It was never merely about population

Sometime this year Earth’s human population passed 7 billion people. Sometime this year, for the first time, more than 50% of humanity lived in cities and towns. The predictions are that humanity’s population will peak around 10 billion or so in 2050 and then go into a slow decline. Even in the poorest parts of the world, birth rates are declining. This is due to complex set of factors:

  • Increasing education
  • Increasing improvements in women’s political and economic power
  • Glacially slow improvements in people’s standards of living in the poorest parts of the world
  • Increasing availability of cheap, reliable contraceptives.
  • Steady mechanization of farms around the world
  • Increasing urbanization

But I don’t think we’re out of the woods here. It was never merely about populations or birth rates. It was always about technological efficiency. The United States has about 5% of the world’s population and yet is the second largest consumer of energy in the world. It was recently surpassed in this by China and soon will be by India. China’s per capita standard of living is nowhere near that of the US but as it approaches this, assuming technology doesn’t change at all, it will be as if we added 4 or 5 times the demand the US places on global energy and material consumption. What’s going to happen when Brazil, Nigeria and Indonesia try to approach our standard of living?

The point is this, the problem has always been squarely that of post-industrial countries. We need to figure out ways to hugely improve the efficiency of our technology in order to drastically reduce our ecological footprint. If this doesn’t happen there’s just not enough to go around and war will likely result.

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