Views | Seven billion people, and counting

Views | Seven billion people, and counting

The last billion have been added in a mere 12 years. It is very unlikely that the global population will keep growing at the same pace. Fertility rates are dropping in most countries, and the number of people on the planet will stabilize in the coming decades. But will it be too late by then?

Pessimists have always pointed out that the world does not have enough resources to support so many billions. The optimists have banked on human ingenuity to carry on our common civilization.

The optimists have won the argument till now, as the data provided here shows. The world population has grown from 2.5 billion to 7 billion since 1950. However, average incomes in constant dollars have also risen, from $2,111 to 7,614 between 1950 and 2008.

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There are renewed global fears about a resource crunch, especially as living standards in populous countries such as India and China rise. Can the world produce enough food? Does it have enough energy resources? What will the environmental impact on a globe that is already warming? What about water?

These are very valid concerns. It’s no wonder that real prices of natural resources have been going up in the past ten years. A new agricultural revolution based on genetic engineering and a lifestyle revolution based on green technology could win the day. But that is not a given.


Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Statistics (in thousands)

Source: Angus Maddison, 1990 International Geary-Khamis (dollars)