World population could hit 11 billion

After years of everyone growing comfortable with a global population of 9.5 billion, a new study claims we’ll fly right past that. Damian Carrington, reporting for the Guardian:

The work overturns 20 years of consensus that global population, and the stresses it brings, will peak by 2050 at about 9bn people. “The previous projections said this problem was going to go away so it took the focus off the population issue,” said Prof Adrian Raftery, at the University of Washington, who led the international research team. “There is now a strong argument that population should return to the top of the international agenda. Population is the driver of just about everything else and rapid population growth can exacerbate all kinds of challenges.” Lack of healthcare, poverty, pollution and rising unrest and crime are all problems linked to booming populations, he said.

So what changed? Our assumptions about the rate of population growth in Africa. Fertility rates there fell in the 1980s, but the trend hasn’t continued as many expected. And, more darkly, HIV/AIDS hasn’t claimed as many lives there as once projected. Combined, sub-Saharan Africa will hit 5 billion, according to this new study.

But the situation could change dramatically if education and access to contraceptives improves. (Women who attain higher levels of education tend to have fewer children; contraceptives, well, the effect is obvious.) If couples had on average 0.5 fewer children, the world population could drop to 6 billion, a number last seen in 1999. But 0.5 more per couple and it could spike to over 16 billion.

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