Wednesday, May 04, 2011

About that 9-Billion Population Ceiling

It's believed it wasn't until 1814 that mankind first reached a billion strong.  When I was born that had reached 2.5-billion.   This year our numbers swelled to 7-billion.

We had been told that we might actually reach 9-billion people by 2050 after which our numbers would begin to decline.  Now the UN has rejigged its calculations to warn that we'll probably hit 10.1-billion by the end of the century.  Its worst-case scenario would see that reaching 15.8-billion by 2100.

The projection has ''serious implications'' for the ability to provide food, water, energy, education and employment for millions of people in the poorest nations, said Hania Zlotnik, director of the population division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which released the report yesterday.

''Much of this increase is projected to come from high-fertility countries, which comprise 39 countries in Africa, nine in Asia, six in Oceania and four in Latin America,'' the report said.

 I'm guessing the UN has it wrong.  The very regions it has pegged to drive this population growth - Asia, Africa, Latin America, Oceania - are the regions that will be hardest hit by climate change and associated environmental threats.  They're already stressed by food security issues and that's not going to improve during this century in particular.

The existing 7-billion population level is already very problematic.  Especially in Africa and Asia we haven't developed systems appropriate to the population.   It was recently pointed out that 2.2-billion Asians now have cell phones, far more than have access to safe freshwater or toilets.  The latest UN stats indicate that, out of the 7-billion of us today, 2.6-billion don't have access to toilets.

One thing many of these regions do find money for, and lots of it, is armaments.  In Africa, despite a recession that slashed growth by half, armaments spending in 2011 was up a healthy 5.2%.    In 2010, Latin American arms purchases were at rates topping even Africa and Asia.  Meanwhile the massive rearmament of India and China including Blue Water navies and advanced missile technology continues to escalate.

All of these are regions that have plenty of better uses for that money but feel armaments are necessary for their security.  They're in a very real "guns or butter" dilemma and, too often, they're choosing guns.   Now with the combined impacts of population increases and climate change, is there any reason to believe they'll feel themselves more secure?   Will their threats, real or perceived, diminish?  Of course not.

Is it coincidental that the regions so busy rearming are also those areas that are most likely to experience climate wars, wars of sustenance?  The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has bluntly warned us that the environment, climate change, is likely to become a major driver of future war and conflicts.

We used to say "follow the money" but, today, "follow the water" is more apt.  Iraq is seeing levels in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers fall to dangerous levels and blames the upriver states of Turkey and Syria.   Egypt faces severe problems with its aquatic lifeline, the mighty Nile, due to the demands of its own upriver neighbours.   India and China already have armies squared off against each other in the Himalaya headwaters region.  India and Pakistan may face a similar conflict.

In the Holy Land, Israel remains determined to maintain its control of the Palestinian West Bank beneath which lie major aquifers Israel considers essential to its very survival.  Israel takes 73% of the Palestinian water.  Illegal settlers take another 10%.   The Palestinians are left with just 17%, whatever is not taken by Israelis.   One reason the Israelis are adamant about retaining some of the illegal settlements is to base a claim to the groundwater beneath.  Do you think there's going to be any peace there?   And you thought this was all about terrorism.

These problems are essentially intractable.  A burgeoning population can only magnify them.   With everyone arming themselves to the teeth, avoiding runaway military conflicts is going to become a great challenge, one that we don't seem prepared to meet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very scary. Imagine this population all heading north looking for water. Anyong