THE BLOG
06/22/2011 03:20 pm ET Updated Aug 19, 2011

The World Population in 2050 Could Well Be 7 Billion

A recent front page article in the Honolulu Star Advertiser indicated that the people density for Hawaii was 211 per square mile. So I wondered how this compared to the world, which, it turns out, is 34.5 / square mile. Considering we can still expand to the Big Island, what is the big deal about our globe being overcrowded? Well, the problem is, indeed, serious.

If there has been any criticism of my books, it is that I have ignored the most important parameter: the world population. Yes, I don't have a chapter on this subject, but this was mostly because there was not much I could add to the subject than to say that population growth will reverse once the world becomes economically prosperous, because then, the central government will have something like Social Security in place and parents won't need to have many children to take care of them at old age.

The problem with this paradigm is that, if anything, over the next few generations, the economy of the world could well sink. While some, including me, have begun to predict that the global population will thus decline during this century (the effects of Peak Oil, Global Warming, economic collapse, etc.), virtually every demographic study has bullishly predicted a continued increase.

Say Homo Sapiens began around 50,000 years ago. There have been more than a 100 billion births, with our current population representing roughly 6% of those who have lived on Planet Earth. A couple of years ago CNN projected a population of 7 billion being reached this year, and that 97% of this growth over the next 40 years will happen in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Caribbean. Note the absence of the Americas and Europe. While Uganda and Canada have about the same population today, in 2050, the former will have three times the number of people than the latter. India will be #1, China #2 and the USA #3 (312 million to 439 million), primarily for us because of immigration. The current issue of National Geographic predicts that 7 billion will be reached before the end of the year, and up to 9 billion by 2045.

My prediction is that 7 billion will occur in the Spring of 2012, that is, not until next year. I will also go so far as to suggest that in 2050, the world population will be less than 7 billion, again, because of all those calamities that will compound the tragedy of poverty.

I can point out that our Homo Sapien growth rate is actually decreasing and all this projected increase will take place when for the first time ever so many countries are experiencing population declines. There are 20 of them, mostly in the former Soviet states, Europe and Japan. China is in a quandary about what to do because they are getting old with a one child policy, and some relaxation is expected to reach a more economic and societal optimum.

I don't envision any kind of survival of the fittest lifestyle occurring in the developed world, as do some of my virtual forum colleagues, and the decline in our way of life could still, yet, actually increase happiness. How can that be so, you say? Well, some of these friends are actually looking forward to fewer tourists in Hawaii, allowing for more enjoyable surfing, successful fishing and a fuller family life, compared to the current stresses of today. Frankly, I think that if the economy of our state enters into an advanced state of depression, life will generally become terrible and far from happy. I already feel sorry for our children's children.

Can we prevent this coming doom? It's too late for any enlightened decision-making, but what if:

1. Peak Oil is significantly delayed (and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has crude oil at $97/barrel in December of 2019--whoops, just went up $4 bucks/barrel since I first submitted this posting over the weekend) and

2. Global Warming receives a reprieve from (pick your fantasy):

...and as we're dreaming anyway, fossil substitutes for oil will give humanity a few decades of coming to our senses, fusion might be commercialized by then and something like the Blue Revolution could begin to provide a viable economic option for much of the world.

So what are the prospects of Planet Earth at 7 billion in 2050? Probably scant. Humanity declined around 70,000 years ago to only a thousand breeding pairs when Mount Toba erupted in Indonesia, and again dropped because of the Black Death epidemic 600 or so years ago, but most demographers don't take doomsday scenarios into their projections, and worry more that we will begin to reach 10 billion by 2050. Either way, society will be in trouble.