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About the Author

Vihar Georgiev
PhD Student (Bulgaria)

I am a PhD student at the European Studies Department at the Philosophy Faculty of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”. I graduated as Master of Law from the Law Faculty Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.

Post

Population Series 1: the World Is Changing

Published 04th May 2010 - 2 comments - 9105 views -

Introduction

The world is changing. Each year one species is conquering more and more territory on Planet Earth, ruthlessly reshaping its environment in ways never seen before. More and more human beings come into existence every day. In fact, by the time you read this article, a few hundred babies will cry out for the first time, quite outpacing the number of deaths (check the world population clock now).

That is the phenomenon of the “population bomb” – the quick rise of world population especially after the 18th century AD.

World Population 1 AD - 1950 AD

But why is this so important? Well, this population growth is changing all aspects of the human condition, often in unforeseen ways. Urbanization, poverty, wars, migration - you name it – it can all be linked to demographic pressures. We think about demographic pressure as the interrelation of population growth, decline, and various social and environmental processes.

All the more importantly, most of population growth today happens in developing countries. That is why I will, in a series of posts, try to present what we know at the moment about population growth, and its link to social change, economic development, and environmental degradation.

Now, let’s begin with the basics.

Population Growth in a Nutshell

For many, many years human population was relatively stable, growing very slowly over time. This history of human population and civilization is captured in detail by Jared Diamond in his book “Guns, Germs and Steel” (see a good intro here). Then suddenly, in the beginning of 19th century, technology allowed populations to grow much faster, almost doubling just in one century.

From there, the sky was the limit. From 1950 to 2010 world population has grown 2.7 times – that is, almost tripling in sixty years!

World Population Growth 1950-2050

As you can see, this growth occurred mainly in developing countries. Why is that?

Enter: Demographic Transition

Something happened to developed countries’ populations. Fertility rate (the ratio of live births in an area to the population of that area) began to drop. At the same time mortality rate (ratio of total deaths to total population in an area) continued to decrease. Demographers called this “the demographic transition” – characterized by low fertility, long life and an old population.

The majority of developing countries still have total fertility rates above 2,1 births per woman (that is the so called “replacement level). In 47 developing countries the fertility rate is above 4 births per woman, and there are also some really extreme cases (see the table below). These countries have not yet experienced the demographic transition. Population growth is really staggering, and social, economic, and environmental systems often become inadequate to cope with the pressure.

TFR 2010

At the same time 60 developing countries with 43 percent of the world's population have fertility rate at or below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. They have gone through the demographic transition and now their populations are aging. However, they lack the resources of developed countries needed to sustain their economic growth in the future.

The Thousand Challenges

This picture of demographic change has many consequences. In the following posts I will try to outline some of them – such as challenges to economic development, environmental degradation, water scarcity, conflict, and migration. I will also discuss urbanization trends, family planning, sex ratios, the “demographic bonus”, and other important issues.

In the mean time you can also check out the posts on population by fellow th!nkers Stefan May (here) and Giedre Steikunaite (here and here).

Oh, and have a look again at the world population clock. Do you notice something?



Comments

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 04th May 2010:

    Population growth is indeed a very important issue, one that cannot be ignored any longer.

    Waiting for your posts, Vihar!


  • Aija Vanaga on 06th May 2010:

    Can’t be ignored, but how should it be approached?


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