Our Overcrowded Planet: A Failure of Family Planning
New UN projections forecast that world population will hit nearly 11 billion people by 2100, an unsettling prospect that reflects a collective failure to provide women around the world with safe, effective ways to avoid pregnancies they don’t intend or want.
By Robert Engelman
Until just a couple weeks ago, the great global food challenge was how to feed 9 billion people in 2050. But no longer – the number of mid-century mouths just jumped. Now it’s projected to be 9.6 billion, closing in on double-digit billions. And forget about expectations that world population will stabilize this century: By 2100, according to the latest projections, the number of people on the planet will hit 10.9 billion – and will still be growing by 10 million a year.
These hundreds of millions of unanticipated future humans come from the “medium-fertility,” or best-guess, calculations of United Nations demographers, who this month released their biannual projections of future world population. And what a surprise their calculations are, dashing the hopes of optimists who had been assuming that human fertility is falling everywhere and that population growth would end “on its own” within a few decades.
What’s interesting about the new projections, however, isn’t what they say about future populations. Not even demographers, after all, know how many people will be living 50 years from now. What’s interesting is what the numbers say about today’s 7.2 billion humans. Because what the new projections say especially loudly, based in large part on the 2010 round of country censuses, is that women in many of the world’s poorest and most conflict-prone countries are having significantly more children than previously thought, largely because many governments are no longer making family planning a high priority.
Only 10 years ago, based on then-current childbearing trends, the UN Population Division was projecting that there would be no more than 8.9 billion people alive in 2050. That number just jumped by 700 million people – an increase nearly as large as the population of Europe.
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