Wednesday, 2 September 2009


Bizarre title you may think to my blog. Well, it's the figure connected with my subject today, that of the total world population to date. I was surprised to see this figure so high as when we talk of the world population we always refer to it as 6 billion. However, it is obviously much more like 7 billion, and rising. Two thirds of this figure live in Asia, another billion in Africa, half a billion in Latin America and the Caribbean, three quarters of a billion in Europe and just over a third of a billion in North America.

It's a touchy subject, population control. China embarked on this and it was surrounded in controversy and tales of wrong doing by the government in terms of forced sterilisation, etc. They adopted the one child family and for the most part it has brought their population under control, to the extent that some Chinese authorities have relaxed the policy now. Of course people die, and people are born, and if we want to replace the population as it stands there needs to be an average of 2.1 births for every woman. In the western world we may think this is high, as there are a large number of the population who have only one child or decide to have none at all. However, if we take Africa as an example, the average is 7 children per woman.

And we are living longer. It's estimated by 2050 that there will be a little over 2 billion people over 60, which makes it the fastest-growing group on earth. This will bring obvious financial challenges to the likes of pensions and health care.

But, population growth is a bigger issue than most consider it to be. Our focus at present is on global warming and tackling the issues causing it. Then there's energy and trying to provide enough without adding to climate change with pollutants.

At present there are countries in the third world that have very fertile lands, and grow an abundance of food, yet their populace are starving. The reason for this is simple; the food they grow is exported to the developed world for our ever-growing demand for more. Not just that but take into account the vast amount of water it takes to grow anything and we are importing virtual water from these countries and plunging them still further into a crisis.

We eat well in the west. Too well. In the UK alone more than 50% of people are obese, and one can probably safely assume this has increased the demand on food imports, and so the cycle continues to get worse.

But the system seems to be working for us, albeit that is a selfish statement. But for how long? Within my lifetime there will be more than 9 billion people on the planet.
We can only just feed everyone at some level now. With land being increasingly diverted to grow bio-crops for alternative fuel we are reducing the available arable land for food production. The south island of New Zealand, for example, has a growing water crisis due to the switch to raising cattle in ever increasing numbers, and the water table around Christchurch are at dangerously low levels.

So global warming does not come on its own. Cutting our emissions and living greener is only one of the challenges.
To grow food we need an abundance of water, which is becoming a rare commodity. It is projected that within 30 years one fifth of the planet will either have turned, or be turning, into desert. We also need an abundance of oil to drive the machinery and get the goods to market, another commodity well past its peak level.

What would happen if the third world countries that export their own food to us suddenly decide to stop doing so, and instead feed their own people? What happens when the population rises and demand for food escalates but cannot be physically met?

Consider that at the moment any cut in co2 emissions will be cancelled out in the future by an out of control population growth. That could lead to increased temperatures, so less fertile land, less water to irrigate, less food grown, and with oil on the decline less ability to export food.

So what can we do? I think we need to take all of these issues into account, at the same time. We as individuals could change out eating habits. Eating less meat would have a remarkable effect on the use of water, being the most demanding in relation to all our food stuffs. Drive less and continue to develop sustainable forms of energy production. But let's face it, we've heard these solution suggestions many times.

But what of population? As the density increases so does the ability to produce more children, and they in turn become able to produce more, and so on. And all these mouths have to be fed, and watered. We in the developed world also have a responsibility to the third world, least of all to reconsider that that we are currently taking their food for our own consumption. Ask yourself; where would you get your food if the supermarkets did not exist?

In short we are heading for a situation that may see a refugee crisis at borders on an unprecedented scale. And it would take very little to tip the balance toward this anarchy.

But we can't take away peoples rights, that is not the solution, and I do not advocate any kind of forced control. But consider this; if birth rates continued at the current level then in 150 years we would have 134 trillion people on the planet!

We should be talking about this.

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