Can the world feed 7 billion people?

31/10/2011 at 8:10 am 2 comments

This month, the world’s human population is said to have crossed the 7 billion mark.

This news produced lots of conferences, seminars and articles, on the question that is also the title of this blog post. So we thought it would be helpful to produce a digest of those articles:

  • The UN forecasts that world population will rise to 9.3 billion in 2050 and surpass 10 billion by the end of this century. (See the UN stats on population)
  • Many commentators have stressed that this is good news: around the world people are living longer, healthier, more productive lives. Thanks to the advances in public health, fewer people die prematurely, and we now have a world with 7 billion people with possibilities.
  • The UN’s Population Fund also highlighted that on average, women now have fewer babies than ever before. The Total Fertility Rate (TFR – the average number of live births per woman over her lifetime) in OECD countries stands at around 1.74 (where 2.3 is the level needed to keep a population levels stable). The big news is that countries like China and India, where the TFR was 6.1 and 5.9 respectively in 1950, now have birth rates of 1.8 in China, and 2.6 in India.
    (Look up your country’s population projections here). We should be speaking of “fertility decline”, therefore, in combination with population growth. (Also read this Washington Post article)
  • As this excellent article on the BBC website argues, these statistics tend to fuel Malthusian doom scenarios in people’s minds. Thomas Malthus believed that humans would always reproduce faster than Earth’s capacity to feed them, and that it was better to let the poor starve – a theory the impact of which was felt during the great Irish Famine and bizarrely widespread, still today.

So the key points to take away from this month’s discussions about the growing world population are:

And this is where the main argument of the discussion should be made: While it is true that the biggest population growth happens in poor countries, it is the millions of people in rich countries that pose the biggest problems for the world.

The average person in Ireland impacts 5 times more on the planet’s resources than does the average Ethiopian.

As Paul Ehrlich (author of that Malthusian book, “The Population Bomb”) says in this article, if he were to write his book today,:

“I wouldn’t focus on the poverty-stricken masses. I would focus on there being too many rich people. It’s crystal clear that we can’t support seven billion people in the style of the wealthier Americans.”

Also read:

– Population Bomb? So wrong – How Electricity, Development, and TV Reduce Fertility

– “The 7 Billion Debate

– “A World of 7 Billion

– “Population is not the problem

– “I am the Population Problem

“Six Steps to Food Security in a Seven-Billion World”

– “Is the environmental crisis caused by the 7 billion, or the 1%?

– “Investment in Reproductive Health is key to breaking the cycle of Poverty

Entry filed under: Development Effectiveness. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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