How many people can the earth feed?

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The UN says the world’s population will reach 8 billion in November, even though July 28 will be Overspending Day. In other words, after this date, we will use more renewable resources than the planet can provide, jeopardizing our future. In 2050, the projections are still bleak: there will be almost 10 billion of us, too many to solve the problem of wasted resources and climate change, not to mention the likely emergence of new pandemics. So, how many people can actually support the Earth without fear for the survival of our species?

The world population has doubled in 40 years, from 3 billion in 1960 to 6.5 billion in 2005. Record growth rates were achieved between 1965 and 1970, when the population increased by about 2.1% per year. Such rapid growth never occurred before the 20th century, and probably never will.

However, the UN predicts in a report that the current world population of 7.94 billion should reach 8 billion on November 15, 2022, then around 8.5 billion in 2030 and 9.7 billion in 2050. It should peak at about 10.4 billion people. during the 2080s and remain at that level until 2100. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres emphasizes: “This is a reminder of our shared responsibility to care for our planet and a moment to reflect on where we are still behind our commitment to each other.” Indeed, in order to feed a significant number of people, the Earth must remain viable, and therefore we must take care of it if we do not want to run at a loss.

Three scenarios of human demographics

The UN proceeds from the “medium scenario”, in which the birth rate will decline. It averages 2.3 children per woman today and should reach 2.2 children in 30 years, then 2.1 children in 2050 and 1.8 in 2100. This is the most likely scenario, a return to equilibrium, with in which the birth rate ensures the change of generations. But there are two more scenarios.

Assuming fertility declines less rapidly and ends up being 0.5 more children, the population will reach 10.5 billion in 2050 (high scenario). In the event that it decreases faster to reach 0.5 child below, the population will reach only 9.7 billion (low scenario) and then begin to decline inexorably, until extinction. In this scenario, the main driver of such development will be a sharp decline in the birth rate in developing countries.

High and low scenario world population projections (in billions). © UNDESA, World Population Prospects 2019

It should be noted that the constant growth of the population is colliding with the “carrying capacity” of the Earth – the threshold limit of the population, above which the population of the planet is reduced due to health problems and hunger.

Based on the medium scenario, the population will inevitably decline after its peak, rising from 9.9 billion in 2150 to 6 billion in 2200 until it reaches 2 billion in 2300, i.e. in 1927. But will we have better living conditions with a better distribution of resources, without hunger and water shortages?

Estimated Human Potential of the Earth

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