Friday, April 5, 2013

Peak People?

For the past two decades, demographers have generally agreed that global population growth will continue to inch steadily higher in the coming century, raising concerns about everything from pollution to housing to the world's water supply.

But a new study out of Spain suggests those estimates may be way off—we're talking several billion people off—and that the earth's population could instead peak as soon as 2050. Applying a mathematical model to global population trends, these researchers believe that there will be fewer people living on earth in 2100 than there are today.

In 2011, the United Nations population division predicted a global population of 10.1 billion by 2100, an increase of nearly 50 percent from the earth's current population of 7 billion. In the U.N. models, only the low-fertility curve showed the possibility for population decline in the 21st century.

But scientists at the Autonomous University of Madrid and CEU-San Pablo University say their estimates, developed by using techniques from high-level physics to analyze UN population data between 1950 and the present, match that low-fertility curve. That path, indicated with boxes in the graph below, shows global population peaking in 2050 slightly above eight billion, and then falling back to 6.2 billion by the end of the century, the same as the total world population back in 2000.
Could the Earth's Population Peak in 2050? (The Atlantic)

If true, that's a bit of a relief as population will track closer to Peak Oil without a major dieoff. In fact, according to the article, the highest rate of population growth was the 1980's:
This research, published in the journal Simulation in February, indicates that the decline in the birth rate (prompted by declining fertility rates) will catch up to the decline in mortality rates faster than the top-line UN forecast, which would make the 1980s the time at which the world population was growing the fastest.
Gee, what else happened in 1980? Oh, yes, Peak Oil per capita. Coincidence?

And I always wonder whether these population estimates take into account outside factors like the ability of agricultural production to feed people as the climate changes, the lack of water, increased natural disasters, and declining economic fortunes which cause people to cut back on having children. And what if there is a major epidemic? In other words, does it just look at numbers or does it take into account the "outside world?"

And this article about Peak Oil from Econbrowser has been making the rounds: The Death of Peak Oil. I spotted it a couple days ago. It looks at the optimistic and pessimistic predictions of oil production. It finds that while neither side was entirely accurate, the pessimistic predictions were closer to the truth when you strip away all the misinformation (non-conventional oil, etc.). In other words, rumors of Peak Oil's death have been greatly exaggerated.

Now if we could only deal with those economic problems...

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