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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 20 2011: Unfortunately, the average citizen of the United States (or any country on earth for that matter) does not understand demographics. I wish it were otherwise but it's true. The growth of population is not understood by the typical person. For example, people do not understand what they sign when they buy a house or car. Would that the typical person knew what cohort they were in, and it's effects n others.

    Now, the main question is "why do so many think this kind of population growth is such a problem?". Well, they were scared into worrying about population growth some years ago and can't let go of the notion. Now, they are being slowly scared into being concerned about global warming, and they don't seem to be enjoying the concern of extra items in their lives. Give them a basic course in demography and MAYBE they'll start to put problems in perspective.

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