The world population is now 7.3 billion people, having almost tripled in 60 years, according to the United Nations.
While it took the world 50,000 years to reach one billion, the last two billion have been added in the past 25 years – and it’s estimated to reach 9 billion by 2043, and a peak of 10 billion in 2083.
This rapid growth could exacerbate existing problems, such as access to food and water, disease, crime, and climate change, the UN says. Could the world be facing an overpopulation crisis?
Overpopulation is a concern that stretches back to ancient times – as far back as 1000 B.C., in modern-day Iraq, where a poet outlined the gods’ plans to wipe out the people who had become too crowded or noisy for them to sleep, according to the book “How Many People Can The Earth Support?”
Obviously, the explosive growth over the last century have had many alarm bells ringing.
For instance, population growth and a change towards diets containing more meat will cause global food demand to rise 70% by 2050, at a time where some question whether productivity can be significantly raised, according to the United Nations.
While water use for agriculture is expected to increase by approximately 20%, water availability is likely to decrease in regions, such as West Africa.
Similarly, the world’s energy demand will likely increase by 60%, causing concerns of potential environmental impacts from fossil fuel emissions.
Thinking beyond population control
Looking at these facts, the conclusion seems logical: Too many people are trying to use too few resources; therefore, the amount of people should be reduced.
This has been the political status quo in many countries, leading to overbearing government acts such as China’s one-child policy and forced sterilization and abortions in many countries, including millions of people in India, according to Hampshire College.
But this puts the focus in the wrong area, Hampshire’s PopDev center writes. Instead, policies should focus on development, alleviation of poverty, and proper reproductive health services.
The growth “explosion” is also over – growth rates are down (and in the case of some countries like Russia, reversed) in most developed nations, and only 16% of the world, concentrated in a few areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, are considered “high-fertility” countries where the birth rate is a lot higher than the death rate, according to National Geographic.
Birth rates should be 2.1 births per woman in order for the population to stay stable – and while many developed countries have been at or even below this so-called “replacement rate” for decades, the world is expected to reach it by 2030.
As pointed out by Swedish statistician Hans Rosberg in a video for Gapminder Foundation, when more supportive, rather than restrictive, efforts are implemented, the population growth rate stabilizes itself:
And as concluded by the U.N., when fertility rates are down, there are fewer children per working person, increasing individual economic means – and their ability to overcome poverty and the struggle for resources.
In 2015 The World Bank published a report predicting that large populations from poor countries will increasingly migrate to wealthier countries. The same report estimates that future global population increases will hover at about 1% per year. While overpopulation may not be a crisis moving forward, mass migration from poor to rich nations may create other challenges.