The growth will increase humanity’s footprint on the planet, which could exacerbate hunger, poverty and climate change, experts say.
A crowded railway station in Hyderabad, India. A new report projects that India will become the world’s most populous country by about 2027, surpassing China. Mahesh Kumar A. / AP file
By Denise Chow
The world’s population could swell to 10.9 billion by the end of the century, a new United Nations analysis found, raising concerns that adding more than 3 billion people to the planet could further deplete natural resources and accelerate global warming.
The increase, up from the current count of 7.7 billion people, is expected despite a continued decline in the global fertility rate, which has fallen from 3.2 births per woman in 1990 to 2.5 births per woman this year. Experts say the global fertility rate will continue to decline, but the world’s overall population will still rise, hitting 9.7 billion by 2050.
The new report predicts slower population growth than the U.N.’s last assessment, released in 2017. That estimate projected that the world population would reach a staggering 11.2 billion by the end of the century. The revised figures reflect the downward trend in the global fertility rate, which means the populations of more countries are shrinking.
The fastest growth, according to the new report, is most likely to occur in sub-Saharan Africa, which is expected to double its population in the next 30 years. The report also projected that India would become the world’s most populous country by about 2027, surpassing China, which is expected to see its current population of 1.43 billion dip 2.2 percent by 2050. Over the next 30 years, 54 other countries are expected to see population declines, including Lithuania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Japan.
The United States is estimated to grow from 329 million people in 2019 to 434 million people by the end of the century, with most of that projected increase owing to migration.
According to the U.N., many of the fastest-growing regions are among the poorest, which could exacerbate issues of hunger and displacement.
Scientists are also concerned about the effect of population growth on climate change. As the global population increases, so will humanity’s footprint on the planet.
“Our impact on the climate is tied up with population in lots of different ways — what resources people are using, how much industrial production is going on, how much energy is needed for heating, cooling and transportation,” Amy Snover, director of the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group, said. “All of these things affect greenhouse gas emissions, so the more people we have and the more resources we use, the harder it will be to cope with the risks and impacts of climate change.”
But population growth is just one of the factors driving climate change. Consumption habits also matter, and they’re far from uniform across countries.
“There’s a massive disconnect between where the most population growth is happening and where the greatest consumption is happening,” said Corey Bradshaw, director of the Global Ecology Laboratory at Flinders University in Australia. In other words, the average person’s lifestyle in the U.S. is more detrimental to the environment than the average person’s in sub-Saharan Africa. That means rapid population growth in Africa won’t be as damaging to the environment as a similar population increase would be in the U.S.
A growing group of women concerned about climate change agree with AOC. And they’re wielding a new weapon in the war against“business as usual.” They’re choosing not to reproduce.
These women, called BirthStrikers, all agree to not bear children “due to the severity of the ecological crisis and the current inaction of governing forces in the face of this existential threat.”
Blythe Pepino grew up walking with her parents on blustery, cold English beaches and in the Welsh mountains.
She remembers fondly sitting in the freezing cold with hot chocolate, aware of her environment and its fragility. As she grew older, the singer-songwriter watched a lot of news, and read books like Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate,” with growing dismay.
While she wanted to hold politicians and governments accountable for their inaction on climate change, she found herself “anxious to the point where I had to switch off,” she told Business Insider.
Then she went to an Extinction Rebellion lecture last year — which was “very blunt about how nightmarish this could get and how quickly” — and realized she had to do something.
Extinction Rebellion is a group of activists that seek to stop climate breakdown, halt biodiversity loss, and minimize the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse by means of education and nonviolent protest. Their lecture changed Pepino’s outlook on the climate change crisis.
“I knew I couldn’t go back,” she said. “I knew stuff I couldn’t un-know.”
That was the genesis for Pepino’s controversial and growing BirthStrike movement, created for people who have decided not to have children in response to the threat of a warming planet. While the movement is small, it’s part of a growing group of activists, politicians, and scientists attempting to communicate that our warming planet has passed multiple irreversible tipping points.
BirthStrike began with a modest membership of 60 men and women. Now, global membership is around 200, according to the Guardian.
‘We’re too afraid to bring children into world with the future that’s forecast’
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines in February when she brought up the idea that having children was no longer a given in today’s environment. “It is basically a scientific consensus that the lives of our children are going to be very difficult, and it does lead young people to have a legitimate question: is it OK to still have children?” she said on Instagram Live.
This vocalization of a core BirthStriker message may have helped pave the way for the media attention that Pepino’s new movement is getting. She publicly announced the BirthStrike movement two weeks ago.
“We’re too afraid to bring children into the world with future that’s forecast,” Pepino, age 33, said. “This is a really powerful way of communicating the severity of what’s going on.”
The UK-based Birthstriker movement started with Pepino — freshly grieving from her decision to not have children — reaching out on Facebook to friends and others who she thought might feel the same way.
Pepino’s movement quickly attracted notice, and the founder recently appeared on Fox News to talk about her project and the growing threat of a warming planet.
“I know that sounds calculated, but I made this decision [to not have children] personally first and then realized it was a great way to get more people, especially the right wing media, on board with the climate change crisis,” she said.
While BirthStrike is new, the idea of not having children because of climate change has been percolating for years.
‘Maybe we should protect our kids by not having them’
“I think it’s seen as such a massive decision to make, especially for the younger women like myself,” Lydia Dibben, a BirthStriker from West Sussex, told Business Insider. “Children are seen to be the ultimate goal in life, something that everyone wants, and so promising never to have them seems extreme to a lot of people.”
Travis Rieder, a bioethics professor at Johns Hopkins University, lectured about the morality of continuing to have children some three years ago.
“Here’s a provocative thought: Maybe we should protect our kids by not having them,” Rieder told NPR.
Another organization, a non-profit called Conceivable Future, was started on the notion that “the climate crisis is a reproductive crisis.” The US-based group, founded in 2015, demands an end to US fossil fuel subsidies by “telling the stories of climate change’s impact on our reproductive lives.”
In 2018, the New York Times reported on more than a dozen people ages 18 to 43 — most of them American women — voicing concerns over bringing a child into a world saddled with increasing climate-change driven natural disasters.
Conduit doesn’t own a car, walks to work, and eats vegetarian. Pepino said she doesn’t fly anymore. But a 2017 study found that having even one less child is a more effective way of cutting down a person’s carbon footprint than recycling, driving an electric car, being vegetarian, or using renewable energy.
That said, the BirthStrikers — and many scientists— argue the scale of the climate change problem has become so severe that collective action is more important than individual actions.
The movement is not about population control
One of those suggested collective actions is controlling how fast the number of humans living on Earth grows. Though the world population currently hovers around 7.7 billion, the United Nations expects that number to grow to 9.8 billion in just 30 years, and reach 11.2 billion by 2100.
Each additional person uses up more of already-scant resources, and contributes to even more greenhouse gas emissions that serve to further warm the planet.
But the BirthStrike movement isn’t founded on notions of a “child ban” or population control. In fact, Pepino’s biggest concern is that the BirthStrike movement “will continue to be re-edited as a population argument.”
Hannah Conduit, a 27-year-old Birthstriker from Bristol, UK, pointed out that “nothing in the movement demonizes having children.”
“The idea of a sort of mass movement against having children is damaging to society,” Conduit told Business Insider. “But BirthStrike highlights that some women see [having children] as a choice that they might not be able to make in good conscience.”
Conduit said she decided before college that having children wasn’t something she could do. Now, her entire life is focused on making the world better for her future nieces and nephews. One of three sisters, Conduit supports her siblings in their desire to have children.
She doesn’t have a significant other in her life right now. Pepino does.
“We still talk about how we want kids, and it’s hard to come to terms that this is the end,” Pepino said of her and her partner’s conversations about starting a family.
Alice Brown, a 24-year-old from Bristol who works on the BirthStrike movement with Pepino, said on the BirthStrike website that “instead of dreaming about my career and family, I’m burdened with the disease we’ve created.”
“My decision not to have a child I truly feel is a necessity not a choice,”Brown said. “I cannot imagine how scared our kids are going to be.”
For Dibben, who worked with the Extinction Rebellion movement before joining BirthStrike, there’s no price too high in the fight for system change and climate justice.
“People doing extreme things for what they believe in always gets attention. It’s worked in past social movements, like the suffragettes chaining themselves to railings, and it really needs to work if we have any hope of surviving the years that are coming,” 22-year-old Dibben said.
‘It would break my heart to bring children into the world and have it collapse around them’
The BirthStrike movement has dealt with plenty of conservative backlash and social media vitriol in the two weeks since the organization’s formal announcement. But that doesn’t deter BirthStrike followers.
To these women, their power of reproduction is the hammer with which they strike at a world that seems indifferent to its impending demise. “We’re going to have to take a hit on our arrogance as a species,” Pepino said. “We are becoming less than we are as our babies, our future, and our natural world are disappearing.”
And while the loss of the opportunity to give birth may seem like too much pain for some, for women like Conduit, the tragedy of conceiving a child and raising it on a planet with an uncertain future is perhaps worse.
“It would break my heart to bring children into the world and have it collapse around them,” Conduit said.
I use the extreme example of 10 to cut to the chase, get to the point.
With a low human population, human-caused climate change would not be a concern.
With a low human population, neither would habitat loss or any other of the current threats to the diversity of life on Earth.
It wouldn’t matter if every person in a low human population was the most rapacious sort of capitalist. They couldn’t make a dent. It wouldn’t matter if every one was socialist, communist, racist, atheist, Buddhist, Confucionist, Taoist, Christian, Jew, or Muslim. What packs the most clout is the sheer mass of the human population
This mass is the great hulking monster behind the threats to climate and biodiversity. And yet the growth of the human population has important sources of support. For the political leaders yearning for military might, it means bigger armies. For organized religion(s), it means bigger congregations. For the business world, it means more customers — and a labor supply abundant enough to make labor cheap. Over all this hangs a silence amounting to a near-universal taboo.
Everything I know or think I know persuades me that continuing on our present course will, sooner or later, plausibly beginning in the lifetime of children born since 1980, create conditions that will set off a severe and sharp culling of the human herd. But we’ll be bringing a lot down with us as we go, and we are already seeing all the evidence we need of that.
“Research suggests that the scale of human population and the current pace of its growth contribute substantially to the loss of biological diversity. Although technological change and unequal consumption inextricably mingle with demographic impacts on the environment, the needs of all human beings—especially for food—imply that projected population growth will undermine protection of the natural world.
“Numerous solutions have been proposed to boost food production while protecting biodiversity, but alone these proposals are unlikely to staunch biodiversity loss. An important approach to sustaining biodiversity and human well-being is through actions that can slow and eventually reverse population growth: investing in universal access to reproductive health services and contraceptive technologies, advancing women’s education, and achieving gender equality.”
Eileen Crist, Camilo Mora, Robert Engelman. The interaction of human population, food production, and biodiversity protection. Science 21 April 2017
“The individual scientist can survive for a long time by lying low in the valley of specialized intellectual interest … We in science must get up and face the wind, confront the future.”
William Bevan, “The Sound of the Wind That’s Blowing.”
A democrat congressional candidate in Pennsylvania has desires to tax parents who have more than two children as “irresponsible breeders.” Scott Wallace is a population control zealot who has donated over $7 million to population control groups.
Wallace is also supported and endorsed by both Planned Parenthood and NOW (National Organization for Women). According to The Daily Wire, Wallace, a millionaire and democrat who believes in taxing families with more than two kids for being privileged, also believes that the tax would be on “the privilege of irresponsible breeding.”
Between 1997 and 2003, Wallace gave $420,000 to Zero Population Growth (ZPG) — now Population Connection — an organization co-founded by “Population Bomb” author Paul Ehrlich,Fox News reported.
From before its inception, ZPG had announced its intentions to tax large families for the “privilege of irresponsible breeding.” A 1968 brochure advocated abortion to stabilize population growth and claimed that “no responsible family should have more than two children.” Therefore, “irresponsible people who have more than two children should be taxed to the hilt for the privilege of irresponsible breeding.” –PJ Media
CASSE still supports zero population growth and executive board member Herman Daly has pushed for reproduction licenses (permission from the government to have children). This bureaucratic control over birth would allow women to have only two children unless they buy the license for more children from other women who do not reproduce. Daly called this program the “best plan yet offered” to limit population growth.
“Scott Wallace wants to tax families of five for ‘irresponsible breeding’”
Scott Wallace’s family foundation has caused quite a few headaches for the multimillionaire, who is running for U.S. Congress in Pennsylvania’s 1st District.
The GOP and conservative media outlets have used grants made by the Wallace Global Fund, which the candidate led for more than a decade, to paint the Democrat as anti-Israel and anti-police. Wallace will face Republican incumbent Brian Fitzpatrick in a recently redrawn district that includes Bucks County and left-leaning Philly suburbs.
A number of stories published this summer by right-leaning outlets focused on grants the foundation made to so-called population control groups. Now, a particularly incendiary claim has made its way into a TV ad created by the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The ad claims Wallace “wants to tax families of five for ‘irresponsible breeding.’” The NRCC released a similar web ad that states Wallace “thinks families with more than two children should be ‘taxed to the hilt.’”
Does Wallace, who has three children, actually advocate for a multi-child tax? We decided to fact-check the claim.
When contacted for comment, NRCC Regional Press Secretary Chris Martin cited a Fox Newsarticle from July that reported on the Wallace Global Fund’s donations to groups that advocate limiting population growth.
As Fox News reported, the Wallace Global Fund donated money to a group called Zero Population Growth — now known as Population Connection — between 1997 and 2003. From the article:
The group, shortly after being founded in 1968, released a brochure advocating abortion to stabilize population growth and claimed that “no responsible family should have more than two children.” To deal with larger families, it also called for families to be “taxed to the hilt” for “irresponsible breeding.”
According to Wallace’s spokesperson, Zoe Wilson-Meyer, the candidate inherited the foundation from his parents in late 2003, after the donations were made. While the foundation’s 990 tax form for that year lists Wallace as “president,” internal meeting minutes show he was elected to that position in December 2013, according to Wallace Global Fund Executive Director Ellen Dorsey.
Regardless of when Wallace took over his family’s foundation, it’s clear that he supports the aims of groups that seek to stabilize population growth through voluntary family planning.
His father, the late Robert B. Wallace, was co-chairman of Population Action International, which advocates for increased access to birth control and other family planning methods.
“When my generation took over the foundation in 2002 after my parents had both passed away, we developed an increasing focus on the climate crisis, which has only reaffirmed the importance of our population work,” Wallace wrote in an essay for the Universal Access Project. “The population trajectory, combined with the inevitable aspirations of people in emerging economies to burn more fossil fuels and own more stuff – just like Americans! – is worse than unsustainable; it’s a pathway to disaster. And population growth won’t abate unless women have access to voluntary family planning, and girls are protected against coerced early marriage and childbearing.”
Under Wallace’s leadership, the foundation gave grants to Population Action International as well as the Population Council and Worldwatch Institute. The grants were earmarked for purposes including eradicating female genital mutilation, “research on population and the environment,” and “global reproductive health and rights,” according to the foundation’s Form 990 tax documents.
The NRCC’s Martin also pointed to an endorsement for Wallace by the Population Connection Action Fund, the political arm of the group that produced the 1968 brochure.
This isn’t the first time the NRCC has tried to link candidates endorsed by the fund to the brochure’s content. As The Morning Call reported, Martin emailed reporters about the organization’s endorsement of Democrat Susan Wild in Pennsylvania’s 7th District: “Out of curiosity, how many children does Susan Wild think families should be able to have before they’re taxed to the hilt?”
Brian Dixon, a spokesperson for the Population Connection Action Fund, told the paper, “We do not advocate for increasing taxes on parents of any size family. We believe that parents should have exactly the number of children that they want.”
Dixon reiterated that statement when contacted by PolitiFact Pennsylvania, adding that he has never seen the 1968 brochure.
“Even if it exists, it was written 50 years ago,” Dixon said. “The world has changed a lot since.”
Wallace’s campaign spokesperson said he does not personally advocate for a multi-child tax, and PolitiFact Pennsylvania was unable to locate any public records to contradict that statement.
When Scott Wallace held the reins, the candidate’s family foundation awarded grants to nonprofits that advocate for family planning in order to limit population growth worldwide. An NRCC ad attempts to link Wallace to statements made in a 50-year-old brochure produced by a group his family foundation gave money to between 1997 and 2003.
But Wallace has never personally called for the taxation of people with more than two children or accused them of “irresponsible breeding.” We rate this claim False.
A summary of a speech by Leilani Munter at the United Nations last night…:
Humans are the most dangerous animal on Earth. We represent just 0.01% of all living things and yet in our short time here we have already had a catastrophic effect on the natural world: we have destroyed 83% of all wild mammals and 50% of all plants.
Of all mammals on Earth, 60% are now livestock, 36% are humans, and just 4% are wild animals. Farmed poultry makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild. How sad is it that most of the birds on Earth are not able to fly. That’s what wings are for.
We are adding 1 billion people to our planet every 12 years and for every billion people comes 10 billion farm animals at our current rate of meat consumption. This is not sustainable.
Every single environmental crisis we face: climate change, ocean acidification, habitat loss, pollution, species extinction – all of them are accelerated by our rapidly growing population. We cannot address the others without addressing the core issue of the problem.
Charles Darwin once said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
Humans must show evolutionary adaptation by reducing population growth and meat consumption, as well as replacing the fossil fuel economy with a renewable energy economy. Otherwise we are up shit creek without a paddle.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations. (Credit: Gregory A. Shemitz/CNS.)
The Vatican’s representative to the United Nations said “corruption, protracted conflicts and other man-made disasters” are the cause of entrenched poverty in the developing world, not a “healthy, growing population.” He also called on the world body to “respect life” when it comes to giving international aid.
ROME – Talk of an “impending population bomb,” the Vatican’s representative to the United Nations said on Wednesday, has led to sometimes “draconian” policies, which ignore the complex nature of population growth.
Filipino Archbishop Bernardito Auza, speaking to the UN’s Commission on Population and Development, said “differing regional and even country specific situations” need to be taken into account when speaking about demographic changes.
Auza noted that populations are growing in some countries, while stabilizing in others, but pointed out some countries are experiencing a “spiraling demographic decline.”
Auza’s reference to a “population bomb” is a reference to the 1968 book of the same title written by Stanford professor Paul R. Ehrlich, who predicted that by the 1980s mass starvation and other consequences of food shortages caused by overpopulation would lead to social upheavals across the world.
Despite the inaccuracy of his forecasts, Ehrlich still supports the central thesis of his work: Massive government population control measures, including artificial birth control and abortion, are needed to protect the planet’s future.
Auza said the idea of a “population bomb” has led certain governments to adopt policies that encourage population control measures as the easiest response to the fear of resource scarcity and underdevelopment, adding that some of these policies are “draconian.”
The archbishop, while not naming Ehrlich in his address, countered his arguments by saying “demographic growth is fully compatible with shared prosperity.”
Auza said while “responsible parenthood and sexual behavior are always moral imperatives,” the use of “coercive regulation of fertility” undermines freedom and responsibility.
“Respect for life from the moment of conception to natural death, even in the face of the great challenge of birth, must always inform policies, especially when it comes to international aid, which should be made available according to the real priorities of the receiving nation, and not by an imposed will of the donor,” he said.
Auza also pointed out the trend to lower birth rates in the developed world began “before it had access to modern methods of contraception.
“It occurred with economic and technological advancement, as well as investments in education, infrastructure and institutions,” – Auza said – “It is well known that economic growth corresponds with lower fertility rates and, when accompanied by investment in education and health, increases productivity and the well-being of societies.”
The Vatican diplomat also said it was not a “healthy, growing population” which is causing entrenched poverty, but “corruption, protracted conflicts and other man-made disasters.”
Auza’s statement came just a month after Ehrlich’s appearance at the February 27 – March 1 Vatican conference titled “Biological extinction: How to save the natural world on which we depend.”
Despite his participation, the “final declaration” of the meeting stated increasing threats against biodiversity, unsustainable use of the earth’s resources, and accelerated extinction rates “are driven more by over-consumption and unjust wealth distribution than by the number of people on the planet.”
Despite how keenly aware Homo sapiens are of the potential overpopulation of other species, they don’t seem to think the same laws of nature apply to them. If any other large mammal added a staggering 200,000 to their population each day, humans would be in a panic to control their numbers—by any means possible.
But while humans are surging well past 7 billion, they act like the laws of carrying capacity and finite resources don’t apply to them. I wouldn’t want to be around when nature brings the hammer down and finds humans in contempt. It ain’t gonna be pretty…
By sheer coincidence, I just read the following passage from Rudyard Kipling’s 1893 classic, The Jungle Book. Clearly the monkeys (the Bandar-log) represent humans in Kipling’s story as they “danced about and sang their foolish songs,” ignorant of the consequences of their actions and describing themselves thusly, “We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true.”
Sound familiar, humans?
As Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, pointed out, “Whatever your cause, it will be a lost cause without population control.”
That sentiment was echoed by an outspoken Facebook friend, Stephanie Theisen, “EVERYTHING that is wrong today stems from human OVERPOPULATION. This is a subject that MUST be faced. Immediate child bearing restrictions have to be implemented, like decades ago. The Earth is full of destructive, greedy, narcissistic humans, we are not miracles, we are a virulent cancer.”
“You can only spend so much time alerting people to a problem. After that, they do their own thing.”
That quote from Paul Ehrlich in a National Wildlife article titled, “What Ever Happened to the Population Bomb?” could refer to so many other environmental issues. It also speaks to numerous related issues people have worked on for years, such as: the myriad of reasons people should embrace veganism; that feeding antibiotics to livestock is creating superbugs; or that encouraging people to make sport of killing animals puts our very society at risk.
But the fact that most folks are inclined to do their own thing despite warnings from scientists or pleas from the compassionate few shouldn’t discourage good people from spreading the word. “The Population Bomb” sold 20 million copies and educated an entire generation about “…the rise to total dominance of a single species: man,” as Ehrlich put it.
Though the vast majority may be happy to tune out (“as long as they have their sports channels and pizza deliveries,” to quote fellow anti-hunter, Peter Muller), there will always be the magnanimous and informed few working to secure a better world for all. Ultimately, it’s up to the majority to finally decide that the continued existence of this living planet takes priority over “their own thing.”