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Perhaps less noticeable in the short lifespan of an individual is the explosion of population. But historically this change is profound: There are far more humans living now than at any point in the past. As was discussed in the History section, the number of people alive has doubled several times since fossil fuels allowed humans to grow more food and improved hygiene and medicine allowed them to live longer.
The UN believes there are already seven billion humans alive today.
The low death rate, combined with a consistently high birth rate is called the
Once a state has become industrialized its population begins to stabilize, as people have fewer children. While the death rate will continue to remain low, the fertility rate will fall to equilibrium with, or below, the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. There are two main drivers behind this. The first is the desire of parents to limit the number of children they have. This is usually because of the increased cost of raising children and the fact that women are often more interested in pursuing careers of their own in an advanced economy. They are able to do this because of the invention and widespread use of birth control. The second driver behind falling fertility rates is government intervention. Many developing states see slowing down population growth as an imperative and take measures to act on this. These range from China's One Child policy, to various tax incentives and family planning programs.
The first countries to industrialize have completed the demographic
transition. Europe (1.4 children per woman) and Japan (1.37) are prime
examples. Canada's is only slightly higher, at 1.63, meaning that
without immigrants, Canada's population will begin to shrink in the
Many countries are still midway into the demographic transition,
or just barely beginning it, meaning that the world's population
growth, though slowing, is expected to continue for decades to come. The
UN projects that world population will peak in 2075 at 9.22 billion,
with the vast majority of the growth coming from China, India, the
Middle East, Latin America, and (especially) Africa.
These projections of course assume a growth in energy availability to feed these new mouths, in addition to allowing people in developing countries to use more energy per capita. This is by no means assured.
Much ink has been spilled over the consequences of a vastly higher population than ever before in human history. It is certainly true that with our current lifestyles and technologies there are already too many people. One widely cited paper written in 1992 wrote:
Of course one cannot blame these trends purely on the numbers, as people in different parts of the world live drastically different lifestyles. Those in developed countries use up far more of these "natural capital stocks" than those in the developing world, and Canadians are especially egregious offenders in this regard. In 20 years since this paper was written there has only been an amplification of these trends. Climate change, the subject of another later article, threatens to push them faster and beyond anyone's control.
Bongaarts, John. 'Human Population Growth and the Demographic Transition.' Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, Volume 364(1532); October 27, 2009. Accessed June 3, 2012.
'Fertility rate, total (births per woman)." World Bank. 2011. Accessed June 3, 2012.
'Population and the Industrial Revolution.' Economic History Society. Accessed June 3, 2012.
'Population at 1st January.' Eurostat, European Commission. Accessed 2012. June 3, 2012.
'World Population to 2300.' UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs: Population Division. (New York: United Nations, 2004), p. 5. Accessed June 3, 2012.