Living better differently

The world’s booming human population has grown from 3 billion to 7 billion in just fifty years. It is expected to stabilize at 9+ billion around 2050. But it is not just the numbers. It is how people live.

Only 5% of the global population live in the United States, but they produce a quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions. And, unlike Europe, the population of the US is growing fast – from 200 million in 1970 to over 303 million today, and a projected 420 million in 2050.

Since 1950, the richest fifth of humanity has doubled its consumption of energy, meat, timber, steel and copper and quadrupled its car ownership, while the poorest fifth of humanity has hardly increased its general consumption at all. The big increases in consumption are now happening in countries such as China and India, countries that together are expected to add half a billion more people to the planet’s population by 2050.

More than three-quarters of the world’s people live in nations that are ecological debtors, where national consumption has outstripped their countries’ biological capacity. The wealthier among us must find ways to live within planetary boundaries – renewable energy; efficient heating, cooling, and transport; diets that need less land and water.

Most population growth will take place in the poorer, less-developed nations, with some large countries such as Pakistan and Nigeria on course to triple their numbers by the middle of the 21st century. Many people here cannot meet their basic needs, and their goal may be to skip the “big grids” of the industrialized nations and go straight to cell phones and local energy, water and sewerage solutions.

Another goal is to stabilize population as quickly as possible, through education and reproductive health programmes. This would also reduce poverty and increase human potential. But since the mid-1990s, population has been a neglected issue. It is time to educate and empower women. “Population” is about what people know and how they live.


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