Thursday, July 26, 2012

Another Subject We Dare Not Discuss

The Los Angeles Times is currently running a five-part series titled "Beyond 7 Billion" and has to do with the current world population and predictions for future growth and the calamities we may very well face as a result. The first part was published Monday, July 23, 2012. That part serves as a general introduction to the subject and to the upcoming sections. It also contains the links to those sections.

We're at 7 billion now, but there's a very good chance that figure will rapidly increase because so many in the world's population are young and still fertile. Many live in cultures where large families are expected, even demanded, so the growth rate might increase dramatically over the next 15 to 20 years.

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. ...

Momentum isn't the only factor in population growth. In some of the poorest parts of the world, fertility rates remain high, driven by tradition, religion, the inferior status of women and limited access to contraception.

Population will rise most rapidly in places least able to handle it: developing nations where hunger, political instability and environmental degradation are already pervasive.
[Emphasis added]

And the problem is even more complicated than that: with climate change beginning to take hold, providing food will be nearly impossible in much of the world.

Now nearly 1 billion people are chronically hungry, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, and at least 8 million die every year of hunger-related illnesses.

By midcentury, there will be at least 2 billion more mouths to feed, and no one can say where the food will come from.

It's not just that the population will be larger. It's that hundreds of millions of newly affluent people, mostly in Asia, will want to add dairy products and grain-fed beef and pork to their diets.

To meet the projected demand, the world's farmers will have to double their crop production, according to calculations by a team of scientists led by David Tilman, a University of Minnesota expert on global agriculture. ...

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.

Starvation, hopelessness leading to political instability: these are huge problems and yet I haven't seen any real attention paid to the subject since Paul Ehrlich's book "The Population Bomb" in the late 1960s. Instead, other than shrugs and the maddening intrusion of the Religious Reich on birth control issues, life continues in First and Third World countries as if nothing was wrong.

I know there won't be any easy answers. Mandating "one-child-only families" did cut the birth rate in China, but at a cost which no one seems willing to bear at this time.

I've read the first three installments in this series and intend to read the rest. They each have been well-written with helpful charts and graphs. They each also include the kind of individual stories which show what kind of climb we are facing. I recommend this highly as important reading.

I also commend the Times for publishing the series. I don't often get the chance to say this about my local newspaper, but I sincerely hope it wins a prize for the effort. It would be well-deserved.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home