There is little new in concern over population size and growth. Over 210 years ago (1798) Thomas Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population. In that book, he pointed out that the human population tends to grow geometrically, while the resources available to support it tend to grow arithmetically. Under those conditions, population will, inevitably, outgrow the supply of food that is available to fulfill its needs.
Malthus postulated that population growth was already outpacing the production of food supplies in 18th-century England. Further, he predicted that population growth would lead to degradation of the land, and eventually massive famine, disease and war.
Malthus presented his theory in response to optimists of his day who thought that mankind's ability to master the environment was limitless. Improvements in agriculture and the industrial revolution postponed the disaster that Malthus thought was imminent. But his ideas are even more applicable today.
While public concern about rapid population growth has subsided in recent decades, world population is still growing at more than 90 million people a year. If current trends persist, there will be nearly three billion more people on the planet by mid-century, bringing the total to nearly ten billion people. That projected population growth raises a host of questions about the future of humanity and the planet we inhabit.
Among the most important questions are those related to the ability of our world to house, feed, and provide safe water to ten billion people. This year, for the first time in history, over 1 billion people are estimated to go to bed hungry every day. High food prices and the global economic recession have pushed 100 million more people than last year into chronic hunger and poverty. Looking ahead, climate change, rising energy prices, and growing water scarcity will make it more difficult to grow the crops necessary to feed an expanding population. Mounting soil erosion and the loss of farm land will also add to the challenge of boosting food production.
Water scarcity is an alarmingly growing concern--in the face of nearly 1.5 billion people who do not have an adequate supply of fresh water. In many parts of the world today, major rivers no longer reach the ocean at some times of the year. In some areas, lakes are going dry and underground water aquifers are being rapidly depleted. And climate change, of course, will make the water situation even more critical. Drier areas will be more prone to drought, wetter areas more prone to flooding, and the summer runoff from snow pack and glaciers will diminish. In the face of water scarcity, many of the available water sources are contaminated and account for lives filled with disease, dehydration, and death. Read more about global water problems and Daedalus approach to alleviation of water poverty.
- Why Population Size and Growth Matters
With the world confronting a host of major crises relating to climate, energy, severe poverty, food, the global economy, and political instability, why should anyone be concerned about population? The simple answer is that virtually all of the major problems that confront the world today relate in some critical way to population size and growth.
As our global population grows, many situations and events are greatly exaggerated by the absolute numbers of people involved. Among the most important issues, and those upon which Daedalus is currently focused, are housing poverty, water poverty, and power generation. Solutions to those problems are best addressed in the framework of the creation of community and sustainable economic growth.
Daedalus does not take a position with regard to population growth and population control, rather it looks at population growth factually and objectively to determine opportunity and direction.
- Additional Sources of Information on
Several organizations attempt to provide a better appreciation for the impact of population size, population growth, and related matters. While the bulk of population growth will occur within developing countries during the first half of this century, there is little question that the impact will reach well into the daily lives of those in the developed world. Following is a sampling of sources of information:
- The Population Institute
- Population Action International
- The US Census Bureau
- United Nations Foundation
- Worldwatch Institute
- University of California Irvine