Cast your mind back to the end of 1999 and the approach of what many viewed as a new Millennium. For some there was a degree of anxiety about a possible Millennium computer bug, but for others here was an opportunity to party as neverbefore. Well 2000 has come and gone, and subsequently momentous events have taken place, tragedies and acts of infamy have occurred, and occasions of joy and happiness have marked ordinary lives across the globe. Seventeen years on and the world sometimes appears more troubled than ever. Certain age-old problems are as intractable as ever, and yet surprisingly we are more interconnected as never before. One can’t help wondering how the world will be in a few decades time. Let us stop for a moment, and pick a date, say 2050. Gosh, it is only just a little over thirty-two years away, yet that date sounds strange to our ears. 2050, what will planet earth look and feel like?
Interestingly, in one respect, it is possible to hazard a guess at how things might be. The UN already has the projected population figures for 2050 and they make for startling reading. If we take the year 2000 as the starting point, we will appreciate that the change is already well underway, but even so it soon becomes apparent that insufficient thought has been given to what is taking place.
The following list give a representative sample of the change that is underway:
India 1.05 billion India 1.57 billion
Indonesia 211.5 million Indonesia 366.5 million
Japan 126.8 million Japan 107.4 million
Kenya 31.45 million Kenya 95.5 million
Tanzania 34.18 million Tanzania 137 million
Uganda 24.04 million Uganda 101.8 million
Bulgaria 8.17 million Bulgaria 5.15 million
Germany 82.21 million Germany 74.5 million
United Kingdom 58.89 million United Kingdom 75.3 million
For further details visit: www.populationpyramid.net
The vast majority of countries are set for solid growth, with some undergrowing staggering growth in the space of a matter of decades. For some countries the population is stagnating, or declining, a fact that can have serious policy implications. Europe as a whole, with a few exceptions, will decline as a share of world population, and this is certain to be reflected in respect of market share and geo-political influence. The continent of Africa is already experiencing extraordinary growth, whilst poverty remains a significant feature, there is already a growing body of evidence to suggest a burgeoning Middle Class, one whose existence is rarely acknowledged in the prevailing narrative. Such growth is certain to change the geo-political and economic dynamic, something that most policy makers appear either ignorant of or ill-prepared for. In Asia, India is set to eclipse China in population terms, and will itself need to give careful consideration as to how it manages both the population growth, and the likely growth in the aspiration of citizens.
The tyranny of short-termism has ensured that governments have been decidedly myopic in their approach. Whilst most have plans in place for 2020, some for 2030, none would appear to be making any serious effort to prepare for 2050. This near total absence of foresight planning has serious implications, both in respect of the ability to meet basic needs, but also in terms of security, both local and global. Major infrastructure projects will need to be funded and undertaken; these will include the likes of roads, schools, medical facilities and housing projects. In many countries in the developing world access to clean water is already a problem, and yet some countries are likely to see their population double, or in some cases quadruple. Deforestation is already going on largely unchecked, and this is likely to increase apace. Whatever the current debate is about the existence of Global Warming, the simple truth is that there will be parts of the planet that become uninhabitable. Mass migration will follow, and consequently few countries will be spared the pressure that follows from global population growth.
For some, what is being presented is little short of an apocalyptic vision, one of a world beset with troubles. Certainly mankind, and the natural world is going to be placed under an extraordinary strain. There is every likelihood that there will be conflicts over water, a fact that warrants action now. Some people already have begun to appreciate the gravity of what is taking place, and it is important that we all grasp the importance of population and demographic change. The challenge is not to let this overwhelm us.
Some already believe that there is a need to revisit old intellectual quarries, and apply ideas afresh. In this respect maybe E. F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful and George McRobie’s Small is Possible still have something to say. Innovation will be vital, as will research and development aimed at finding solutions to pressing problems. Futurists are quite right to press for committed foresight planning, fresh thinking, and meaningful solutions. That said, they have their work cut out. Quarterly financial statements, and the political calendar create a mindset that has as its focus the here and now. Many of those who walk the corridors of accountability are already planning for their own retirement, for them 2050 is of little interest. For all that, we owe it to our children and grandchildren to wake up, and act. All is not lost. Decisions we take today can help mitigate the problems of tomorrow. We all would be wise to peruse the population figures for 2050, for then the penny will begin to drop, and perhaps mankind will choose to steer a different course.
Mark T. Jones