A recent headline in the Guardian arrested my attention. It read, “World ‘population bomb’ may never go off as feared, finds study”. The report authors predict human population will peak lower and sooner than has long been forecast. Given current trends, human population should peak at approximately 8.8 billion before the middle of the century and then decline rapidly after that. This is very good news for the environment and a livable future since our current population of approximately 8 billion is already wreaking tremendous damage on global ecosystems, wildlife, and climate stability.
The significant reduction in global birth rates is being driven by a term called “demographic transition” in which civilizations move from high birth rates and high death rates to low birth rates and low death rates. This transition is largely being driven by an upsurge in policies that have increased access to education for women, and improved income in economically-challenged regions of the world. Quite simply, when women can get education and birth control and have reason to believe their babies will survive to adulthood, they opt to have fewer children. According to the United Nations, in 2019, more than 40 percent of the world population lived in countries that were at or below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman; in 2021, this share climbed to 60 per cent.
The report was commissioned by the Club of Rome, which produced the landmark Limits to Growth study over fifty years ago that accurately predicted many of the environmental, water and food challenges we are currently experiencing around the world. This most recent population forecast report points out that if world governments implemented policies such as raising taxes on the wealthy to invest in education, social services and improved equity the peak population might hit 8.5 billion by 2040 and then fall to about 6 billion by the end of the century. Under this pathway, the report authors foresee considerable gains by mid-century for human wellbeing, societal stability and the natural environment.
All the way back in grad school, I was having discussions about whether or not human overpopulation or consumerism was the biggest threat to the health of our planet and fellow species. I always came down on the side of “both”. I was glad to see this recent report made note that currently the greatest environmental damage is being caused by the excessive resource consumption and waste generated by a wealthy minority of human beings. It is still vitally important for those of us lucky enough to live in wealthier parts of the world to continue to question assumptions and norms and genuinely answer for ourselves, “How much is enough?”. It’s powerfully important to avoid the retail therapy trap of making consumption a hobby. It is also essential to challenge our elected leaders and authorities when they continue to beat the drum of limitless growth in a consumption-based economy. I’ll definitely keep covering those issues going forward but let me now wrap this piece with the following.
Over the last couple of weeks, before the new report was released, I’d heard several political and economic analysts weighing in with great concern that countries like Japan, Ukraine, and now even China are now experiencing declining human populations. The reasons for concern include losing competitive economic advantage over other countries, stressing health care systems due to a majority elderly population, etc. These are valid concerns and likely these real demographic trends are going to result in some very interesting changes in immigration policies as aging countries need to bolster workforces, health care providers, etc. Sounds to me like this could be one solution to the massive exodus of climate-related refugees the world is now beginning to experience. Rather than fear this, I think focusing on some possible ways to create win-win scenarios makes a lot of sense.
On an even bigger-picture front, at our current level of human population, we are in ecological overshoot meaning we consume more of nature each year than nature can rebuild or regrow. Our current predicament calls for humans to act as a collective rather than as disparate groups trying to get positioned to consume even more. Doing anything to hinder reducing and stabilizing birth rates thinking it gives you a competitive advantage is like being in a raft full of people headed over massive water falls feeling better about it because the people in the front are going over first. We’re at a point in humanity’s position on this planet where we’d better all paddle together.
The human population spike is easing, sooner than expected, the system is regulating, and that is a hopeful development.
In honor and awe of these extraordinary, precious and precarious times and this magnificent planet we get to call home.
A Personal Milestone — The Irreverent Reverend!
Just a few days ago, after six years, 52 classes, at least a dozen formal progress interviews, and psychological evaluations a few days ago I was approved for ordination by Unity Worldwide Ministries. I am so grateful to have been able to go down this path and so ready to be done with classes and process.
Here’s a short vid explaining why I took this journey.
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Hi Friends. One of my readers made the good point that part of the population issue with Ukraine is that millions of Ukrainians have fled the country due to the Russian invasion. In referencing them in my article I was referring to the record low birth rates in Ukraine BEFORE the Russian aggression. However, it was insensitive of me not to clarify those points.