PG8C. Stay Current—Choosing a World

2023-01-30. The Alternative, Optimistic Story of Population Decline. [] By Wang Feng, New York Times opinion piece. Excerpt: China, the most populous country on the planet for centuries, this month reported its first population decline in six decades, …. By the end of the century China may have only around half of the 1.41 billion people it has now, according to U.N. projections, and may already have been overtaken by India. The news has been met with gloom and doom, often framed as the start of China’s inexorable decline and, more broadly, the harbinger of a demographic and economic “time bomb” that will strain the world’s capacity to support aging populations. …China is only the latest and largest major country to join a club that already includes Japan, South Korea, RussiaItaly and others. …But the alarmist warnings are often simplistic and premature. …Shrinking populations are usually part of a natural, inevitable process, and rather than focus excessively on concerns like labor shortages and pension support, we need to look at the brighter spots for our world. …The number of people on the planet more than tripled in seven decades, from 2.5 billion in 1950 to around eight billion in 2022. Turns out, that was a transitory phase when mortality rates fell faster than fertility rates because of improved nutrition and public health, and relative peace. …The population declines seen today in some countries have come about largely as a happy story of greater longevity and freedom. Fertility rates worldwide dropped from more than five births per woman in the early 1960s to 2.3 in 2020. Credit greater investment in child and maternal health everywhere: A mother who successfully brings her child to term and an infant who survives to childhood lower birthrates because parents often don’t feel the need to try again. Greater availability of free or affordable contraception has also reduced unwanted births. …Compared with a half-century ago, people in many countries are richer, healthier and better educated and women are more empowered. China’s population, for example, is shrinking and aging, but its people are more educated and have a longer life expectancy than at any time in the country’s history. Expanded educational opportunities guarantee a spot in a university for almost every person born today in China, including more women than men. Average world life expectancy has increased from 51 years in 1960 to 73 in 2019, and even more so in China, from 51 in 1962 to 78 in 2019. …Global population will inevitably decline. Rather than trying to reverse that, we need to embrace it and adapt….

2023-01-30. The Double Whammy Making Italy the West’s Fastest-Shrinking Nation. [] By Jason Horowitz, The New York Times. Excerpt: …Italy’s population is aging and shrinking at the fastest rate in the West, forcing the country to adapt to a booming population of elderly that puts it at the forefront of a global demographic trend that experts call the “silver tsunami.” But it faces a demographic double whammy, with a drastically sinking birthrate that is among the lowest in Europe. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has said Italy is “destined to disappear” unless it changes….

2022-10-05. Food Deficits in Africa Will Grow in a Warmer World. [] By Aaron Sidder, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Africa has one of the world’s fastest population growth rates. Growth models project the continent’s current population of about 1.3 billion people will nearly double to 2.5 billion by 2050—and it’s likely to keep growing beyond that. At the same time, malnutrition is widespread in Africa—21% of the population faces food insecurity—and the continent is especially vulnerable to climate change. Warmer regions are already experiencing desertification, and areas of low agricultural productivity are susceptible to climate shocks from adverse weather, drought, flooding, and erratic rainfall. The combined effects of population growth and climate change raise a serious question for the continent: How will Africa feed its growing populace in increasingly unfriendly conditions? Beltran-Peña and D’Odorico applied the results from agrohydrological, climate, and socioeconomic models to assess food self-sufficiency and climate vulnerability for 49 African countries under a scenario in which the global average temperature is 3°C above preindustrial levels by later this century. They found that under a 3°C warmer climate, Africa will face a severe mismatch between population size and food autonomy. By 2075, food production in Africa will be able to feed only 1.35 billion out of an estimated 3.5 billion people—a finding that already accounts for increased agricultural productivity through improved irrigation and sustainable practices. …The research also suggested steps to address the grim forecast. Increasing the proportion of plant-based foods consumed and improving water storage—particularly in arid regions—can help mitigate growing food insecurity…. …The second of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals is to end hunger and malnutrition. This research suggests this goal may not be feasible in Africa under the current emissions and warming paradigm. (Earth’s Future, 2022)…

2021-04-12. ‘Sink into your grief.’ How one scientist confronts the emotional toll of climate change. By David Malakoff, Science Magazine. Excerpt: “I was trained to be calm, rational, and objective, to focus on the facts,” sustainability scientist Kimberly Nicholas recalls in her new book, Under the Sky We Make: How to Be Human in a Warming World. But as research has increasingly revealed how climate change will forever alter the ecosystems and communities she loves, she has struggled to address her feelings of sadness. “My dispassionate training,” the Lund University researcher writes, has “not prepared me for the increasingly frequent emotional crises of climate change,” or how to respond to students who come to her to share their own grief. It’s a situation many scientists and professors are facing these days, Nicholas writes. “Being witness to the demise or death of what we love has started to look an awful lot like the job description.” But Nicholas says the untimely death of a close friend helped persuade her that the only way forward was to acknowledge that “we are not going to be able to save all the things we love.” Instead, she says, we have to “swim through that ocean of grief … and recognize that we still have time to act, and salvage many of the things we care about.” …In 2017, she and climate scientist Seth Wynes, now at Concordia University, published a high-profile paper showing the most effective actions to reduce an individual’s carbon footprint—such as flying less or shifting to a vegetarian diet—are rarely emphasized by governments or educators. But it was the study’s finding that going childless could dramatically reduce a person’s contribution to global warming that generated headlines—and controversy—around the world…. [

June 2016. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate …book by Naomi Klein, Polish edition released. The original book was published in 2014…. and several different language editions have followed in 2015 and 2016. A study guide and lesson plans with videos are now at

2014-06-10. Enter halophytes. Excerpt: …Salt kills most plants. …More than 97 per cent of the water on Earth is saline. …Of the 400,000 flowering plant species around the world, 2,600 do drink seawater. They are halophytes, meaning ‘salt-plant’, and they might just be the answer to a question surprisingly few governments have yet asked: namely, how can we put our planet’s practically infinite volumes of saltwater to good use? …between sea-level rise and the increase in droughts and floods, the acreage available for conventional, freshwater agriculture is shrinking rapidly. Freshwater aquifers are becoming increasingly salty…. Elsewhere, one-sixth of the world’s population relies on Eurasian rivers that trace back to Himalayan glaciers, which are themselves disappearing because of climate change. …Meanwhile, we are trying to replace our fossil fuels with bio alternatives. …The only catch is, they come from plants that also have to be grown and cultivated. With limited arable land and increasingly limited freshwater supplies….  Air travel, in fact, might just be the factor that forces the issue. In 2015, the world’s airplanes are projected to consume 75 billion gallons of jet fuel, and consumption is expected to keep growing some 3-4 per cent per year through the next two decades. At NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, Bilal Bomani runs the Green Lab, a research and teaching lab that investigates both halophyte- and algae-based biofuels in aviation. He guesses that actual shortages will drive the industry to look to new resources. ‘We do not have fuel that will sustain us for the next 50 years,’ Bomani says. ‘You’re either going to do it now, or you’re going to be forced to do it later. …as a key that unlocks agriculture across four-tenth’s of the world’s land mass, they clearly deserve our close attention…. By Mark Anderson, Aeon Magazine. 

2012 June 12. Woolly Mammoth Extinction Has Lessons for Modern Climate Change. By Alison Hewitt, ScienceDaily. An article relevant to GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 8. Excerpt: Although humans and woolly mammoths co-existed for millennia, the shaggy giants disappeared from the globe between 4,000 and 10,000 years ago, and scientists couldn’t explain until recently exactly how the Flintstonian behemoths went extinct…although hunting by people may have contributed to the demise of woolly mammoths, contact with humans isn’t the only reason this furry branch of the Elephantidae family went extinct. By creating the most complete maps to date of all the changes happening thousands of years ago… researchers showed that the extinction didn’t line up with any single change but with the combination of several new pressures on woolly mammoths…”It’s not just the climate change that killed them off,” MacDonald said. “It’s the habitat change and human pressure. Hunting expanded at the same time that the habitat became less amenable.”….

2010 Mar 3. Life After Growth. by Richard Heinberg. Excerpt: …there are fundamental constraints to ongoing economic expansion, and the world is beginning to encounter those constraints. This is not to say the U.S. or the world will never see another quarter or year of growth relative to the previous year. Rather, the point is that when the bumps are averaged out, the general trend-line of the economy (measured in terms of production and consumption of real goods) will be level or downward rather than upward from now on.
…To survive and thrive for long, societies have to operate within the planet’s budget of sustainably extractable resources. This means that even if we don’t know exactly what a desirable post-growth economy and lifestyle will look like, we know enough to begin working toward them.
…It is possible for economies to persist for centuries or millennia with no or minimal growth. That is how most economies operated until recent times. If billions of people through countless generations lived without economic growth, we can do so as well—now and far into the future. The end of growth does not mean the end of the world.
…Life in a non-growing economy can be fulfilling, interesting, and secure. The absence of growth does not imply a lack of change or improvement. Within a non-growing or equilibrium economy there can still be a continuous development of practical skills, artistic expression, and technology….
…No one seriously expects human population to continue growing for centuries into the future. But imagine if it did—at just 1.3 percent per year (its growth rate in the year 2000). By the year 2780 there would be 148 trillion humans on Earth—one person for each square meter of land on the planet’s surface. 
It won’t happen, of course….

2008 Summer. Making Megacities Livable. The Interdependent, Vol. 6 No. 2. pp. 31-32. Excerpt: In 1900 150 million people lived in cities. By 2000, it was 2.8 billion people, a 19-fold increase. As of 2008, more than half of us are living in cities – making us, for the first time, an urban species. In 1900 there were only a handful of cities with a million people. Today 414 cities have at least that many inhabitants. And there are 20 megacities with 10 million or more residents. Tokyo, with 35 million residents, has more people than all of Canada. Mexico City’s population of 19 million is nearly equal to that of Australia. New York, São Paulo, Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Delhi, Shanghai, Kolkata (Calcutta) and Jakarta follow close behind. Rethinking How We Get Around [We] are seeing the emergence of a new urbanism, a planning philosophy that environmentalist Francesca Lyman says “seeks to revive the traditional city planning of an era when cities were designed around human beings instead of automobiles.” One of the most remarkable modern urban transformations has occurred in Bogotá, Colombia, where Enrique Peñalosa served as mayor for three years. Under his leadership, the city banned the parking of cars on sidewalks, created or renovated 1,200 parks, introduced a highly successful bus-based rapid transit system, built hundreds of kilometers of bicycle paths and pedestrian streets, reduced rush-hour traffic by 40 percent, planted 100,000 trees and involved local citizens directly in the improvement of their neighborhoods. In doing this, he created a sense of civic pride among the city’s eight million residents, making the streets of Bogotá in this strife-torn country safer than in Washington, DC.

2008 April 11. Can People Have Meat and a Planet, Too? By ANDREW C. REVKIN. NY Times. Excerpt: The world has seen the first international conference on manufacturing meat. This is the process, tested so far only at laboratory scale, of growing pork, chicken, or beef through cell culture in vats instead of raising and slaughtering animals.
…The three-day meeting of the In Vitro Meat Consortium, held at the Norwegian Food Research Institute, is wrapping up today. It brought together biologists, engineers, government officials and entrepreneurs seeking – for both environmental and ethical reasons – to move from animal husbandry to technology as a means of providing the kind of protein people crave in a world heading toward 9 billion ever more affluent mouths.
A paper presented at the meeting concluded that, for the moment, the costs of cultured meat can’t come close yet to competing with, say, unsubsidized chicken. (A pdf is downloadable here.) The paper noted the reality of the climb up the protein ladder as countries move out of poverty, with global meat consumption at about 270 million metric tons in 2007 and growing at about 4.7 million tons per year.
It laid out the theory: “The environmental impact of meeting this forecast demand from existing livestock systems is significant. Cultured meat technology offers an alternative production route for a proportion of this consumption. This would then allow a downsized livestock production system to continue to be ecologically sound and to meet basic animal welfare needs.”
The group noted that costs for research, large-scale testing, and public relations will be significant, and anticipated that governments and nonprofit groups would chip in. That seems idealistic, at best, in a world with deeply entrenched interests linking ranching, the agrochemical industry, and giant restaurant chains.
…For the moment, startup costs aside, the conferees concluded that unsubsidized chicken-raising still comes in at half the price. But the century is yet young…

cover for GSS book Population Growth

Non-chronological resources

Population Activities

Population Reference Bureau

United Nations Population fund