Episode 5: 7 Billion People: Will Everyone Please Relax?

It’s a huge number. But it’s not what you think.

You are very confident about the earth’s population leveling off and then falling. How can you prove this? After all, population is still growing.

Population is still technically growing, but according to the United Nation Population Division’s numbers, that growth is slowing dramatically.

The United Nations Population Division (UNPD) is the most reliable source of population statistics in the world, which is why we use their numbers for our videos. And, according to the UNPD, population growth will continue to slow down over the next few decades. In fact, if current trends persist, our growth will halt right around 8 billion by 2045. After that, our numbers will start to fall off, slowly at first, and then faster.

If you find this whole idea counterintuitive, don’t worry! You’re not alone. At first glance, it really does seem like population is skyrocketing. That’s because we’re still adding a billion people every few decades . . . and a billion people is a lot of people. But the way we can tell that population is not ballooning out of control is precisely the fact that we’re only adding a billion people each time. And soon, we won’t even be adding that many.

You claim that the UN’s predictions are reliable. How reliable have they historically been?

Again, it depends on which variant you use. In our research, we’ve looked at the UN’s predictions and how they have compared with real life–and in every case the “low variant” has been the most accurate. You can run the numbers yourself here

Even if population growth is slowing down, a billion people every 15 years is still a lot of people. Isn’t this still a problem?

It is a lot of people. And of course, greater numbers bring their own challenges and issues. But there isn’t any convincing evidence to show that the size of our population is the cause of the world’s most pressing issues, like war, famine, disease, and poverty.

Let’s put it another way. Since we have more people, our wars are bigger. Our famines may affect more people, and more people will have diseases and be poor. But population growth didn’t create these problems–they have have existed since people have existed.

In other words, we can’t blame population for problems that have been around forever. The only difference is, since there are more of us now, these problems affect more people.

Why has the global total fertility rate dropped so much?

Scientists are still debating exactly why, but there’s no doubt that it is happening. All over the world, birthrates have been dropping quickly, and for nearly 50 years now.

Many demographers think that it is because more and more people are urbanizing (moving into large cities). When families live out in the country on farms, it makes more economic sense to raise larger families, so that they have people to help them and care for them in their old age. It’s also true that cities tend to have better healthcare facilities, which reduce infant mortality. This in turn means that parents end up having fewer children, since more of their existing children are surviving to adulthood.

Demographic expert Philip Longman observes, in his book The Empty Cradle, “As more and more of the human race find itself living under urban conditions in which children no longer provide any economic benefit to their parents, but are rather costly impediments to material success, people who are well adapted to this new environment will tend not to reproduce themselves. And many others who are not so successful will imitate them.” (p.31, available here)

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