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The Global Population Conundrum

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In December of 2003 Sarah Holt interviewed Lester Brown, a population expert considered to be ‘one of the world’s most influential thinkers’ (by the Washington Post). When confronted with the idea that between now and 2050 the population will increase by 3 billion, in addition to the 6 billion now, Brown seems to be no stranger to the subject, offering up clear predictions in what’s to come. He addresses developing trends in countries like India and Africa, the ‘grain drain’ that becomes more and more prevalent with each year, and the big picture, Brown predicts, leaders will have to look at when making serious decisions concerning the future of the Earth.

India is projected to have a population increase of another half billion by the year 2050, but Brown thinks otherwise. Doubting that there will be an increase of a half billion, Brown says the questions isn’t ‘whether it will happen or not’ but rather whether it will NOT happen because of a shift to smaller families or, a rise in food shortages and malnutrition. This is a believable prediction because we are already witnessing a similar situation in Africa, where death rates are steadily increasing due to a lack of control on the HIV epidemic. Africa’s once predicted population growth is extremely unlikely, but Brown says it is for the wrong reason: rising death rates instead of falling birthrates. Epidemics are just one of the many factors considered in population growth trends. Another is that the 6 billion people here today have already over-consumed the Earths natural capital, so forests are shrinking along with fisheries and other things. This over-consumption only inflates the economic output in our bubble like economy, and if we can’t stop this over-consumption the bubble will burst.

The worlds biggest grain producers-China, India, and the United States-account for nearly one half of the worlds grain harvest. In China specifically, grain production has dropped from 392 million tons to 322 million tons, this is from water shortages evident in some of China’s rivers, and the water shortages are a direct result from an increase in temperatures. The International Rice Research Institute has informed us that with each 1 degree Celsius increase there is a 10% decline in grain yields, meaning global warming has caused water shortages inevitably causing grain shortages. Something we surely do not need when expecting 3 billion more people to be around by 2050. Brown informs us that while we may be able to increase grain production by 2-5% the idea of doubling our harvest is long gone. This is because we’ve pushed up against our biological limit, experiencing physiological constraints like never before.

Now, it’s all about what economic indicator is going to signal serious trouble to the governments in the world today. Brown infers that rising food prices may be the first sign. With a global crisis at hand there is no telling how we will respond, but according to Brown some difficult decisions will have to be made starting in the next few years. The choices we make concerning issues like Climate change, population growth, falling water tables, and serious epidemics like HIV/AIDS will shape the future of our world. This is the big picture leaders of today will have to look at in order to stabilize our ever-expanding Bubble economy.

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