Is eight billion enough?

Published: Wed, 11/30/22

Apparently the world population has just reached eight billion people. The statistics have been stacking up for quite some time, so no great surprise there. What is striking is the way that population has grown over the long term, and then at a very different rate, in recent times.
It is estimated (with what degree of accuracy I have no idea) that around 10,000 BC there were around 4 million people in the world, which is less than half the 9 million who currently reside in Londaon, the UK’s capital, right now. By the year 0, when the Roman empire was at its height, there may well have been about 190 million people in the world followed by a fairly steady increase to about 600 million in 1700. The number by the start of the 18th century might have been higher except that the black death had killed off between a quarter, and a half, of the population of Europe in the mid 14th century. The first billion people were in present on the planet around the time of the Napolionic wars in the first decade or two of the 19th century. My father and mother were born in 1923 and 1926 respectively just before the second billion people accumulated in 1928. When I was born in 1959 the world population was still less than 3
billion (that milestone being passed in 1960). My daughter is three in a couple of weeks and between the birth of her grand parents and her third birthday the human population of the world has increased by 6 billion. Yet in the 12,000 years prior to her grand parent’s birth the population had grown by less than a third of that number.
It is quite an extraordinary situation to have lived through. Less than 100 years for the population to grow 2 to 8 billion and 5 billion of those people have arrived in my lifetime alone.
So, how did we get to this situation? The population didn’t really start growing quite rapidly until the late medieval period. The climate was quite favorable for growing food between the 12th and 16th century. The weather did get colder in the 17th century, but the agricultural revolution was getting underway, followed by the industrial revolution, which not only produced more food than ever before, but enabled efficient distribution over greater than ever distances. The population increase in the past 100 years is partly due to simple maths in that exponential growth from 200 million is going to produce a lot fewer people than from 2 billion. It has been possible to feed pretty much everyone alive today, as well as provide housing, and other necessities, through the exploitation of hydrocarbon fuels. The most important being the many products which can be derived from oil, from heavy fuel oil, to propane gas, and natural gas
which is mainly methane. Not only do these gifts of nature enable world wide transport, manufacturing, and the generation of electricity, fertilisers are also produced from hydrocarbon fuels enabling abundant food production. The disruptions in the supply chains created by enforcing sanctions against Russia have demonstrated how essential to prosperity is the supply of hydrocarbon based energy. All apparent shortages of energy are artificially created to achieve ideological, political, and especially financial goals. The needs of everyone alive today can be met so long as we do not fall for the combined machinations of profit crazy corporations, politicians determined to maintain hegemonic global power, and deluded green fascists.
What are the implications for the future? There are predictions that ‘based on current trends’ the world population may reach 12 billion by the end of this century. The ‘based on current trends’ argument is often, fairly meaningless. Around 1970 the predictions for oil usage ‘based on then current trends’ indicated that we would have completely run out of oil by 1980 or so. My father worked in the oil industry and so I asked him for his opinion. He pointed out that the rate of increase of consumption which had happened in the previous half century would level out, as indeed it did. He also said that there would be new sources of oil discovered, as indeed there were. I think he was also wrong in believing that hydrocarbon fuels (apart from coal) are a finite fossil reserve at all. For many years the Russians have worked on the basis that oil and gas are produced deep in the earth and will be available indefinitely. Over 50 years
on from that conversation with my father there is no talk of shortage of available hydrocarbons. Today the effort goes into spinning ‘man made climate change’ as an excuse for maximising profit by manipulating the supply chains for oil and gas while planning ‘carbon taxes’ and offset schemes which will generate billions for big financial corporations.
Population growth over the entire world population may have reached 8 billion. The United Nations speculates that, again based on those ‘current trends’ the population of the world might reach about 12 billion by the end of this century. However, in many parts of the world, especially Europe, Japan, and many other ‘advanced’ societies the indigenous populations have actually been declining for a generation or so. Just eight countries are projected to be responsible for more than half the world’s population increase in the next 30 years, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines and five African countries. At the moment these nations have high birth rates, but that may not continue as prosperity increases, or food supplies decline. Either of these contrasting factors can reduce population.
Human sperm counts and concentrations have apparently declined by around 62% since the 1970s. No one seems to know why but this trend may soon have a very real effect on fertility levels. Perhaps the most crucial factor is that while we may have more people than ever before but we also have an older population with a corresponding decline in overall fertility rates.
It is quite possible that the human population living on planet earth has already peaked in terms of births, but not average age. As the older population dies off the overall population will actually begin to drop.
I find myself wondering what kind of world will my daughter be living in by the time she is my age. The past century has been a period of rapid growth. Quadrupling the population meant an endless supply of labour, an ever expanding demand for borrowed money, housing, consumer goods, food production, entertainment, pharmaceuticals etc etc.
What will it mean to live in a world with a declining population and a corresponding contraction in demand? Capitalism is based on constant growth of both supply and demand. Capitalism depends upon the expansion of debt to pay for increased production, and ever increasing sales of goods and services and tax revenues to service those debts. Capitalism is not a viable model for sustaining a stable, let alone a declining, population. Can we really make the adjustment to a really sustainable society where meeting the genuine needs of each person and creating healthy communities is the real priority? The corporations which are dependent upon continuous growth will become a liability which the world will have to leave behind along with its addiction to disposable consumer goods and other wasteful practices.
We live in the world we do largely because of the extraordinary population growth of the past two centuries. A falling population is going to create a very different world with very different needs, values, and aspirations. I would like to thing that humanity is equal to meeting these challenges.
PS We are organising a course for the 25th of February in the South West. Not sure of the exact venue yet, probably Salisbury but we will confirm in the next week and get a web page up soon.
Graham Butcher
21 Beaver Road
Beverley East Yorkshire HU17 0QN

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