Tag Archives: population

One Planet, Too Many People?

Mumbai, India. (Photo: Deepak Gupta)

Mumbai, India. (Photo: Deepak Gupta)

This was first posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on March 7, 2012

Professor Joel E. Cohen stood at the lectern, looked out over the crowd with his round, mischievous eyes and, with a click, posted a slide on the large screen to his right that brought a world of problems down to a more human scale.

There appeared two photos of door handles: one, a simple round knob, the second, a lever. This commonplace device, he explained, set the scale of the engineering challenge for a society whose population grows increasingly older: For the elderly who may have lost the hand-power of their youth, these two designs illustrate the difference between getting out and staying put.

The solution is a simple engineering fix, but on a daunting scale, when you think of all the doorknobs in all the cities of the world. But it’s possible. And that theme drove an Earth Institute-led discussion at Columbia Monday about the challenges faced in a world projected to reach 9.5 billion people by the year 2100.

Three-quarters of these people will be crowded into increasingly unmanageable cities. In some regions, such as North America and Europe, they will be older; in others, such as Africa, predominately under 30; many will be desperately poor. They will have different, and rising needs. Continue reading

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Population, Consumption and the Future

life exp male

life exp 2

First posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on April 27, 2012.

As the world population grows toward 10 billion, consumption of water, food and energy is expanding at a rate that cannot be maintained without depleting the planet’s resources. If we fail to address these two issues together, we face a grim future of economic, social and environmental ills, warns a new report prepared by a group of scientists and other experts for the Royal Society.

The report “People and the Planet,” published this week by the London-based society, examines trends in population and consumption and points to some stark realities:

  • While population increase has been declining since the mid-1960s, experts project we will still add 2.3 billion people by 2050, much of it in increasingly crowded cities.
  • Along with an increasing demand for basic needs, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is striking. For instance, the report says, “a child from the developed world consumes 30-50 times as much water as one from the developing world.” By 2025, the report says, 1.8 billion people could be living in areas where water is a scarce commodity.
  • A similar gap holds for food and energy: While average consumption of calories has increased, in 2010 “close to one billion people did not receive enough calories to reach their minimum dietary energy requirements.” Per capita emissions of CO2 “are up to 50 times higher in high income than low income countries, with energy insufficiency a major component of poverty.”

“The world now has a very clear choice,” concluded Sir John Sulston, a fellow of the Royal Society and chairman of the report’s working group. “We can choose to address the twin issues of population and consumption. We can choose to rebalance the use of resources to a more egalitarian pattern of consumption, to reframe our economic values to truly reflect what our consumption means for our planet and to help individuals around the world to make informed and free reproductive choices.  Or we can choose to do nothing and to drift into a downward vortex of economic, socio-political and environmental ills, leading to a more unequal and inhospitable future.”

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Unsettled by Climate Change

First published on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on Oct. 27, 2011.

severe drought, Horn of Africa

Short rainfall from October to December of 2005 caused Kenyans to experience a severe drought throughout early 2006. Drought over the past two years is once again causing displacement in the Horn of Africa, and now leading to famine in parts of Somalia. Photo: (c) Beatrice Spadacini/CARE

Climate change already laps at the edges of some communities, disrupting local economies and habitat, and forcing resettlement. But a new study says that any efforts to offset the effects of shifting climate could lead to even more displacement and disruption for many people, particularly the poor.

The new analysis by an international team of researchers argues that while climate change will force even more people to move, it’s unclear how many people will be affected, where they will come from and where they will go. And, they say, researchers have yet to sort out the relative role of climate versus other factors that induce migration, such as economic uncertainty and political unrest. Continue reading

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