Joel Cohen: A Close Eye on Population Growth

October 10, 2012 • Daily Email Recap

The following article was published in the Harvard Gazette in the “Environments and Sustainability” section. The story is reporting on a lecture given by Joel Cohen at the Harvard Kennedy School’s (HKS) Belfer Building in a seminar co-sponsored by the Harvard School of Public Health’s Center for Population and Development Studies and the HKS Sustainability Science Program.

A close eye on population growth
Specialist branches into economic, environmental issues in Harvard talk
By Alvin Powell, Harvard Staff Writer, Saturday, October 6, 2012


Projections that global population growth will level out in coming decades are not assured, an expert said Wednesday, adding that just a one-child difference in global fertility would mean an extra 10 billion people by century’s end.

“It matters enormously what we do right now,” said Joel Cohen, a professor at Rockefeller University and head of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller and Columbia universities. “The world is not fixed. Demography is not destiny. We can influence the world of our children and grandchildren by what we do right now.”

At today’s rate, population would skyrocket by 2100, to 27 billion from today’s 7 billion, Cohen said. But growth has been slowing steadily in recent decades. Projections see the pace continuing to slow as it approaches the replacement growth rate of about 2.1 children per family, putting the world population between 9 billion and 10 billion by 2100.

But relatively small differences in fertility could dramatically change the outcome, Cohen said. A half-child reduction in the fertility rate would see global population peak and then fall back to 6 billion by 2100. A half-child increase in the rate would mean population would continue to climb, reaching some 16 billion by the end of the century.

Population growth is a key factor in addressing a host of big problems, but not the only one, Cohen said. Economic issues, cultural influences, and environmental effects also must be considered if nations are to address major issues such climate change, hunger, and the disparity between rich and poor.

“To understand the solution of any real human problem, if you don’t have these four elements, you’re going to run aground,” Cohen said.

To read the full article, please click here:

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