Rising Sea of Humanity: UN Says Pop. Will Hit 10B by 2100—& Keep Going Up

By Valerie Ross | May 6, 2011 12:30 pm

What’s the News: The world’s population is projected to reach 7 billion this October and continue climbing, reaching 10.1 billion by the end of the 21st century, says an official United Nations report (PDF) released earlier this week. This is a significant departure from earlier projections that said the population would peak at just over 9 billion, then level off and even slightly decline.

How the Heck:

  • Projecting the world population is based on looking at fertility and mortality rates, and how they may be affected by government policies, available services, and behavior. Starting with a few possible fertility and mortality trajectories, researchers in the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs work out what those would mean for overall population.
  • These projections differ from earlier ones because fertility rates in many developing countries—particularly in Africa—aren’t declining as quickly as demographers had thought they would. Nigeria, for instance, is currently the most populous country in Africa, with a population of about 160 million; that number is projected to rise 150%, to 390 million, by 2050, and to 730 million by the end of the century. Africa’s total population is projected to increased from 1 billion today to 3.6 billion by 2100.

What’s the Context:

  • Projections aren’t the same as predictions. They show us what would happen, if demographic trends follow certain paths, but they don’t claim that’s what will happen.
  • A primary reason for the decline, John Bongaarts, a demographer at the Population Council research group, told ScienceNOW, is decreased funding for family planning programs. Such programs were a focus of development efforts in the 1970s and 1980s, but lost funding because African governments didn’t make them a priority; economists discouraged investing in them, saying they didn’t work; and conservative governments (such as the Bush administration) and the Vatican have been strongly against such programs.
  • These projections don’t necessarily spell disaster, demographers say, but they’re bad news. “Every billion more people makes life more difficult for everybody — it’s as simple as that,” Bongaarts told the New York Times. “Is it the end of the world? No. Can we feed 10 billion people? Probably. But we obviously would be better off with a smaller population.”

Not So Fast:

  • Projecting population nearly a century from now comes with a lot of caveats. Food and water shortages, wars, and other catastrophes, in addition to social, political, and economic changes, could all slow or stop population growth.

The Future Holds:

  • That’s the big question. Changes in policy may well change population trajectory; e.g., improved education and access to family planning services could bring the numbers down.
CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Physics & Math
  • Wendy

    “Is it the end of the world? No. Can we feed 10 billion people? Probably.”

    WHAT?!?! We can’t even feed 6 billion people!!!! Currently! Right now! Starving people! LOTS OF THEM!!! Not even enough fresh water for all of us!!! Ohhhh, teh stoopid…. Pain….

  • Usul

    At the risk of sounding war criminal-ish, if we are going to “get rid” of some people I say we start with NASCAR fans…

    There would be a LOT more cheap beer to go ’round.

  • jemand

    @Wendy, also in 90 years, we’ll be out of at least all the cheap (easy to get) oil that’s allowing the crop yields that barely work for the current 7 billion (rounding up ‘cuz october is coming relatively soon.)

    Personally, I think that population numbers will start to dive when rich countries have to spend more time an energy avoiding global warming driven disasters in their territory, and falling crop yields from the lack of cheap oil… these rich countries will turn all their energy inward, and manage to provide for their own populations, but will completely stop being concerned with international aid, food or otherwise, and only trade with the poor countries that have very valuable natural resources (oil, metals). The amount of food rich countries are willing to part with for the natural resources is going to provide an upper limit on the populations of the poor countries.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if by that time China, because of it’s population controls, is counted among the rich nations by the time these effects become felt. And Nigeria DOES have a lot of oil, but I don’t believe it has enough to trade for the additional food required to support anywhere *near* a billion citizens, not even half a billion is my guess.

  • Thomas

    If you think about it, there’s good reason for decreased funding for family planning programs. The economy of most of the developed and developing nations is dependent on growth, which requires a necessary increase in the number of consumers. Most of us are still dealing with the consequences of interrupted growth in consumption during this current recession.

    Policy is usually decided by individuals who are personally insulated from most negative effects by position and money; if you wear an $2k suit, you’re probably not worried about what you’re eating for dinner. And I wonder if there’s a bit of ‘NIMLT’* coloring the mental background of same; long term planning seems to be something of a challenge for people who generally focus no further than the next 4 quarters.

    *not in my life time

  • Matt B.

    Under What’s the Context bullet point 2, shouldn’t it say “A primary reason for the lack of decline”?

  • Kevin R.

    @wendy- we can feed 6 billion people or 10 billion. Our population just fails to get every person enough to eat, its not that we have any kind of a shortage. same for water. The real problem is getting food to every one, equally. What we need is a just system that can do this. Its important to understand this, because if you and others don’t by the time we have 10 billion people most of them will be starving, diseased and be living in inhumane conditions(not that most people in the world already aren’t).

  • Katharine

    If you’ve got more than two, shame on you.

  • jemand

    @Kevin R. We cannot get sufficient food even for the 7 billion we’ve got now except by rapidly drawing down stored resources such as aquifers for water and oil for energy. We are basically eating fossilized resources at the moment, by turning them into food. While it IS possible we can keep doing this for awhile and *present* famines are a result of poor distribution, it is absolutely impossible that we can *keep* drawing from the water table and the oil sources at the same rate we have been as well as increasing our population *numbers* and still not run into actual shortages, rather than distribution limits.

  • http://discovermagazine.com Iain

    Wendy, people are starving yes, but food is rotting. Why? Politics.
    But I think this is bogus. The world is obviously going to end somewhere around May 11. 2012. Or did the Maya calendar makers think that maybe the one they made was good enough and somebody later could do an update?

  • John Burton

    It won’t matter if oil and water run out. With all the opportunistic pathogens generated by the waste of so many people and animals, one will die from some viral/bacteioral infection that would make previous plagues look like a Sunday picnic. I’m not sure we will survive to reach that ten mil mark.

  • Brandon

    No way we can get to 10billion not enough clean water and food unless we get another empty earth with lots of resorces to use. Wendy is right. Its a bummer but we should have had a world wide conversation on weather we SHOULD make 10 billion or not.

  • carbon lifestyle

    America is overpopulated.

  • don

    Everyone should have a even 6 or more kids, with the way we jump from bed to bed, this is an easy thing to accomplish. There are at least 7 women for every man, one kid each, that is six, lets say one does not take, there you are 6 kids and the population can grow to new hieghts or lows…

  • worried

    This is one of the most significant stories ever published here. I am not an old man
    & yet I remember having a discussion around 1980 about how terrifying it was
    the earth (then) had over four billion people!

    Perhaps given time, science could create new ways to sustain 9, 10 or 12 billion people.
    centuries from now. Perhaps.

    Our own American government, and other governments lack of effort regarding
    population control, alternate energy, higher mileage on cars, water conservation
    is genocidal in its scope of criminality and stupidity.

    The American electorate is perhaps one of the stupidest on Earth, and I love my
    Country. No matter which of the two parties we vote for, these real problems
    facing humanity are not addressed, given no more than lip service.

    Americans are suffering granted, as are other countries, but the answer is not
    to build another Walmart and dig for more oil. We don’t have the technology to
    start a colony on another planet, or terraform Mars, it may be too late to preserve
    the earth and its humanity and other species. But worst, All of our money goes
    to prop up crooked corporations, fund wars and the like,. The Trillion dollars
    spent in Iraq might have been enough to create an American infrastructure for
    new clean energy, solar plants, wind, and electric cars powered by these clean
    energy plants… and the administration who created Iraq was re-elected! And now
    the democrats, are nearly as bad, they pay more lip service to these ideas. but really
    just maintain the status quo.

    Everybody isin’t going to be allowed to have children anymore, why are we overpopulating
    America with millions of Immigrants year after year. To fund social security for ageing
    baby boomers? 310 million people in America, when my father was young it was under
    a 150 million. STOP STOP STOP>.. but no the democrats get votes! and the Republicans
    get cheap labor for their grotesque business’es

    We are governed by idiots, and the American people vote for them to go start world
    war three in the middle east, let Americans lose everything, NOT One person has
    gone to jail from the banks or wall street for all the things they did

    We will run out of water, food, clean air, forests, animals, the coastal areas will be
    underwater.. the oil will run out, The Eisenhower days of highways, a bright future
    and your kids living longer and better are over… And Still Nero fiddles while Rome
    burns…. 10 Billion people! and then what?

    The honey bee is almost gone, frogs, forests, the oil reserves, SOMEBODY Wake up
    and smell the coffee, this planet and this country is in a lot of trouble, and its nobodys
    fault so much as our own. public trains, solar power, a more vegetarian diet, diplomacy instead of constant wars, cars that get 100 miles a gallon, eating locally grown food,
    somebody stop before its too late,.Capitalism, is a great thing, if you invent an Ipod, but when stockholders fund their retirement through, wars, pollution, people having cancer
    gross overpopulation, shoddy products that have to be frequently replaced… this actually endangers the entire human race. We don’t even have the energy saving lightbulbs in
    most households because they cost ten bucks! WAKE UP Join me in taking back our country and planet from cretins like George Bush and Sara Palin, and ineffectual democrats, We need new ideas to help this country and this planet.. solar, wind, locally grown food, conservation, immigration controls, (and my personal favorite) the banishement of
    all Walmarts

  • AshleyCakes

    Well, that’s what we get for making medicine and technology so effective. We’re all having healthy babies, one third of all women aren’t dying in childbirth, and people are living old enough to be burdens on society. 😉 I totally made up the aforementioned statistics, by the way.

  • AshleyCakes

    And as to the person who commented before me (“Worried”): Really? The world is booming in population and you’re complaining about immigrants in the US? As if keeping them out of the country would somehow help the situation in any form? They would still exist in other countries, still need water, still have babies, still need to be fed. Our growing world population has nothing whatsoever to do with immigration or the banishment of affordable stores like Wal*Mart. Seriously, go read a book.

  • worried

    oh but it does. For one thing if America falls, from exhausted resources, overpopulation
    anarchy, changing values as new groups of people fail to assimilate, what country
    can lead change in the world ? Mexico? I don’t think so.

    I think when countries like Mexico, cannot control their populations, feed their people
    or have a society or system of government that serves its people. They simply send
    their excess undereducated people here by the tens of millions, who in turn have lots
    of mainly undereducated disgruntled children with somewhat different values, thereby
    increasing the decline of what was once the greatest country in the world.

    I’d rather supply Mexico with condoms and education than invite another 20 million
    of them here. Don’t tell me to read a book, and talk down to me, when you overload a boat
    the boat sinks and all the people in it drown.

    So yes America’s population, one way or the other, will not directly impact the worlds
    population, but if America falls from within from masses of tens of millions of immigrants
    and their children, who will help steer the world to better policies? The politburo in China?
    Argentina? France? Not likely. Tell me to read a book indeed, because my concerns don’t fit your pie in the sky liberalism. Give away your little corner of America and let me keep mine. If you don’t think ten billion people is a problem with our current scientific and political limitations, no book will ever help you.


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