The last time the United Nation’s Population Division issued their World Population Prospects projections, the math they shared in the medium variant projection indicated that global population would surpass 8 billion in February 2023.
Students of global human population trajectory will note that seven billion was passed in 2011, meaning a net growth of 1 billion people will have occurred in just 12 years (2023 - 2011 = 12). Unfortunately, this volume of population growth (adding 1 billion in 12 years) is as large as it has ever been. Global population reached four billion in 1974; five billion came 13 years later in 1987; and, six billion came 12 years later in 1999.
The 2019 World Population Prospects also indicate that global population will eclipse nine billion by 2037. This would mean adding the ninth billion would take a bit longer – 14 years. Ten billion is projected to be surpassed in 2057, meaning that adding the tenth billion would take a full 20 years. In some narrow sense, that is good news.
But, our thinking should probably boil down instead to “8 is Enough!” If it can be fairly avoided, why would we hope nine billion is ever breached?
Ecological footprint analysis shows that in the aggregate, humanity is already in overshoot. The litany of poorly performing environmental health indicators is uncontestable. The Great Acceleration — defined as “the dramatic, continuous and roughly simultaneous surge in growth rate across a large range of measures of human activity” — continues practically unabated.
Taking action to help slow down, stop, and eventually reverse population growth is one of many investments that should be made by the people of today to help deliver our descendants the best possible chance at achieving sustainability. This is not to suggest that population is the only problem facing humanity, or even that it is the undisputable priority actions for near term mitigation of the greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity crises.
Population Media Center’s aspirations for a sustainable global civilization include human lifestyles that are healthy, comfortable, and enjoyable at a decent standard of living. To help achieve a global community that is fair we think the world must work on these three large tasks:
- Raise consumption/access to resources for the impoverished people of the world.
- Reduce over-consumption, especially in the gluttonous states – like the United States.
- Create the conditions for population growth to stop and decrease - which requires lower global fertility.
The important point to remember about the approaching 8 billion threshold is that given enough investments in improving reproductive health, reproductive autonomy, and women’s and girl’s social status and self-determination the world could still avoid ever reaching 9 billion. The UN even says as much by calculating the “low variant” population projections. In this calculation, fertility is projected to remain 0.5 children below the fertility in the medium variant over most of the projection period. By 2045-2050, fertility in the low variant is therefore half a child lower than that of the medium variant. The low variant projection never gets past nine billion.
There is still time to avoid the 9 billion threshold. As 8 billion approaches in early 2023, we should all be thinking, “8 is Enough!”