Shanghai, China – July 11, 2117:
Today, the Chinese Demography Association (中国人口集团 / Zhongguo Renkou Jituan) announced that the global human population has topped 15 billion, and is continuing to increase. This means that the population has doubled in the past 100 years. This is a massive increase, but compared to earlier eras, the doubling time has decreased substantially. At its peak rate of increase in the late 20th century, doubling times were shorter, with the population doubling from 3 billion (1959) to 6 billion (1999) in a mere 40 years. Still, back then, the number of people and their resource use were less than half of what they are today.
If a demographer from the early 21st century were looking at our society now, they would no doubt think that the worst case scenario has come to pass. Many in those days believed that the human population expansion would slow substantially and then start to shrink before the year 2100. That has not happened, mostly due to the fact that many areas formerly known as the “developing world” never developed. They remained mired in poverty and misery, with few women’s rights and high birth rates. Regions such as Western Europe and North America saw decreasing birthrates for historic populations while immigrant populations from the undeveloped world more than made up for the declines of historic populations. This series of events led to demographic replacement, especially in Western Europe. The United States was less affected, but also encountered waves of migrants, including “white flight” from Europe.
China has had the foresight to weather the storm in its own region somewhat. More than a century ago, China implemented population planning that led to decreasing fertility rates. Currently, the population of China stands at 1.1 billion people, which is less than its population 100 years ago. The positive aspect is that China was able to focus on economic, demographic, and resource stability. The negative aspect is that the Chinese population makes up less than half the proportion of the world’s population that it did a century ago. On the other side of things is Nigeria, with a population of nearly one billion, which recently eclipsed the entire population of Europe.
Developed nations such as China, Russia, the United States, Japan, Korea, Australia, as well as parts of Eastern Europe and South America have attempted to limit immigration and steer their own course, with mixed results. A lot of times, illegal immigration is not properly dealt with, and opposition parties in these countries are not willing to stand strong against economic migrants. Western Europe has become a basket case with tribal wars from the outside encroaching on their lands and civil wars breaking out between historic populations and recent populations. Demographic challenges have directly or indirectly led to the failure of several states, including Sweden, Germany, France, and Belgium.
Overpopulation and unrestrained resource extraction also led to the complete annihilation of countries that are now fully submerged or uninhabitable. In recent decades, the entire population of the Maldives has moved (mostly to India), as have the populations of various former Pacific nations like Tuvalu.
Although the solar installed base has finally reached a decent level in the developed world, its implementation was stymied for decades during The Hubbert Cliff, when fossil fuels became extremely scarce and led to wars, starvation, and disease. Even during the most trying times, humans continued to reproduce, and the situation has remained at the breaking point in the undeveloped world.
World forest cover has decreased to 12% from 26% a century ago, and the vast majority of forest remaining is in scattered patches. People of 100 years ago lived in a world where tigers, rhinoceroses, and orangutans could still be found in the wild. While China has somewhat increased its forest cover due to reforestation projects and has brought back the panda from the brink of extinction, these efforts have not done much to stave off extinction in the world at large. In fact, Chinese lust for rhinoceros horns was a major reason for the extinction of rhinos in the wild. (Twelve still exist in captivity, with four in secret locations to protect them from poachers.)
China has embarked on a plan to finally deal with the overpopulation problem in the world, which includes the empowerment of women, and international programs that show the benefits of living without children, or with fewer children. Time will tell how much success this has.
Photo: “Crowd”, by Tinabold