World Population

Extract from the Book: World without War, by Klaus (Nick) Veltjens



The next 100 years will see a population explosion of incredible proportions. Not only will the resulting increase in the consumption of the world’s resources have a major impact on the environment, but the increase in population densities will also create social pressures throughout the world. As in the past and even at present, scarcity of supply will engender the risk of social unrest, warfare and starvation, and this has already now become evident in too many countries.

The current population density on earth, measured in people per country, is already showing China and India as countries with a population of more than one billion.

The world’s population will grow unevenly in the four corners of the earth.

There are a number of varying estimates for the size of the world’s human population in 50 or 100 years. A major variant is the impact of improved economies, as with greater assured family income there will be a reduction in the number of children.

The rate of increase has historically decreased in the last few decades, and it is expected to continue to decrease. Fertility, measured as the average number of children per woman, varies considerably in different countries.

Projections by the UN’s Population Division, based on the 2004 revision of the World Population Prospects database, are estimated to grow from 6.5 billion in February 2006 to 8.9 billion in 2050. In 1802, the world’s population was one billion; the 20th century has seen the most rapid increase in history.


Third World countries will grow more unstable, as food resources will become scarce. Many people will emigrate as social or political refugees and will aim to enter First World countries legally or illegally. The influx of illegal immigrants to the USA from Latin America and Asia is a typical example, and pressure will increase as the impact of global warming and increased population in poorer countries increases.

The Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834) famously warned that a rapid increase in population would ultimately result in ‘misery’ in the form of rapid depopulation as a result of insufficient food supply. As has been seen in history, his commentary has been proven right many times and is still being proven today in African nations and Haiti. His projections were not based on the much more efficient agricultural techniques of today, but the principle still applies. Global climate changes are already showing increases in extended droughts and cyclones, causing extensive crop losses in spite of state-of-the-art agricultural technology.

If history is any guide to how an increasing population will affect the mindset of people coming under increased stress from diminishing supply in food, fuel, water and essential raw materials for construction and manufacture, then one could expect greater hostility among peoples in the worst affected areas. Before people die of starvation, they will turn on one another, kill and even resort to cannibalism.[1]

Arable land is limited and, apart from the oceans, it is the only source of food production. Of this planet’s 148 million square kilometres of land, approximately 31 million are arable; however, arable land is being lost at the rate of over 100,000 km˛ per year as a result of urban sprawl and drought. If this is seen against a growing population, it becomes clear that arable land per head of the world’s population is reducing at an alarming rate. While it was a mere 0.51 ha per person in the year 2000, it will become about 0.34 ha per caput in 2050, a reduction of 33 per cent or one third. If scientific predictions of rising oceanic water levels resulting from the melting of Arctic and Antarctic ice eventuate, then available arable land will shrink even more as a result of flooded deltas and low-lying islands being submerged.

Human Rights

People who feel they are being deprived of their right to participate in the benefits of their country’s providing essentials to other nations will eventually rebel against it. Dictatorial governments, usually of a kleptocratic nature, can be seen as illegally selling their country’s resources to provide disproportionate wealth to the leaders at the expense of the general population. Such countries are considered undemocratic by the world community, and are likely to find more and more resistance in their acceptance as partners in trade and finance. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, while not a treaty, is becoming an important indication of world opinion. It states:

“Article 21.

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

The United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has, however, explicit legal force, and in support of the above declaration states in its first article:

Article 1

All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.

The States Parties to the present Covenant, including those having responsibility for the administration of Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories, shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.”

In order to prevent hostilities, the world has to learn to share more evenly.

Global Ecological Balance

In looking into the future 100 to 150 years from now, Constantinos Doxiadis (1913–), representative of the Greek government at various international organisations, urban planner and architect, initiated an ambitious study of human growth and its consequences, in ‘The City of the Future’[2] and concluded that humans will live in a huge city of 20 billion inhabitants, ecumenopolis.

“Working with the two variables (population and habitable land) the project exploited the possible and probable population distributions according to existing urban development, main transportation axes, and availability of habitable land. The findings were illustrated in a series of maps, which give an image of Ecumenopolis and its future land use, assumed to occur towards the middle of the twenty first century or latest at the beginning of the twenty second century.”[3]

While his estimate of the world’s population may be more than is generally accepted today, it is still worth looking at his idea of how such a city could be shaped. In his opinion, this can only happen if man, anthropos, can create a world government that will aim to create ‘Global Ecological Balance’ (GEB) involving scientists of many branches including that of ekistics.[4] He foresees a land use plan with 12 zones for the global land and oceans divided into four main areas: Naturareas, Cultivareas, Anthropareas and Indiustrareas.[5] It will result in much higher population densities than at present, but will also allow for nature to prevail on 75 per cent of the earth’s land surface with very little interference by man (see Appendix 3).

The United Nations Population Conference in Bucharest (August 1974) suggested that economic development and urbanisation are the answers to all our problems on a global scale. This will take a few generations to accomplish.

The Fifth International Conference on Population and Development was held from 5 to 13 September 1994 under the auspices of the United Nations. More than 180 states participated in this event at which a new Programme of Action was adopted as a guide for national and international action in the area of population and development for the next 20 years.

“This new Programme of Action places emphasis on the indissoluble relationship between population and development and focuses on meeting the needs of individuals within the framework of universally recognized human rights standards instead of merely meeting demographic goals. The adoption of this Programme marks a new phase of commitment and determination to effectively integrate population issues into socio-economic development proposals and to achieve a better quality of life for all individuals, including those of future generations.”[6]

These strategies are all worth considering in the context of human rights standards. They need to be subjected to analyses that incorporate the resulting environmental impact.

Population Impact

Non-renewable resources of this planet Earth are finite and supply of renewable resources is already under considerable stress. Populations predicted in accordance with various criteria are mere extrapolations that do not seem to include a factor for depopulation through environmental impact. Neither do they recognise the depletion of finite resources to construct homes, factories or machinery. Jared Diamond in his book ‘Collapses’ studied past and present populations whose cultures failed to survive as a result of mostly environmental degradation caused by their own actions. He also warned of 12 reasons why the human race as a whole could be facing a similar collapse, unless all of the following twelve problems were resolved:

·        Destruction of natural habitat

·        Decline of natural fisheries

·        Destruction of biodiversity

·        Soil erosion

·        Rapid depletion of energy resources

·        Over-usage of fresh water resources

·        Excessive expectations of a finite photosynthetic ceiling

·        Chemical release into the soil, air and water courses

·        Intentional or inadvertent transfer of alien species

·        Release of global warming gases

·        Population growth, and

·        Impact of human population growth.

All of these problems need to be addressed, as they are all interdependent to some extent and therefore none could be resolved in isolation.

“Thus, because we are rapidly advancing along this non-sustainable course, the world’s environmental problems will be resolved, in one way or another, within the lifetimes of the children and young adults alive today. The only question is whether they will become resolved in pleasant ways of our own choice, or in unpleasant ways not of our choice, such as warfare, genocide, starvation, disease epidemics and collapses of societies.”[7]

Social Impact

Traditional cultures and traditions in each nation will be under enormous stress and most of them will continue to be diluted, a process that is noticeable now. In that change, much indigenous knowledge about animals and plants will disappear. The study of ethno-botany may save some of that knowledge but any plans to integrate population issues effectively into socio-economic development with an inevitable increase in population densities will need to include their knowledge for the protection of nature.

The official Roman Catholic Church policy of prohibiting the use of birth control is no longer tolerable. It creates population growth in the poorest civilisations in the world, population explosions that have caused in the past and are even now causing untold suffering with starvation and consequent genocide. This is one of the most urgent changes to religious dogma needed to help bring greater sustainability to the world as a whole.

What will be most pressing is the need to prepare for the huge social changes in a comparatively rapid shift towards urbanisation. In managing such changes, organised religions must put aside their differences and find common ground. Governments must plan for greater movement of people through legal or illegal migration. Such movement will bring together people of disparate cultures into urban environments with higher population densities and consequently closer contact with one another. At present, there is friction between cultures separated by boundaries, and such friction must be resolved now for future migration to take place peacefully and allow these people to become safely integrated into a new urban lifestyle foreign to them at present. Alvin Toffler’s ‘Future Shock’[8] will be a mild description of the changes confronting societies in the next ten decades. Change will always create friction, and rapid change will be even more difficult to implement without finding early answers to the increased stress. The old gods will not remain suitable and acceptable to many people, as they are unable to unite mankind’s mindset to create this new world of denser populations. Yet organised religions through communicative rationality could aim unselfishly to become a uniting participant in the social support and new philosophical thread that is needed to bind peoples together. Individuals will be able to drive this change to religious attitude collectively and to encourage organised religions to come together in the parliament of the world’s religions, so they can help tackle this enormous task. The ‘worldsoul’ in each person’s mind will sustain the ‘worldspirit’ of the spiritual stream in the cultures of commitment to develop the methodology and moral settings for achieving the necessary outcomes in the world, with or even without the organised religions.

At present, the business community is working towards better international co-operation with all stakeholders. So are an increasing number of governments. Organised religions on the other hand are still not sufficiently aware of the need for better inter-religious coordination in their share of the task of bringing humanity together in peaceful collaboration. There is room for all if we heed the word of the scientific community. If the world’s religions do not bring their followers along the same path, they will become redundant in the end. The global ethic started in the secular world with a view towards organised religions following suit.



[1] Jared Diamond – Collapse – how Societies Chose to Fail or Survive – Penguin Group 2005

[2] Constantinos A Doxiadis – City of the Future –

[3] Constantinos A Doxiadis – City of the Future – as presented by Myrto Antonopoulou-Bogdanou – November 2003


[5] Constantinos A Doxiadis – Global Ecological Balance (The human settlement that we need) –

[6] United Nations –

[7] Jared Diamond – Collapse – how Societies Chose to Fail or Survive – page 498 – Penguin Group 2005

[8] Alvin Toffler – Future Shock – ISBN 0-8085-0152-6 latest reprint 1999