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Hans Rosling

Director, Gapminder Foundation

TEDCRED 200+

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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 18 2011: Hans Rosling's figures are interesting. However, even more interesting would be trying to explain why the working poor in certain countries -namely Spain, Italy and Eastern Europe- don't have enough children to replace themselves and the poor in Africa have many more children that would seem sensible from our point of view. The obvious answer is that those poor Europeans can't afford children (please notice that virtually all countries were total fertility rate approaches two have either financial incentives to have children or working salaries allow for decent living standards), but then poor Africans can't either....So that can't be the answer. I am aware that Europeans have better access to contraception but as far as I am aware Bushmen and other hunters and gatherers don't need any fancy technology to control their numbers, they practise infanticide.... Sad, but it is better to raise two healthy children than 6 malnourished ones. My point being that if other Africans perceived children as detracting from their standard of living, they would also practise infanticide... Before anyone gets upset, infanticide has been quite a common way of controlling population growth for most of human history -in Great Britain the death of infants due to overlaying reached epidemic proportions.
    So, my question is, why does the perception of children varies so much from country to country and also within the same country from decade to decade?

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