World population: "Ten billion is not too many"

Expert Rose says it’s not the number of people on earth that matters, but how they live. With the right measures, ten billion people can live in the world. But for this to happen, rich countries in particular have to rethink. Now we are eight billion people, soon there will be nine and eventually ten billion. How many people can our planet actually support?

Colette Rose: Basically, eight or even ten billion is not too many people for the planet. But what really matters is how these people live. So it is not the sheer number that is decisive, but how much these people consume, how much energy and resources they use. For example, if everyone lived like Americans, we would need five Earths. So it’s a question of sustainability, behavior and nutrition, which has to change, especially in industrialized countries.

Colette Rose

The sociologist is a research associate at the Berlin Institute for Population and Development and researches topics related to international demography. She is particularly interested in how gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights can influence population development in Africa. What does such a large world population mean for the climate and the environment?

Rose: This day is actually an important day to appeal that we need to invest in sustainability. Because not everyone in the world can live like we do in Europe and America. The planet is not going along with that, especially with a view to climate change. So it’s all about inequality. Because if we have high global inequality, it will be very difficult to provide for so many people.

The industrialized countries consume far more resources than we have – this cannot go on like this, consumption must inevitably be reduced here. We have to think about how we can improve people’s living conditions without increasing the ecological footprint. And we can already see that this is possible. Can you give examples?

Rose: There is the phenomenon of “leapfrogging”. It’s about big leaps in development, to skip non-sustainable stages of development and directly implement methods that are more sustainable and climate-friendly. Digitization plays a major role here, for example in African countries like Kenya. There is a kind of car sharing for tractors via an app, which is cheaper and more climate-friendly than if every farmer bought his own. However, it can also mean that regions that have not yet had a nationwide power supply do not build coal-fired power plants, but instead switch directly to renewable energies. Thinking the other way around: What are the consequences of climate change on the growing population in Africa, for example? There are often famines and water shortages there. Could this increase conflicts?

Rose: Of course, it cannot be ruled out that there will be conflicts over the distribution of land or water. But there are also concepts to secure people’s food supply, for example. There are three big things that need to happen: First, we need to intensify existing agriculture in various ways, such as better seeds, better fertilizers, or drought-resistant breeds.

Secondly, it is very important to minimize food waste. A lot is wasted at the moment. And thirdly, we have to get away from the many animal products in our diet, especially in the industrialized countries. That is also a very big factor for food safety, that the diet has to change. We cannot eat animal products as much as we do now in the long term. Could the growing world population also lead to larger migration movements?

Rose: It’s hard to say because a lot depends on the living conditions of the local people. But it can be assumed that there will be more migration, although exact figures are difficult to give. But what we often forget: Germany needs immigration from abroad. We have the opposite trend, our population is shrinking. That is why we are dependent on immigration in order to secure our need for skilled workers and to finance our social systems. What determines whether a population grows – as is the case in many poorer countries – or decreases – as can be observed in many industrialized countries?

Rose: In short: Where fewer people die, fewer are born. Experience has shown that population growth falls when people’s living conditions improve, and above all when fewer children die. And you can drive that forward by investing in key areas that have been shown to both improve people’s living conditions and lead to fewer children.

These include first and foremost health care, then education, especially for girls, the promotion of women, gender equality and the creation of jobs. Of course, family planning and the provision of contraceptives also play a central role, so that women can decide for themselves how many children they have.

The interview was conducted by Alexander Steininger,

World population growth: 8 billion mark exceeded

Kerstin Breinig, RBB, daily news at 5:00 p.m., November 15, 2022

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