May 25th, 2017
Last month, the total number of people on the planet surpassed the 7.5 billion mark. This figure is based on the Worldometers clock, which uses sources from the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the World Bank to make its projections.
We now add a billion people to the planet every 12-15 years, an astounding fact considering that it took all of human history until 1804 to reach 1 billion, and that we reached 2 billion less than one hundred years ago, in 1927. Virtually all global population growth now occurs in the developing world; population growth in industrialized countries occurs primarily through immigration.
In many countries the total fertility rate (TFR), the number of children born to a woman, has fallen below 2.1 (the level needed to stabilize population), but the UN reports that global TFR is still above replacement rate at 2.5. In the least developed countries, a fertile woman will have four children on average. Niger has the world’s highest TFR at 6.62 children per woman.
Such high birth rates will continue to prevent these regions from escaping poverty, as communities and families struggle to meet the food, education and health needs of growing numbers. Locally, soils, water supplies and habitats for wildlife are all under pressure, as is infrastructure. Despite the oft-repeated mantra that “development is the best contraceptive,” in most countries that have improved their economic well-being, fertility rates fell to less than 3 children per woman before prosperity levels rose.
Levels of consumption throughout the world demand more of the planet than it can provide. Currently, we are using the resources of 1.6 planets. If we were all to live as Americans do, we would require four Earths to sustain us all. It’s often argued that the rapid population growth of less developed countries has less impact on the environment than the consumption levels in developed countries. For example, while Niger has a TFR of 6.62, compared to US and United Kingdom TFRs of about 1.9, an American and Briton produce, on average, 160 and 70 times more CO2, respectively, than a person from Niger. However, to focus solely on greenhouse gas emissions is to overlook the devastating local environmental impact that even desperately poor people can have in terms of depleting aquifers, diverting and polluting rivers, overfishing, deforestation, erosion, and decimating wildlife.
As more countries strive to escape poverty and become more affluent, their per capita consumption and emissions will inevitably increase. The greater their population, the greater the impact will be.The developed world must cut its consumption, and developing countries must reduce and reverse their population growth. In order to ensure a sustainable future, governments must commit to making voluntary family planning universally available, while at the same time seeking ways to reduce the impact of each person.
Contact: Madeline Weld, PhD.
President, Population Institute Canada