Posted by steve on December 18, 2008
I’m worried. I have just been to a presentation of world population trends by the eminently informative Swedish Professor Hans Rosling from Karolinska Institute. It seem that world population is expected to continue to expand. The good news is that the number of children per woman is reducing in developing countries and stable in developed countries. Still, we are looking at the world overstepping nine billion in 2045.
We currently need to do better to feed the poor and forgotten, who number 890 million, or 13%. So how will the world feed this 34% increase? Modern agriculture requires large inputs of fossil fuel and fossil-fuel based products. At the same time, oil production per capita is expected to fall.
On returning back to the office I started plotting world population trends against oil consumption I managed to (this is back of the envelop stuff) get oil consumption from the International Energy Agency site, and population figures from Wikipedia.
I also reflected on what the professor said: that as standards rose, and in the presence of peace, fewer children per woman were born. This isi the mechanism that will stabilize world population.
To 2005 that is. If you then plot projected population rises against project oil production you get another picture:
This means that we are entering a new era, where each country has less oil per capita. Now, some countries are expanding their population faster than others. This leads to a few scenarios:
1) Those countries that expand their populations fast up to 2045 increase their share of oil and manage to retain or improve their living standards. For those industrialized countries it will mean a faster reduction in oil consumption per capita compared to the expanding countries.
2) ( See graph above.) Each country manages to keep the same proportion of consumption as now. The consequences will be that rapidly expanding countries will have less oil per capita and risk food shortages.
3) Some countries, possibly rich countries gain a larger proportion of the oil production and thereby fast growing countries will quickly face difficulties feeding the population.
From this “back of an envelope” analysis I see some rather stark conclusions:
- Abandoning economic growth as a goal and concentrating on security of supply of basic needs is a priority.
- Regardless of the stance taken towards countries with rising populations, all countries need to consider a Powering Down situation as they are looking at a reduction in the availability of fossil fuel in the next decade.
- Helping the poor and forgotten to rise to a minimum standard that gives food security should be a priority globally.
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