Is the world headed toward zero population growth?
It seems totally counter-intuitive, but it looks like the ZPG crowd may win out after all: The rate of global population growth is now declining, and within our lifetime, we could see the population stabilize and actually start to decrease.
But wait, you say… didn’t world population hit 7 billion last year?
It took humankind 13 years to add its 7 billionth. That’s longer than the 12 years it took to add the 6 billionth—the first time in human history that interval had grown. (The 2 billionth, 3 billionth, 4 billionth, and 5 billionth took 123, 33, 14, and 13 years, respectively.) In other words, the rate of global population growth has slowed. And it’s expected to keep slowing. Indeed, according to experts’ best estimates, the total population of Earth will stop growing within the lifespan of people alive today.
And then it will fall.
If this plays out, it’s the best news I’ve heard so far this millennium. As science fiction writer Isaac Asimov pointed out way back in the ’70s, most of the worlds problems – energy, pollution, disease, hunger, poverty – stem directly from the simple fact that here are too many people. His greatest fear was that humanity would never voluntarily cut back on our rate of increase, and we’d have pestilence, war and famine do it for us.
Wise tosses out some encouraging numbers:
- From 1960 to 2009, Mexico’s fertility rate tumbled from 7.3 live births per woman to 2.4,
- India’s dropped from six to 2.5
- Brazil’s fell from 6.15 to 1.9.
- Even in sub-Saharan Africa, where the average birthrate remains a relatively blistering 4.66, fertility is projected to fall below replacement level by the 2070s.
When Asimov argued for Zero Population Growth 40 years ago, fellow-author Larry Niven said that the only thing he was going to accomplish was to selectively breed humanity for “people who are too stupid to understand Dr. Asimov’s arguments”.
But Asimov projected we’d hit 7 billion by the year 2000. We’re already doing much, much better than he feared. At this rate, we may all see Asimov’s zero population growth in our lifetime ….
(Image from the White Ribbon Alliance)