Friday, January 13, 2012

Why on Earth are there so many of us?

The world population is now 7 billion – with no sign of the growth rate slowing

According to the UN, the population of the world reached an estimated seven billion at the end of 2011. For most of humankind’s stay on Earth our numbers have been much below one billion (perhaps less than one million up to 26.000 BC). Just before Nelson finally copped it, the first billion is said to have been reached in 1804. When I came into the world in 1927 it was to join two billion others already there.

By 1960, when some of us in Britain were famously said to have never had it so good, there were three billion of us in the world. At the time of the oil crisis the fourth billion was reached (1974). In 1987 we became five billion. Just before the end of the millennium there were six billion. At the present rate of world population growth, there are two more of us every second, about 200,000 every day.

Future growth

The rate of population increase has varied widely in different parts of the world, countries and among the rich and the poor. A number of factors influence the rate of increase (and occasionally decrease). The rates of fertility, infant mortality, disease prevention, health promotion, food availability and consequent life expectation are all far from equal. Most of the population growth has occurred in the least developed countries, notably in sub-Saharan Africa.

There are different estimates of world population size by mid-century, based on different assumptions, but the all anticipate substantial increases. Most round-figure estimates are 9 or 10 billion, and the UN quotes the median as 9.3 billion. But it is worth noting that previous predictions have been too low. The UN’s forecast in the early 1990s was that the population would peak in 2050 at 7.8 billion, a level now virtually certain to be exceeded in the next 15 years,.


The growth in population has had numerous consequences for the state of the world in which we live. With more hands to the pump, more stuff has been pumped out. Record-breaking numbers of people have been accompanied by other record-breaking numbers. More people now live in towns and cities (as opposed to non-urban environments) than ever in the past. Rising consumption by increasing numbers has led to climate change, rising sea levels, expanding deserts, the reduction and extinction of wildlife.

The pursuit of capitalist policies of profit-seeking and short-termism has resulted in a number of problems endemic in the system. Last year, although enough food was produced to satisfy the world’s needs, at least one billion people went hungry, according to UN estimates. The same number lacked access to clean water, and more than 2.6 billion people still have no access to adequate sanitation.


There is no useful purpose in trying to predict what the world population will be in the early states of socialism, let alone in the more mature stages. Various legacies from capitalism will first need clearing up. We may, however, reasonably expect that general socialist principles and policies will apply.

In capitalism, and earlier forms of property society such as feudalism and slavery, children are brought into the world primarily or secondarily for economic reasons, or at least these reasons are lurking in the background. In some cases this comes close to treating children as possessions or commodities. Children may attract state or charitable ‘benefits’ or legacies from deceased relatives or friends.

Some religious and faith groups encourage their members to have big families to enlarge and thereby strengthen their religion or faith, vis-à-vis others. Royalty, aristocracy, the upper echelons of big business, and certain sections of the celebrity industry face questions of succession from one generation to the next, with economic considerations never far from their thoughts.

All that is not to say that people in present capitalism-dominated society do not regard their family, friends and even ‘strangers’ as fellow humans, treating them with love and care. The difference is that with socialism in the absence of profit-seeking and other capitalism-sustaining arrangements, there will only be truly human relationships.

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