The recent release of the United Nation's study, which estimates that the global population will reach 9.3 billion by the year 2050, adds new urgency to the need for resource conservation, fossil fuel alternatives, and measures to stem the rising population tide. The estimate of 9.3 billion is an increase of approximately 50% from the current size of the world’s population.
The increase in population combined with the anticipated economic development of third world countries around the globe places estimates for resource demand at roughly double the current levels. Population growth, which has taken a back seat to topics such as global warming, peak oil, and the depletion of other resources, must now be factored into those conversations as a key driver of these worsening issues. Reaction to the stress of burgeoning population numbers could result in five potential outcomes over the next several decades. They are:
- Oil and water wars – Booming population numbers are now expected to be the major influence on economic, political, and foreign policy decisions. It can be argued persuasively that the United States has already enacted the first “oil war” with its aggressive actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Experts anticipate that “water wars” could occur as well due to changing weather patterns and increased demand.
- Global warming – The estimates for the cost of meeting increased power demands are staggering. This, while the advancement of fossil fuel alternatives creeps along at a glacial pace due to fossil fuel’s competitive price advantages. These alternatives require government incentives to level the playing field but budget deficits and politics are limiting these efforts. In the meantime, the emission of greenhouse gases continues.
- Peak oil – If theories on peak oil are correct, we’re on the right downslope of the oil production bell curve. Diminishing supply in the face of rising demand can only push prices higher. Even if the theory is incorrect, rising demand will have the same, if not as dramatic, effect on static supply.
- Increased foreign competition for resources – Of the 3 billion people estimated to be added to the global population, only one hundred million will be added in the U.S. The other 2.9 billion people will demand resources and compete for them because their lives depend on it.
- Solutions will arrive too late - Jared Diamond explained this potential outcome in his Pulitzer Prize-winning "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed". His concise assessment of the common factor between societies, cultures, and nations which have collapsed throughout history goes like this; leaders "focused only on issues likely to blow up in the next 90 days," lacking the will "to make bold, courageous, anticipatory decisions." Their short-term thinking, unfortunately, sets the stage for a rapid "sharp curve of decline."
Typically, these nations collapse quickly, even if warnings are evident. We’ve got the warnings; let’s hope we all have the guts necessary to do what we have to do to avoid our own debacle.