If every other family had one less child and parenthood was postponed by two years, by 2050 we would move Overshoot Day 49 days. *
Is it helpful to discuss population?
The United Nations projects that between 7.3 to 15.6 billion people will be living on Earth by 2100. Despite unevenness in our respective Footprints, as population increases, so does pressure on the planet. Powerful, people-positive solutions, such as empowering women and girls, are well known and promoted. And the social benefits are immediate and highly valuable in their own right. Ecological benefits manifest more slowly, yet the impact over time is massive.
However, population is a sensitive topic, full of taboos, prejudices, and a tragic, sordid history. The simple act of raising the topic may turn people off from the sustainability conversation altogether. At the same time, avoiding the population conversation does nothing to address one of the most significant contributors to humanity’s increasing demand on the planet. So, is it helpful to discuss population? We asked people around the world to share their thoughts on the topic, below.
By Vanessa Balintec
By Sérgio Ribeiro
By Florence Blondel
By Angie Nathalia Romero Gomez
By Anne and Paul Ehrlich
By Phil Fulton
By Carolina Rodríguez Balda
By Thibaud Aronson
By Erika M. Arias
By Majka Baur
By Lilia Angelone
By Brynn McGlinchey
By Jayani and Sathya
By Thomas Schinko
By Erin Bucchin
By Lila Sheira
By Céline Delacroix
By Mathis Wackernagel
*NOTE: If we continued as now, we would be at 9.7 billion. This is the UN medium variant estimate. If each mother or father had on average 1.8 children (= 0.9 children per person), compared to 2.3 currently, and parenthood was delayed by 2 years, we’d be at 7.7 billion in 2050. Assuming humanity’s Ecological Footprint per capita stays at 2020 levels (2.47 gha per person), the difference in 2050 would be 49 days.
Population projections are difficult to model. If the world as a whole were to embrace reproductive rates similar to those of Germany, the Goa and Kerala provinces of India, Italy, Japan, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, or Thailand, there could be fewer than 4 billion people on the planet by 2100, even as longevity increases. Or less than 3 billion if we followed Taiwan’s rates. And none of these places have policies which place restrictions on reproduction.
Download our population scenario calculator. Test the implications of fertility rates, age of mother, and mortality rates on future population sizes with our simple downloadable population scenario model. A discussion of possible population scenarios was published in Nature in September 2021, concluding that the range may be between 9 to 12.5 billion people by 2100.
Given the complexity of the population conversation and the care needed to appropriately address the related historical injustices, we believe it is important to hear directly from others. In particular, we want to highlight the voices of individuals who work in population-related fields or at the intersection of health and environment. Additionally, it was important to us that we included the voices of people who may or may not have children yet. Most of all, we wanted to elevate the voices of people who are part of groups that have been marginalized or targeted in the past. As part of that effort, we have compiled a range of viewpoints and additional assessments, including Global Footprint Network’s view articulated by Founder and President Mathis Wackernagel.
Read more in our blog post “Empowering women for a world that works for all.”
Read more about the impact of population size on carbon emissions.
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