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Bill Ryerson: The Challenges Presented by Global Population Growth

January 2, 2013

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headshot-WRyerson-110wOriginally posted at PeakProsperity

At the heart of the resource depletion story that we track here at PeakProsperity.com is the number of people on earth competing for those resources.

The global population is more than 7 billion now and headed to 9 billion by 2050. If world population continues its exponential growth, when we will hit planetary carrying capacity limits with our key resources (or are we already exceeding them?) What are the just, humane, and rights-respecting options that are on the table for balancing the world’s population with the ability of the earth to sustain it?

Population management is an inflammatory issue. It’s nearly impossible to discuss without triggering heated emotions, and rare is the leader who’s willing to raise it. And by going unaddressed globally, the risk of problems created by overpopluation grow unchecked. War, poverty, starvation, disease, inequality…the list goes on.

Which is why we feel we need to have the courage to address this very important topic directly. And to have an adult-sized conversation about these risks and what can done about them.

In this podcast, Chris talks with Bill Ryerson, founder and president of the Population Media Center as well as the president of the Population Institute. They explore the current forecasts for world population growth, the expected future demand on world resources, and the range of options available for bringing them into balance sustainably.

We are adding about 225,000 people to the dinner table every night who were not there last night. So that is net growth of the world’s population on an annual basis of a new Egypt every year. In other words, 83 million additional people net growth annually. And that from a climate change perspective alone is a huge increment. Most of this growth is occurring in poor countries, so on a per capita level, the people being added to the population have much lower impact than, say, if Europe were growing at that rate. But nevertheless, just from a climate perspective, with most of that 83 million additional people in low per capita greenhouse-gas output countries – this is between now and 2050 – at this rate of growth, it is the climate equivalent of adding two United States to the planet.

Clearly resources like oil, coal, and gas are non-renewable and will eventually run out or become more and more expensive and therefore not reliable as a source of energy. But what is the renewable long-term sustainability or the carrying capacity of the environment in each geographic territory, and globally? What is the current and projected future human demand for those resources and do we have sufficient natural resources to meet our needs?

Doing this kind of accounting is not difficult. There are very good robust scientific designs for measuring resource capacity and human demand, and projecting out what do we need to do in some time in the next few decades in order to get from what is clearly population overshoot to achieving something that is in balance. Because as long as we are in overshoot – and the global footprint network’s calculation is we are now at 50% overshoot –  that means we are digging into the savings account of our ecological systems, as you mentioned; the fisheries being one, forests being another. We are eating into the capital to sustain the growing population.

They also explore why population management is such a uniquely controversial topic. Not only are moral, civil, and religious beliefs in play, but the debate is also heavily-influenced by large corporate and governmental organizations protecting their interests. So it’s no wonder that a calm, respectful, and reasonable conversation on population remains so elusive.

But we’re going to try to have one here.

Needless to say, our moderators are on high alert and will step in if they are needed. Thanks in advance for your conscientious, levelheaded, and respectful comments. We have the chance to do substantial thinking on some really meaty questions here. Let’s make good use of it.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Bill Ryerson (46m:26s):

Read the transcript here


People map of the world image via shutterstock

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