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Hans Rosling

Director, Gapminder Foundation


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Why do so many think that population growth is an important issue for the environment? Don't they know the facts of demographics?

We face many environmental challenges, but the foremost is the risk for a severe climate change due to CO2 emissions from fossil fuels.

I meet so many that think population growth is a major problem in regard to climate change. But the number of children born per year in the world has stopped growing since 1990. The total number of children below 15 years of age in the world are now relatively stable around 2 billion. The populations with an increasing amount of children born are fully compensated by other populations with a decreasing number of children born. A final increase of 2 billion people is expected until the world population peaks at about 9 billion in 2050. But the increase with 2 billion is comprised by already existing persons growing up to become adults, and old people like me (+60 years). So when I hear people saying that population growth has to be stopped before reaching 9 billion, I get really scared, because the only way to achieve that is by killing.

So the addition of another 2 billion in number constitutes a final increase of less than 30%, and it is inevitable. Beyond 2050 the world population may start to decrease if women across the world will have, on average, less than 2 children. But that decrease will be slow.

So the fact is that we have to plan for a common life on Earth with 7-9 billion fellow human beings, and the environmental challenge must be met by a more effective use of energy and a much more green production of energy.

The only thing that can change this is if the last 1-2 poorest billion do not get access to school, electricity, basic health services and family planning. Only if the horror of poverty remains will we become more than 9 billion.

So my question is: Are these facts known? If not, why?

It is important because placing emphasis on population diverts attention from what has to be done to limit the climate crisis.


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    Feb 16 2011: You answered the question yourself: "they" don't know the facts.

    to your final question:
    Are these facts known? If not, why?
    I would gladly invite you to TEDxFlanders 2011 (24th of September Antwerp, Belgium) to come and share this knowledge!

    => dispersing facts (and spreading ideas) are necessary to get them to a large audience...
    Maybe the ideas and research of Nicholas Christakis (www.ted.com/talks/nicholas_christakis_the_hidden_influence_of_social_networks.html) can be insightful.
    Other kinds of diffusion modelling might describe the phenomenon too.

    If you want to make a meme spread fast... you might look at the book by Chip and Dan Heath "Make to stick"

    So the question becomes: how can we make it a
    Story ?
    • Feb 18 2011: I absolutely agree that if you want something to be common knowledge you have to get it to a large audience. It would be interesting to consider what kind of ideas about the world most of us walk around with. Most of us get our facts from tv and newspapers in the format of news, which hardly ever engage in cause and effect analysis. Presumably the reason why you want people to have truthful ideas about the world is that they can intereact with it in a positive way. For people to want to think about the world they have to be given facts and have to have them related to each other in terms of cause and effect. Just knowing that the average Bangladeshi for Mexican couple have 2 children is not terribly interesting. Now, If you dig at what is behind that phenomenon, maybe we will get interested and will be able to direct some of our resourses to help the needy, or put preassure on our governments to give more aid.... The thing is, from my experience of the media, I am not that sure that the objective is to interest people in the world but just to get them to consume some more...

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