TED Conversations

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 17 2011: I've learned to be a little skeptical of experts saying they "know" what the final world population will be in 50 years.

    Perhaps you could benefit from watching an on-line course on population from Yale:


    In it the professor points out how grossly wrong almost every past prediction has been.

    But I agree that the best (perhaps only) form of population control is economic development to a minimum standard. And that should be the ultimate focus. Meanwhile education in birth control methods also has it's place in keeping the ultimate number down (perhaps significantly).
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      Feb 18 2011: Hi Tim, Well the demographic predictions have not been very wrong in the last 40 years, and the number of children born per year has stopped growing. BUT of ten children that reach their 15th birthday in China in the last years, only 8 were replaced by newborns in China. The other 2 were replaced by newborns in Sub Saharan Africa.
      The children below 15 years of age are not increasing in number any longer, but this is because the countries with fewer children born are compensated by countries with more children born. Or one could put it in an abstract but clear way, about 2% of the children of the world are annually emigrating to Africa.
      • Feb 18 2011: I very like this amusing image of 2% of the children of world emigrating to Africa. It raise a worrying question though: What if this is what some are really afraid of? Ignorance is easier to dispel than xenophobia.
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        Feb 18 2011: Interesting question is what percentage of these 2% are born with a problem (ie. HIV)? And a further interesting question is what does this bode for the health of the world?

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