By 2053, Earthlings would number 10 billion, a 33 percent increase in the present world population of 7.4 billion. In the latest projection made by Population Reference Bureau (PRB), the first thing to note is that this increase will vary widely from region to region. Africa is recording the fastest growth rate and its population is expected to number 2.5 billion; the top 10 fertility rates in the world are all in sub-Saharan countries presently. Opposed to this, the European population is expected to decline from 740 million to 728 million. Europe’s case is interesting, because as per EU figures last year — 2015 was the first time in modern history when more people died in that continent than were born. However, the population in Europe registered an increase by 2 million, thanks primarily to immigration from Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The tive population in several European countries, from Greece and Italy to Germany and Norway, are all declining steadily. As for Asia, it is set to gain 900 million to go up to 5.3 billion. Last year itself, the UN had predicted that India would become the most populous tion with 1.66 billion, followed by Chi with 1.425 billion. There are expectations that both these neighbors will slow down significantly to take a U-turn after the middle of this century.
These continuing population projections come associated with the central question — how many people can this planet support? Speculations about the Earth’s carrying capacity vary, but the most quoted figure is 10 billion. This is supposed to be the upper limit, the tipping point beyond which anything might happen. The most obvious concern is whether there will be enough food to feed 10 billion mouths, when at present, one in nine people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life. Back in the 18th century, philosopher Thomas Malthus had worried over the ‘power of Earth to produce subsistence for man’, failure of which would leave the human race staring at wars, famines and other forms of premature death to bring down its numbers. While it is accepted that world population cannot keep growing indefinitely, most optimists believe that a combition of technological innovation, sustaible growth lifestyles and eventually slowing populations will help mankind turn the corner. Human-centered initiatives towards population growth and consumption habits are being seen as the only hope for achieving a sustaible future. This is in line with the United tions last year replacing its 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by a more ambitious set of 17 Sustaible Development Goals (SDGs) ‘to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice and tackle climate change by 2030’.
Coming back to the question of growing sufficient food in sustaible manner, our farming methods are likely to come under intense scrutiny in the near future. While organic farming occupies only 1 percent of global agricultural land at present, its proponents argue that it holds the answer to growing population, widespread climate change, soil degradation and limited freshwater. They believe that even the present 3.5 billion acres of arable land can grow enough grain for a 10 billion population. This in effect means a future of primarily vegetarian diet, which flies in the face of families presently switching over to meat-based diets as soon as their incomes rise! Many such difficult choices will confront households and tions by 2050, when global warming, pollution and waste disposal, freshwater and energy crises, depleting resources, poverty and growing inequality converge with the population problem. The latest PRB report reflects this multi-dimensiol challenge by focusing on human needs and sustaible resources. It has warned that despite 43 countries reducing their carbon emissions between 1992 and 2013, there has been overall 60 percent increase in annual carbon emissions worldwide. As of now, only 18 percent of the world’s energy is coming from renewable sources, including hydroelectric power. The pressure of people on land is increasing, with average 697 people per square km of arable land in less developed countries. How to reduce our ecological footprint and thereby keep the planet’s biological capacity from getting overstrained, is something that we cannot push to experts to think for us.