Rhein on Energy and Climate

The earth’s population is expected to grow from 7 billion people today to more than 9 billion in the coming 40 years. By then it will be 9000 times bigger than at the eve of human civilisation 10.000 years ago!

This growth will profoundly affect living conditions on the planet.

The quality of life for hundreds of millions of people will deteriorate. Most of them will be crowded in giant, often chaotic metropolitan areas that will hardly resemble European or American towns of the 20th century. The “Privileged Few” in Europe, North America, Australia, Singapore, Japan and the Gulf countries will be spared misery; but they too will have to adapt their lifestyles to a grimmer and more crowded earth.

The political geography of the earth will change dramatically.

  • Two thirds of the world population will live in only 20 countries of more than 100 million citizens. Population densities of more than 300/km2 will become common.
  • Asia will remain the most populated continent with India as the worlds biggest (1.7 billion) – and very densely populated – country ahead of China,Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, Iran and VietnaChina will be able to stabilise its population in the next 15 years, thanks to its determined, though brutal one-child policy during the past thirty years. The rest of Asia will roughly double its population until 2050, which should be manageable thanks to “Asian discipline ”, despite frequent social upheavals and environmental crises.
  • The African population is expected to treble and even quadruple in some countries: an unprecedented rate of growth. Population numbers of 0.4 billion for Nigeria, 0.3 billion for Ethiopia or 0.2 billion for Uganda and Tanzania defy conventional patterns of thinking!
  • Europe, Japan and Korea will have to cope with falling numbers. But compared to doubling or quadrupling populations outside Europe their demographic decline will be smooth, with a fall of no more than one fifth in most European countries, except Ukraine, Bulgaria and the Baltic states. For all the trouble declining population numbers will create for pension systems and budgets they should be viewed positively in a global perspective: Humanity cannot keep expanding without digging its own grave in terms of resources, environment and climate. With global numbers close to 10 billion the human species will have over-stretched its limits by the middle of the century.

Six policy conclusions stem from this analysis:

  • Humanity need to increase the global economic product by at least one third until 2050, equal to the rate of demographic growth, in order to maintain present average living standards. But it may not succeed because resource and climate constraints may put brakes into the global economic machinery.
  • India, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Tanzania and Uganda will find it extremely difficult to create enough jobs for their young populations. They will be confronted with severe social, economic and ecological crises. The international community will find it increasingly difficult to assist: the odds of sheer numbers militate against. Humanity must be ready to accept millions of people dying from poverty or natural calamities.
  • To prevent these ghastly prospects from becoming realities those countries overwhelmed by galloping demography should urgently engage in effective mother-child programmes for which the EU and other donors should offer all the assistance needed.
  • Considering its high living standards and declining population Europe must be prepared to accept economic stagnation, even if that appears shocking to most European citizens.
  • Europe has no choice but to merge its economic and political forces. UK, France and Germany with no more than 70 million people each in 2050 will once and for all have ceased to be heavyweights on the international arena. Europe must therefore accelerate its integration process. By 2050 latest, the common foreign & security policy must have become a reality.
  • Europe must confront the issue of migration. The African proletariat, unable to make a minimum decent living at home, will flood into Europe. The big numbers of “asylum seekers”, easily one million annually, may have reached more than 10 per cent of total population by the middle of the century. They will have an impact on the nature of “European civilisation”, its educational and social systems, provoke racial and social tensions and reduce living standards.

Europe must prepare for such sea-change and define proper policies.

  • The “Rio+20 Conference” in June 2012 should offer effective remedies to minimise the worrisome consequences from the demographic revolution. If the international community fails, which is likely judging from the unsuccessful 1992 meeting, Nature will do the job and let only the Fittest survive.
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