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October 2022, Volume 28, Number 4

Global Population

The world’s population is projected to reach eight billion on November 15, 2022, up from three billion in 1960. Global fertility peaked at an average of almost seven children per woman in 1970, and has since declined to about four births per woman.

Over half of the world’s people, 52 percent, live in seven of the world’s 200 countries. The US is third after China and India with 338 million people, followed by Indonesia with 276 million people, Pakistan with 236 million, Nigeria with 219 million, and Brazil with 215 million.

China and India each have 1.4 billion people and together they include a third of the world’s people. Most of the increase in the world’s population between 2022 and 2050 is projected to be in sub-Saharan Africa, where the average woman has almost five children, double the global average of 2.3 births per woman. Collectively, eight African countries are expected to add a billion people by 2050, accounting for half of the world’s population increase: Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Tanzania.

The major variable affecting the size of the future population is fertility. The UN projects the world’s population to stabilize at about 10.4 billion in the 2080s. By 2100, India is expected to have more people than China, Nigeria more than the US, and half of the world’s most populous countries are expected to be in Africa. About 250 babies were born each minute in 2022 or 1,000 every four minutes, including half in Asia and a third in Africa.

The UN projects the world’s population to stabilize at about 10.4 billion in the 2080s, raising the question of how many people can the earth support. The Toba supervolcano on Sumatra in 72,000 BC sent volcanic ash 30 miles into the atmosphere and created a volcanic winter that may have reduced the human population to 10,000.

Most of the world’s population growth is recent. The world’s population was a billion in 1820, and a century was required for the global population to double. Between 1927 and 2022, the world’s population quadrupled from two billion to eight billion.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos predicts and welcomes a trillion people, emphasizing that some will live on other earths, while naturalist Sir David Attenborough believes that many of earth’s problems can be traced to overpopulation. The Population Bomb (1968) echoed the fears of overpopulation and predicted widespread famine.

There are many ways to think about the effect of humans on the earth. By weight, humans are a third of the weight of terrestrial vertebrates, livestock 66 percent, and wildlife one percent, demonstrating the way in which feeding the human population has shrunk wildlife.

World leaders in 2015 adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure “peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” Over 150 world leaders addressed the UN General Assembly in September 2022 amidst acknowledgement that many of the SDG’s goals such as eliminating poverty, defined as living on less than $1.90 a day, improving gender equality and offering education for all, and reducing the inequalities that lead to disorganized migration.

Most of the September 2022 speeches dealt with short-term issues such as the effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on higher food and energy costs. Many leaders referenced climate change, where developing country leaders demanded that richer countries to do more to assist developing countries to cope with the effects of climate change. The OECD in September 2022 warned that economic growth would slow in 2022 and 2023 due to higher food and energy costs.

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