Those UN Population figures

Something to be aware of.

The United Nations will warn this week that the world\’s population could more than double to 15 billion by the end of this century, putting a catastrophic strain on the planet\’s resources unless urgent action is taken to curb growth rates, the Observer can reveal.

That figure is likely to shock many experts as it is far higher than many current estimates. A previous UN estimate had expected the world to have more than 10 billion people by 2100; currently, there are nearly 7 billion.

The new figure is contained in a landmark study by the United Nations Population Fund (Unfpa) that will be released this week. The report –The State of World Population 2011 – is being compiled to mark the expected moment this month when somewhere on Earth a person will be born who will take the current world population over the 7 billion mark, and will be released simultaneously in cities across the globe.

The thing to remember about UN population predictions is that they have, at least in the past they have, offered three variants. Low, medium and high.

Actual outturns have been around or below the low figure, that low figure continually being revised down with each passing set of predictions. But it\’s always possible, of course, for people to take a new report of the figures, latch onto the high prediction and thus cry havoc.

As is being done here.

The important questions are a) well, how likely is each variant and b) what actions can we take to influence which path is actually followed?

As I\’ve said many a time before, it\’s not actually contraception which changes population size. It\’s helpful, yes, certainly I see no reason at all why those who want to use it shouldn\’t be supplied with it. Not as a matter of human rights or anything, but it\’s a remarkably cheap way of making others peoples\’ lives, as they are lived, better, and as good little liberals we should be all in favour of that.

No, the key to it all is the desire to limit family size, the wish to use contraception if it is available that makes the difference. Providing condoms to someone who wishes to become pregnant isn\’t all that useful, providing a situation in which a woman wishes to limit her family size is.

Fortunately, we know what does that too: rising wealth. It\’s happened everywhere wealth has gone above a certain level (around and about $5,000 to $6,000 GDP per capita I think?) so the great game if it really is population that you\’re worried about is how to get wealth for everyone up above that level. Economic growth in short.

Even more remarkably, we\’ve actually been pretty good at this in the past 30 odd years. No, it isn\’t all just China and or India. We\’re seeing good and strong economic growth in Africa as well. Something to do with that so despised Washington Consensus actually: you know, that list of stupid things that governments shouldn\’t do?

Some problems don\’t have solutions: some do. This population one is one where we do know the solution and we\’ve already implemented the solution. Get economic growth going, pour the petrol of neoliberalism and globalisation on the fire and watch as birth rates fall.

Job done.

3 thoughts on “Those UN Population figures”

  1. Radio 5 ran a week of discussions and articles on population growth a couple of weeks ago. They had one expert on who explained that the problem (it that is the right word) at the moment is that life expectancy is increasing faster than birth rates are falling.

    The upshot of which was that there is a natural hump in the projections and then he expected population to fall. He was quite sanguine, much to the chagrin of the interviewers.

    Like you, he reckoned increasing wealth was the cause of the the fall in child birth rates.

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    It is not true that all problems have solutions. This is a solution to over-population, but of course it just brings a new problem – under-population.

    Some European countries are slowly dying and in the future London will probably be as British as Alexandria is Greek.

    No level of population growth is perfect, but some are worse than others.

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