Counterpoint: Economist takes on NYTimes ‘Malthusian’ tendencies | 

Flickr, nch05

Lotsa Nigerians

Last week, the United Nations’ predicted which countries can expect to see the biggest increases in urban populations – China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and … the United States.

I’m still waiting for someone to provide a more detailed analysis of what this all means, since the US is included in a list of other “emerging” countries that many see as having problems with managing population growth.

But until that happens, let’s consider the New York Times’ close look at population growth in Nigeria, which is already the world’s 6th most populous nation with something like 167 million people.

As the Times’ Elizabeth Rosenthal writes in her report Nigeria tested by rapid rise in population:

In a quarter-century, at the rate Nigeria is growing, 300 million people — a population about as big as that of the present-day United States — will live in a country the size of Arizona and New Mexico. In this commercial hub, where the area’s population has by some estimates nearly doubled over 15 years to 21 million, living standards for many are falling.

The gist of the Times’ story is that it is population growth which is causing hardship for so many Nigerians.

Chris Blattman, an aid expert and Yale economist, thinks this is just hogwash. He criticizes the newspaper for reverting to the archaic theories of population doom along the lines of 18th century Rev. Thomas Malthus in his rejoinder to the Times’ story dubbed Mr. Malthus goes to Nigeria:

Ever year or so the Times likes to run a Chicken Little story, warning us of the impending demographic and youth time bomb. I’m willing to bet the tradition goes back several decades. The bomb, oddly enough, is still ticking. What about Asia and Latin America, where previous demographic crises have been predicted?

The point many like Blattman, and Michael Clemens at the Center for Global Development, want to make is that population growth, per se, is not the problem. Lack of economic growth is the problem. And, as Blattman notes implicitly, as communities prosper their birth rates decline.

Surprise? The US is predicted to be one of the world hotspots for urban growth | 

The world population continues to swell, and many of the growing numbers of people on the planet are moving to the cities. According to the UN, as reported by Alertnet, India, China, Nigeria, Indonesia and the United States will see the greatest urban population growth in the coming years.

The LA Times has a story on the UN urban growth report featuring this map showing which areas are growing fastest:

LA Times

If 7 billion people are living on Earth, how many are dying? | 

Flickr, aldinegirl87

One of the big news items this week was that the global human population was expected to reach 7 billion with a baby born on Halloween, according to a gang of UN statisticians.

That was yesterday. Today is Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos in Mexico.

So let’s talk about dying.

No, this is not a Malthusian strategy for popluation control. What we will examine is  how death actually causes population growth — and how little we know about why people die.

This will lead us into a discussion about a technique known as “verbal autopsies,” which some Seattle scientists are working to refine, and a new phone app that could help reduce the global birth/death burden on the planet.

It is truly a killer app.

First, it needs to be said that we can’t really know when the global population will have precisely crossed the 7 billion person threshold. In fact, as the BBC notes, we may be off by many months — or even years — in either direction with this estimate.

Secondly, we are equally in the dark about how and why people die, about 50 million per year. Most countries around the world have very poor mortality statistics.

But one thing we do know for certain is that those countries with the highest mortality rates are also the countries with highest population growth.

Huh? Yes, you read that right. Continue reading

World population soon to hit the 7 billion (or so) mark | 

Flickr, hikingartist.com

Sometime around Halloween, we’re told, the world’s 7th billion living person will be born.

It will be a statistical and somewhat sketchy milestone since there is no way to actually, accurately, identify this bouncing 7-billionth baby. That won’t stop anyone from trying, of course, and so the UN is suggesting each country identify its own 7th-billion baby.

Whether you should celebrate this milestone, recoil in horror or shrug depends upon your perspective regarding global population growth. Author of the the term (and book called) the “Population Bomb,” Paul Ehrlich continues to predict doom and gloom due to the swelling global population.

But Ehrlich’s earlier predictions of mass human starvation in the 1980s caused by too many people didn’t come true. Starvation still kills (as is happening right now in East Africa) but not really due to too many people. We still have enough food to feed everyone. The reason people starve today is due more to economic and political barriers.

Zambia is the world’s fastest growing nation, and also a low-income country. That’s generally regarded as being on the problem side of the population equation. Population growth and poverty are not a good mix. Yet for many poor farming communities in Africa, larger families translated into a larger family labor pool, as well as the parents only form of social security for when they get old or sick.

One of the main solutions to the problem of over-population and poverty is to educate girls and women about family planning, and to reduce the barriers for girls getting an education.

As this report from The Guardian notes, Tanzania is learning the value of education as a means to encouraging reduced family size:

A third of Tanzanians over 10 years old cannot read or write and those women with no education have an average of 6.9 babies. Women with a primary school education have 5.6 babies on average and those with secondary and higher education, just 3.2 babies.

So how much as the world’s population grown since you were born? I’m not a spring chicken and the world had only 2.8 billion people milling around when I came into being. China’s population was on the decline back then (due to extreme poverty and bad politics).

You can see for yourself how things have changed since your birth date using this interactive from The Guardian.

Scientists propose a ‘Five-Step Plan’ to save the planet | 

Flickr, Southernpixel Alby

A 5-step plan to save the planet sounds ridiculous, I know. But, as they say, even the longest journey begins with the first step.

Rather than simply get overwhelmed at all of the world’s many problems, an environment and land-use professor at the University of Minnesota and his colleagues decided to come up with a workable game plan to simultaneously deal with three major, overlapping forces that dictate our future:

Population growth, agriculture and the environment. Says study leader Jonathan A. Foley in an online article in Scientific American, Can We Feed the World and Sustain the Planet?:

Right now about one billion people suffer from chronic hunger. the world’s farmers grow enough food to feed them, but it is not properly distributed and, even if it were, many cannot afford it, because prices are escalating.

But another challenge looms.

By 2050 the world’s population will increase by two billion or three billion, which will likely double the demand for food, according to several studies.

That doesn’t sound too promising, especially when Foley and his colleagues go on to note that our current approach to agriculture uses about 40 percent of Earth’s land already and our approach to farming contributes about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. Most of our water use also goes to agriculture.

And if population growth continues at its current rate, we will need to double food production by 2050.

Yikes! Anyone planning a trip to Mars? Continue reading