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 22 2011: There are over 7 billion people on the plant now... one hiccup in food production, even before CO2 changes climate, for ANY reason and we are all in trouble. As long as the stores have supplies no one will feel it but when that runs out.. I agree with Alice Tromm in as much as the numbers are huge and fairly recent in human history, we have never before faced this and we should be dealing with it now! It will create more deadly, immediate pressure, faster than warming.
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      Mar 5 2011: Great point Leslie.

      I think the issue is the other way around. The environment is an issue for our population and its growth. Leslie has pointed this out well as does some recent environmental or natural disasters. Floods in AU, earthquakes in NZ, drought in China, volcano in Iceland, severe winter in EU, highest recorded summer temperatures in the northern hemisphere and the list goes on. Each of these interrupt food production locally which put more pressure on global food production.

      The environment and our population are very connected and the more reactive and unpredictable the environment becomes, the more at risk our population is.

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