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Could Overpopulation Estimates Be Off The Mark?

February 21, 2011

Seven billion: that is the estimated number of people the United Nations predicts will be alive on the planet this year, and climbing to a possible nine billion by 2050, John Bongaarts of the non-profit Population Council said at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting.

A more affluent and growing population will compete for ever scarcer resources and could make for an “unrecognizable” world by 2050, researchers warned.

To feed all those mouths, “we will need to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the last 8,000,” said Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund to the AFP news agency. “By 2050 we will not have a planet left that is recognizable” if current trends continue, Clay added.

Resource depletion is but one of the issues we may face said John Casterline, director of the Initiative in Population Research at Ohio State University. But incomes are also expected to rise over the next 40 years — tripling globally and quintupling in developing nations, adding more strain to global food supplies.

Moving up the food chain as their incomes rise, people will be consuming more meat than they might have when they made less money, the explained experts. It takes around seven pounds of grain to produce a pound of meat, and around three to four pounds of grain to produce a pound of cheese or eggs, the researchers told AFP.

“We want to minimize population growth, and the only viable way to do that is through more effective family planning,” Casterline says.

In terms of mortality, pessimists say that life spans in developed countries are close to the biological limit. However, optimists predict that life expectancy will continue to rise very rapidly, exceeding 100 years before the end of this century.

If the optimists are right, the world’s population could also exceed 10 billion in 2100. This higher population scenario also has implications for the solvency of social security systems that provide income to the elderly.

Population experts, meanwhile, called for more funding for family planning programs, especially in developing nations. “For 20 years, there’s been very little investment in family planning, but there’s a return of interest now, partly because of the environmental factors like global warming and food prices,” Bongaarts concluded.

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