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In 2013 two significant books were published about the growth in world population with 10 Billion prominent in the title. One was by Danny Dorling, a geography Professor, and the other by Stephen Emmott, another celebrated scientist who advises governments and in 2013 was Head of Computational Science at Microsoft Research.
They were writing about the implications of the world population sweeping past 10 billion before 2100 and continuing to grow after that. While Emmott was loaded with pessimism for society and the planet, ending with a quote from a scientist about teaching his son to use a gun, an article in Wired about the same time took it even further, suggesting numbers surpassing 12 billion, while the Climate News Network was quoted that this had “profound and alarming implications for political stability, food security and, of course, climate change.”
The great population slowdown
Dorling was much more measured about the long term projections from the UN population division. Detailed calculations by Dorling highlighted that the global growth in the birth rate went into reverse in 1971 – “the great population slowdown” - and would continue to decline towards, or even below, 2.0 (2.1 is the point at which the population sustains itself naturally). The drivers are urbanisation and education.
He argued at the time that the UN was ignoring some obvious data and possibly promoting the higher numbers for political convenience when they suggested that the population would still be growing in 2100. His view was that nine billion looks more like the peak, with ten just possible.
The latest figures from the UN were published at the start of the summer and they are quietly rowing back towards Dorling’s projections. Birth rates are dropping from six children per woman towards two much faster everywhere, even in Africa where the UN had expected the most explosive growth. Kenya, for example will get to a birth rate of 2.1 a decade earlier than the last forecast. Additionally some countries like South Korea, who have already dropped well below 2.0, were expected to bounce back somewhat, but this is not proving to be the case. So wait a bit until the next correction and we can expect another drop towards Dorling’s numbers.
Dorling also argued that at numbers between nine and ten billion the planet would be quite capable of feeding itself, as long as people are careful; whereas even five billion would fail if everyone consumed at the levels of a modern western lifestyle. At this moment, the current number is 7,732,533,769 according to Worldometers.
Livestock do not use too much land
From the leather industry point of view, what this does is relieve us of the throw-away line that we are short of land for livestock. We have quite enough now for proper husbandry to supply the meat we need. In fact, this has been obvious for some decades since reducing livestock numbers in many markets are producing much higher quantities of beef and milk through better management. Attacking livestock because of the land it uses has become a standard argument that needs to be challenged everywhere. Livestock, especially cattle, are good for long-term grassland and parkland. They improve the soil, create carbon sequestration, aid biodiversity and boost the human spirit while providing vital protein from otherwise unproductive land. You cannot grow crops and forests on all types of terrain, although livestock grazing appears to be very compatible with forests and woodlands.
At the same time, there is absolutely no reason for any Amazon Forest land to be used for livestock. If it is, then it is a matter of criminality, corruption and politics gone wrong. Sadly, all three are getting more common around the world and creating severe peripheral damage for the leather industry.
Hides and skins are a by-product that tanners use; but it is good to be able to re-assure ourselves and our customers that the livestock that they come from are a useful source that is a help to the planet. For the one point Dorling does make is that worrying about population levels in 2100 will look foolish if the planet’s temperature keeps rising at the current speed.
Dr Mike Redwood
September 25, 2019
Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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