This article discusses the Bixby publication The Impact of Population Growth on Tomorrow’s World a special theme issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
“Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B—a journal from the Royal Society whose motto is “Take nobody’s word for it” —wades into these treacherous waters this week with a special issue, “The Impact of Population Growth on Tomorrow’s World.” As Roger Short of the University of Melbourne writes in the introduction, “The inexorable increase in human numbers is exhausting conventional energy supplies, accelerating environmental pollution and global warming, and providing an increasing number of failed states where civil unrest prevails,” among other faults. And he goes so far as to call for a halt to future population growth.
Then again, ask other contributors to the special issue, is population growth even a problem? After all, as various nations have developed, birth rates have fallen—in some cases so much so that populations are shrinking—thanks, in large part, to empowering women to control their reproduction. Or so argue public health scientists Martha Campbell and Kathleen Beford of the University of California, Berkeley in the special issue.
Yet, this demographic transition does not hold everywhere. And, as political scientist Bradley Thayer of Baylor University argues in the same issue, national population bombs trigger war, especially of the internecine civil variety, as well as terrorism as “youth bulges” in Middle Eastern countries leave large masses of young men without economic prospects. In fact, notes Steven Sinding of the Gutmacher Institute in Manchester, Vt., controlling population growth can actually help individuals and families escape poverty. Witness the exceptional economic rise of China in recent decades, in part helped along by the controversial One Child Policy instituted by Mao Zedong.
And family planning has proven effective in the past, from Thailand to Iran, yet funding for such programs has dwindled in recent years. Partially as a result, developing countries in eastern Africa—Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe—have seen their populations begin to increase rapidly again in recent years.
Lurking behind all this is a potential crisis in the very resource that has enabled this unprecedented expansion of human numbers: fossil fuels. Thanks to growing population and dwindling supplies, fossil fuel production per capita may peak by mid-century—ending the two centuries of unlimited growth in energy production that is at the root of modern civilization, consultant Richard Nehring writes in the journal.”
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