The January issue of National Geographic features an in-depth look at global population growth around the world. (Scroll down for video.) With the staggering figure expected to hit 9 billion by 2045, writer Robert Kunzig wonders if the planet is prepared to handle the strain, writing:
By 2050 the total number [world's population] could reach 10.5 billion, or it could stop at eight billion--the difference is about one child per woman. UN demographers consider the middle road their best estimate: They now project that the population may reach nine billion before 2050--in 2045. The eventual tally will depend on the choices individual couples make when they engage in that most intimate of human acts, the one Leeuwenhoek interrupted so carelessly for the sake of science.
With the population still growing by about 80 million each year, it's hard not to be alarmed. Right now on Earth, water tables are falling, soil is eroding, glaciers are melting, and fish stocks are vanishing. Close to a billion people go hungry each day. Decades from now, there will likely be two billion more mouths to feed, mostly in poor countries. There will be billions more people wanting and deserving to boost themselves out of poverty. If they follow the path blazed by wealthy countries--clearing forests, burning coal and oil, freely scattering fertilizers and pesticides--they too will be stepping hard on the planet's natural resources. How exactly is this going to work?
Be sure to check out the full article here, or pick up the January issue of National Geographic, on newsstands now.
View the amazing full gallery here.
View a selection of photos from the gallery below.
Its steaming streets crammed with vendors, pedestrians, and iconic Ambassador taxis, Kolkata throbs with some 16 million people—and more pour in every day from small towns. In 1975 only three cities worldwide topped ten million. Today 21 such mega cities exist, most in developing countries, where urban areas absorb much of the globe's rising population.
Immigrants like these Indians at a Sikh festival in Barcelona are bolstering Europe's stagnant population growth rate. Around the world, the childbearing decisions of young women will determine whether global population stabilizes or not. Research shows that the more education a woman receives, the fewer children she is likely to have.
Bundled newborns on September 1, 2010, are arranged for a portrait at Orlando's Winnie Palmer Hospital, the second busiest birth facility in the U.S. Unusual among industrial nations, the U.S. has a comparatively high fertility rate, due in part to the significant rate of teenage pregnancies and a steady influx of immigrants. By 2050 America's population is expected to top 400 million.
A talking robot helps 69-year-old Nabeshima Akiko shop in a test conducted by researchers from Keihanna Science City near Kyoto. Making up 23 percent of the population, the 29 million elderly in Japan far outnumber the young, an unprecedented situation that raises concerns about who—or what—will support the old in the years ahead.
A new house went up every 20 minutes during the 2004 building boom that seized Las Vegas and its sprawling suburbs, like Henderson. The American lifestyle—characterized by gas-thirsty cars and big houses using lots of electricity—contributes to the country's energy appetite; its carbon emissions are four times higher than the global average.
Using every fertile inch, farmers harvest rice in the hills of Yunnan Province. High-yield seeds and ample fertilizer allow China to feed its billion-plus people on less than 10 percent of the Earth's arable land. Producing enough food as global population grows is possible, but doing so without exhausting finite resources, especially water, will be a challenge.
The full story and photo gallery can be found in the January issue of National Geographic magazine, on newsstands now.
And watch a video report: