Many writers today suggest that overpopulation of planet earth is no longer a real concern. They point to declining birth rates in most countries, and the likelihood that some countries, such as Russia and Japan, will lose significant population in the decades ahead. The term some writers use to describe this trend of lower birth rates is “birth dearth,” and some suggest that soon we will face a global problem of underpopulation.
But they are quite mistaken. Declining birth rates for now simply mean that world population will not grow as fast as projected a few years ago, but it will still grow substantially for the foreseeable future. And it will grow faster than the projection of just two years ago because demographers now realize that they significantly overestimated the birth dearth.
In 1950, the population of the globe was 2.5 billion. Today it is 7.2 billion, and if current trends continue it will reach a total of 9.6 billion in 2050, and nearly 11 billion by the end of the century. The latter projection is 700 million higher than the estimate of two years ago.
The reason is that population growth in some places, most notably the African Continent, is not declining but increasing. As a recent (7/10/13) article in the Los Angeles Times observed, “The number of people living [in Africa] is set to nearly quadruple by the end of the century, rather than merely tripling, as previously projected.” The article noted that the Texas-size country of Nigeria, with a population of 160 million today, could soar above the U.S. in population by mid-century and rival the population of China by the end of the century.
Again, birth dearth and population decline will be an issue in some countries as the 21st century unfolds. But worldwide, the challenge will be greater than ever to deal with the prospect of surging numbers for perhaps another hundred years or more. Specifically, that challenge will require hard decisions involving resource management, family planning and immigration.
World population was a big concern during the 1960s, but in the decades since then many have tried to ignore it. This “attention dearth” is a luxury we won’t be able to afford for too much longer.