After remaining stable for most of human history, the world’s population has exploded over the last two centuries. The boom is not over: The biggest generation in history is just entering its childbearing years. The coming wave will reshape the planet, and the impact will be greatest in the poorest, most unstable countries.
… the world’s population — now 7 billion — will continue to grow … According to United Nations projections, the number will rise to 9.3 billion by 2050 — the equivalent of adding another India and China to the world.
That’s an optimistic scenario, one that assumes the worldwide average birthrate, now 2.5 children per woman, will decline to 2.1.
If birthrates stay where they are, the population is expected to reach 11 billion by midcentury — akin to adding three Chinas.
Under either forecast, scientists say, living conditions are likely to be bleak for much of humanity. Water, food and arable land will be more scarce, cities more crowded and hunger more widespread.
On a planet with 11 billion people, however, all those problems will be worse.
The outcome hinges on the cumulative decisions of hundreds of millions of young people around the globe. …
“We’re going to have to produce more food in the next 40 years than we have the last 10,000,” he said. “Some people say we’ll just add more land or more water. But we’re not going to do much of either.”
Most of Earth’s best farmland has already come under hoof or plow, and farmers are losing ground to expanding cities and deserts. Soil erosion, chemical contamination and salt buildup from irrigation are despoiling prime acreage.
Climate change will make all of these challenges more daunting. Higher temperatures and violent weather will stunt or destroy crops. Increased flooding will imperil millions living in low-lying regions. More severe droughts could displace masses of people, leading to conflict.
By 2050, the United Nations predicts, there could be as many as 200 million “climate refugees.”
Despite these trends, population growth has all but vanished from public discourse. …
If you gave people a choice: starve to death, die in a nuclear war, or stop reproducing, which do you think they’d choose?