7 Billion & Rising….Population Does Matter
Sometime in the next twelve months, the world population will reach 7 billion. This is just 13 years since the world reached 6 billion and 50 years since the 3 billion milestone was reached. Looking ahead, numbers are projected to continue to rise, reaching a probable peak of 8-11 billion by 2050. While growth is mainly in developing countries, the UK population is also growing, driven by increasing longevity, migration and a relatively high birth rate.
Over the last two centuries, humanity has increased production to meet the requirements of both rising per capita consumption and increasing numbers. However, evidence is growing that we are reaching our natural limit, particularly as we approach the end of low cost oil production. Population growth contributes, along with business practices, society’s priorities and lifestyle decisions, to some of today’s key problems: climate change, loss of biodiversity, habitat and green spaces, threats to food, water and energy security, pressure on housing and services, congestion and declining quality of life.
As just one indicator, today’s record food prices are no accident. And the dissatisfactions of the young and rapidly growing populations of the Middle East is surely a sign of future conflict as resources such as water and oil are in increasingly short supply.
There are actions we can take. In developing countries, continuing high birth rates are linked to poverty, low infant survival, lack of women’s rights and lack of access to family planning. The international community is increasingly seeing these as priorities. However, funding for family planning has been diverted in recent years to address the HIV/AIDS crisis. We need to see investment in family planning as not just an issue of heath, development or women’s rights, but also as a key contributor to a sustainable and environmentally secure issue.
In the UK, we should be making the case that a smaller family is a sustainable family. If we recycle, try to be energy efficient and limit our air miles, we should be also having only one or two children. After all, larger families have an impact on the environment, not just in our lifetimes, but for all future generations.
There’s also more that could be done to reduce unintentional pregnancies, through improved education and the use of more reliable methods. While practice is good in some areas, it is variable and studies have shown that the UK falls behind international best practice.
Population concern shouldn’t be seen as a diversion from efforts to adopt more sustainable business practices or lifestyles. Instead, it’s a recognition that adopting a goal of there being fewer rather than endlessly more people is just one of the things we need to do if we are to have the sustainable future, and the levelling up of global living standards, that we surely all aspire to.