at well over 2 per cent a year, many have topped 3 per cent - which means that their numbers will double in less than 23 years: In 1990, Kenya's population was growing at about 4 per cent annually. This rate would double it in 17 years and quadruple it in 35. The average woman in the Middle East and Africa bears between six and eight children, while her equivalent in industrialized countries bears only two.
In developing countries, children are regarded as economic assets, who perform useful work for the family from the age of six or seven. By the time they reach 10 or 12 they often produce more for the family than they consume. Children provide security in old age, and while infant mortality remains high, parents need to have a lot of babies to make sure that enough survive.
However although having many children may sometimes make sense for individual families, it is ruinous to the societies in which they live. Rapidly growing populations hamper economic development. Many Third World countries simply cannot provide for their burgeoning numbers. The results are evident in mounting poverty, unemployment, slums and squatter settlements; lack of access to education, health care, drinking water and sanitation, and family planning services. As poverty deepens, more people are pushed to the edge of survival.
"According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in 1985 around 37 per cent of the total population in the developing world were children below the age of 15. In Africa, children make up 45 per cent of the population." (Lean 17). Having to cater for such a disproportionate younger population puts added strain on the productive members of society.
High fertility and High Mortality
The extreme contrasts between the rich and poor worlds is dramatized by comparisons of life expectancy at birth and infant mortality rates. "Even after the improvements of the last 40 years, Africans can expect to live, on average, only 52 years, Asians 62 years and South Americans 65 years. Gambians are lucky if they reach the age of 43 and half of all Angolans die before reaching 45. Europeans, on the other hand, live on average to 74, Americans to 75 and Canadians to 77. Infant mortality is, perhaps, an even more revealing indicator. In Africa, the average number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births is 106, reaching a peak at 169 in Mali and 154 in Sierra Leone. The infant mortality rate for South America is 58 and for Asia 73. In Western Europe, North America and Japan infant mortality is 10 or less per 1,000 live births. Every year some 14 million children die in developing countries before they reach their fifth birthday. Every year, too, half a million mothers die in pregnancy or childbirth - all but 1 per cent of them in the Third World. An African woman is 500 times more likely to die from giving birth than her counterpart in one of the richer developed countries. Another 100,000 to 200,000 women die each year as a result of illegal abortions, and again the great majority are from developing countries" (Lean 20).
Almost all such women and children die unnecessarily. Basic health and sanitation, from breast-feeding, immunization programs and simple mixtures of salts to prevent dehydration from diarrhea through basic health care, education on health and family planning, to clean water and enough food, would prevent most of the infant and child deaths. Maternal health care, and spacing and reducing the numbers of births would help reduce maternal mortality. Many of these are inexpensive educational measures. All should be available as a basic human right.
Killing the Girl Child: Female Infanticide and the Sexual Imbalance of Population
Contraception and Population
The World Fertility Survey of 1984 revealed that many mothers in developing countries did not want any more children, but were not able to get contraceptive aids or information. Birth rates would fall heavily if all the women who said they wanted no more children actually succeeded in stopping their childbearing: the number of births would be cut by about a quarter in Africa and about a third in Asia and Latin America. There is clearly a great unfulfilled need for family planning, but it, alone, is not enough.
Such situations are matched by other schemes in various countries from India through South Korea to Peru to institute forcible population control through sterilization or regulation. Often these measures fail, or undermine confidence in the initiative by using clandestine methods of deception to lure or entrap people into sterilization procedures without fully explaining the implications. Such population methods have been particularly suspect when applied without consent to people deemed retarded or undesirable by state eugenics programs. They also frequently result in killing or abortion of female offspring in countries where boys are prized. Leading to severe gender demographic differences, indicative of mass gendercide.
If people want to have children, even the best contraceptive is of no avail. Rapid population growth is linked to poverty, and the education of women and all must be tackled together. Family planning programs that ignore social conditions rarely succeed. "Nations as diverse as Burma, Colombia, China, Sri Lanka, Chile and Cuba - and the Indian state of Kerala - which have addressed poverty, have achieved massive declines, cutting fertility by a third to half between 1960 and 1985" (Lean 19).
The position of many religious leaders concerning contraception is little short of criminal. The Pope has emphatically declared condoms are not to be tolerated, even if a person has HIV. Cardinal Sin of the Philippines recently called condoms "only fit for animals". The position that men whether layman or pope can pass infallible judgement on the reproductive rights of women is indefensible. To enforce male fertility upon all women in the Christian dogma that all sex necessarily must result in procreation of life is a runaway form of male dominion. Significantly the rise of television dramas which portray women as independent career-seeking businesswomen and creative artists and models seems to have had a specifically moderating impact on Brazilian population growth, despite the heavy impact of Catholic opposition.
The Crucial role of Women
The status of women is crucial to solving the population problem. Women's bodies are the gateway to each new birth. It is essential that the women of the world be given the ethical freedom to make basic decisions about their own fertility. Women's education appears to be the biggest factor in reducing fertility. "In Thailand, where women have exceptional opportunities for a Third World country, a vigorous family planning program has helped cut fertility by half between 1960 and 1985. Costa Rica achieved an even greater decline, 53 per cent, over the same period; 66 per cent of its women - three times the proportion in the rest of Latin America - use contraceptives despite little effort to spread family planning. The reason seems to be that it has a good record in promoting health and education and in tackling poverty" (Lean 20).
World Maps and Commentary on:
Taslima Nasrin the authoress and doctor who was given a death fatwah for suggesting shariat should be revised, advocates 'freedom of the womb' and states that women must control whether they bear children or not.
"Feminism and the power of non-violence are to me the very essential concepts of green politics. Male-led revolutions have so often and so tragically been mere power exchanges in a basically unaltered structure. ... These revolutions have often been about dying for a cause. Feminist-conceived transformation is all the more about daring to live for a cause .. in struggling for a truly demilitarized society that preserves the ecological basis of life" - Petra Kelly (Porritt 115).
One way or another, population growth will slow down because many developing countries simply cannot sustain their escalating numbers. It will either happen through family planning and development, or by famine, disease and war brought about by collapsing economies.
Feeding a Peaking Population in an Over-exploited World
As the world population grows, so more efforts are made to bring in new productive areas to feed the unsustainable human populations that are burgeoning forth. By overstressing soils and ecosystems through application of artificial fertilizers, and pesticides, many of the best productive areas of the planet are slowly being reduced to marginal lands. Some of the best regions are close to major populations and are appropriated for urban and industrial development. Lack of long-term sustainable productivity will lead to continuing crises in food production as populations crest in the early 21-st century.
Billions go Hungry
On average, people in the richest developed nations eat between 30 and 40 per cent more calories than they need, while the people of the poorest nations on average get 10 per cent less than this basic minimum. There are however wide differences: Kenyans on average get 92 per cent of what they need, but the poorest 40 per cent of the rural people suffer serious malnutrition, attempting to subsist on less than three quarters of their requirements.
"Over 1 billion people - about one in every five on earth - do not get enough food to lead fully productive lives. At least 400 million of them get less than 80 per cent of their basic needs, and are condemned to stunted growth and constant danger of serious illness. Two thirds live in Asia, another fifth in Africa. Two thirds are probably under 15 years old. And their numbers are growing. Every year about 11 million children under the age of five die from hunger or hunger-related diseases. Those that survive may never reach their full potential. One third of Peru's children are so underfed that their growth is stunted. And if a child does not get enough to eat in its first years of life, its brain will not develop properly. One study followed up malnourished Indian children under five for the next 17 years of their lives - and found that their capacity for work was 30 per cent less than that of children from the same class and the same villages who had had enough to eat" (Lean 25).
Poverty, not lack of Food causes Hunger
People go hungry in a world that produces more than enough. They cannot get food because they are too poor to buy or grow the food they need. Increasing food production by itself does not tackle hunger. Consumption also has to rise. The food which is grown has to actually reach those in hunger. "India is a production success story - and a consumption disaster. Its wheat harvest more than doubled under the impact of the Green Revolution between 1965 and 1972; one of the most spectacular increases in history. It provided food aid to the newly-emergent Bangladesh and for a while became the world's second biggest donor after the United States. By the mid-1980s, it had a grain surplus of 24 billion metric tons. Nevertheless, it still has about half of all the hungry people on earth. Consumption of grain per head failed to increase over the period of the production "miracle" and nearly half its people are too poor to buy enough to eat" (Lean 25). This raises significant questions about private enterprise and the ethics of 'free' financial markets.
If their own country people cannot afford to buy food, landowners divert their efforts to growing more cash crops - such as cotton, coffee, tea, sugar or tobacco - for export. Governments, saddled with huge debt burdens, will tend to encourage this to earn foreign exchange. There is vigorous debate as to whether the growth of cash crops has reduced food production; but there is little doubt that they tend to take up the best land, pushing subsistence farmers onto areas with poorer soil and rainfall; yields are lower on this marginal land, so the farmers have to exploit more of it, increasing the spread of deserts. Cash crops also receive most of the Third World's credit, fertilizers and pesticides, and agricultural advice. As food production has fallen, particularly in Africa, more and more has had to be imported. "In 1984, 140 million Africans - more than a quarter of the continent's population - were fed with grain from overseas; though neither they nor their countries could afford to buy enough to prevent widespread hunger" (Lean 25). Both the demand for imports and the inability to pay for enough of them will worsen over the next decades. Food aid is no answer, even if surplus countries are prepared to give it. Although it is essential to relieve short-term famine, food aid undermines local production in more normal circumstances.
The Green Revolution and the Falling harvests
From 1945 to 1985, food production outstripped demand. The Green Revolution helped boost grain production in the Third World and technological advances improved yields in developed countries. Developed regions and Asia have greatly increased their per capita food production since the 1960s. Western Europe, where population growth has stabilized, now produces about 30 per cent more food for each of its people than in the mid-1960s. Africa has also increased its food production in absolute terms, but not enough to keep up with population growth; it now produces 27 per cent less food for each African than in 1967.
"Grain production - which provides about half the world's calories - increased from around 700 million metric tons in 1950 to over 1.8 billion metric tons in 1986. It grew at around 3 per cent a year, outstripping population growth. Similarly, meat, milk and fish production rose by 2 per cent annually between 1965 and 1986, while the harvest of vegetables, pulses and fruit grew by 2.5 per cent a year. The World Commission on Environment and Development, reporting in 1987, attributed the increase mainly to the development of high-yielding new seed varieties, a ninefold increase in the use of chemical fertilizers, a 32-fold rise in pesticide applications and a doubling of the world's irrigated cropland, from 135 million hectares in the 1960s to 271 million hectares in 1985. Distributed evenly, the 1986 harvest could support 6 billion people - the projected population of the earth for the year 1998" (Lean 25).
But this agricultural boom may be ending. Ominously, after four decades of growth, the global harvest began to falter in the second half of the 1980s. "Per capita grain production, which grew from 246 kilograms to 345 kilograms between 1950 and 1984, fell back to 296 kilograms by 1988 - around the level that it had been in the mid-1970s. In 1988, for the first time in history, the United States produced less grain than it needed for its own people. In 1989, for the third successive year, the world as a whole produced too little to satisfy demand. World grain stocks fell from a record high in 1986 to approaching their lowest levels ever. Prices rose by 48 per cent between 1986 and 1989, compounding the problems of countries and families that already could not afford to buy enough to eat" (Lean 28).
Bad weather accounts for part of the stump. "Drought hit India in 1987, and the United States, Canada and China - the world's three biggest food producers - in 1988. In June 1988, at the height of the drought in the American Midwest, Dr James Hansen, Director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told a Congressional hearing that he was "99 per cent certain" that the greenhouse effect was to blame" (Lean 28). Climatic conditions were almost normal in 1989; so that year's failure must have had other causes. However since these reports we have had increasingly graphic evidence of climatic disruption of production. In 1997 temperatures rose to 0.6 deg C above the norn for the 20th century and were accompanied by a large-scale El Nino oscillation.
Another cause of falling harvests is overuse, causing erosion and desertification. "Every year, the world's farmers lose about 24 billion metric tons of topsoil, about the same amount as covers the entire Australian wheatlands. At one stage, in the 1970s, American farmers lost six tons of soil for every ton of grain grown. The world has some spare capacity; 20 million hectares of US farmland were held in reserve in 1988, and bringing them back into production would increase the world's cropland by 2 per cent. But the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that soil degradation could take 65 per cent of all the Third World's rainfed (non-irrigated) land out of production by the year 2000. And every year the world also loses 1.5 million hectares of irrigated fields to salinization" (Lean 28).
Pollution is also thought to be cutting yields. A US government survey suggests that ozone, may have reduced American harvests by 5-10 per cent during the 1980s. Sulfur dioxide and other nitrous oxides will also have done damage. So does the depletion of the ozone layer in the strato- sphere. All these trends are likely to worsen, and population will certainly grow.
The most important priority is to increase both production and consumption in developing countries. In the past, Third World governments have usually concentrated resources on the cities and on industry, neglecting farming and the countryside; food prices have been kept low to please city dwellers, to the ruination of agriculture. Governments increasingly accept that this bias must end, but that will not in itself address the problem adequately. Increasing food prices may benefit the middleman rather than the farmer; concentrating attention on the richer landowners, as during the Green Revolution, will do little, or nothing, to help the poor or reduce hunger. It is much more effective to focus on small farmers, who both make up the bulk of the poor in many countries and have the greatest potential for raising production.
"After Independence in 1980, Zimbabwe switched attention away from the richer whites - who comprised only 1 per cent of the farmers but owned half the land, received 87 per cent of the credit, and got preferential prices for their produce - towards black subsistence farmers. Their maize production doubled by 1981 and more than trebled by 1985 - a bad year in the rest of Africa" (Lean 28).
Where small farmers have been encouraged and given credit, harvests have increased and hunger has fallen. Land reform is particularly important. It splits up big estates, which are usually much less intensively farmed, and gives poor farmers and landless people the means to grow enough food to feed their families. The World Bank has estimated that such a "patchwork revolution" could increase yields even faster than the Green Revolution, with much more success in reducing hunger.
The solutions of the developed world are more high-tech, particularly the development of genetically-engineered varieties with even higher yields than the newer productive hybrids and with additional features such as pest-resistance and herbicide resistance. While these may help significantly in specific cases, the potential problems of epidemic disease of such monoclones, the loss of wild diversity upon which new vigour depends andthe release of disruptive genes into wild ecosystems and natural varieties remain little-explored problems..
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International Planned Parenthood Federation
"The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is the world's largest voluntary family planning organization, working in 134 different countries. Set up in 1952, it is made up of autonomous associations in each country, run by local people for local people, implementing programmes of their own making. Although it does important work through influencing public opinion at the national and international level (for instance, persuading governments to include population policies in their constitutions), it is this grass-roots approach that has allowed it to achieve such impressive results. One of the best-known member associations is Pro Familia in Colombia, which won a special award from the United Nations in 1988. With little direct support from the government, Pro Familia operates 43 family planning centres, and over the course of 23 years has seen the population growth rate reduced from 3 to 1.7 per cent. The key to their success has been the recruitment of local women to run community workshops and to make house-to-house visits, dealing not just with family planning, but with health care of all kinds. The main education tool is a health guide with diagrams and a calendar, directed principally at women with small children, to remind them of the dates for vaccinations, dental check-ups, and other medical appointments. The instructors and health teams often have to operate in areas ravaged by guerrilla war, drug trafficking, and extreme poverty. In spite of this, the services they offer are wide-reaching and highly efficient: two in every three couples now plan their families responsibly, using contraceptive methods recommended by Pro Familia" (Porritt 118).