Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Population blues

Okay, I know I am hardly the first (or even the millionth) to comment on this, but I was on a website today which had some population growth stats and they were terrifying. For example Pakistan has gone from 36 million people in 1950 to 157 million in 2005. It has more than quadrupled in 55 years. To put than in perspective, if the UK had grown at the same rate it would now have a population of 233 million!

Pakistan is far from alone. Over the same time dozens of countries have seen a similar expansion. Egypt has gone from 21 million to 74, and is on course for 125 million by 2050. Nigeria from 30 million to 158 million, and heading for 300 million. No wonder they are struggling!

These kind of expansions have happened before, for example in Europe during the industrial revolution, but they were starting from much lower bases. In the 1700s, France was one of the most populous countries in the world, with around 20 million people.

This is truly the elephant in the room of the environmental and development issues. For understandable reasons the international community has been loath to comment on such unsustainable growth (anti-colonialism, politics etc), but that has to change. 

What is the answer? I don't know, but for a start we can start to discuss it. It is often said that the only thing which reduces population growth rate is economic development and improved life expectancies. There is a lot of truth in this, but cultural factors also play a role.  We need to be able to have a robust and honest discussion about this, or we have a very bleak and crowded future ahead of us.

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