3. How can population growth and resources be brought into balance?

The currentworld population of 6.7 billion is expected to reach 9.2 billion by 2050,peaking soon afterward at 9.8 billion and then falling to 5.5 billion by 2100,according to the UN lower forecast. Scientific breakthroughs over the next 50years are likely to change these forecasts, giving people longer and moreproductive lives than most would believe possible today. Nevertheless, globalpopulation is changing from high mortality and high fertility to low mortalityand low fertility. A quarter of the world (excluding Africa) will be over 60years old in 2050. There will be more people over 60 than under 15 by 2045, accordingto the UN medium forecast. Today about 65% of older persons live in developingcountries; by 2050 nearly 80% will. To reduce the economic burden on youngergenerations and to keep up living standards, people will work longer and createmany forms of tele-work, part-time work, and job rotation.

FAOestimates that 37 countries face a crisis over food. Prices of cereals are up129% since 2006. The 2008 Rome Conference on Food Security in response to theworld food crisis created global short- and long-term strategies with UNagencies, governments, and NGOs to act as a system to feed the world. Becausefood production has to increase 50% by 2013 and double in 30 years, because thedemand for animal protein may increase 50% by 2020, because there are shortagesof water, and because many of the other factors that doubled rice and wheatprices are expected to continue, new agricultural approaches will be neededsuch as meat production without growing animals; better rain-fed agricultureand irrigation management; genetic engineering for higher-yielding crops;precision agriculture and aquaculture; drought-tolerant crop varieties; andsaltwater agriculture on coastlines to produce food for humans and animals,biofuels, pulp for the paper industry, to absorb CO2, to reduce the drain onfreshwater agriculture and land, and to increase employment. An animal rightsgroup has offered $1 million to the first producers of commercially viableanimal meat without growing animals by 2012. Currently, agriculture uses 80% ofarable land in developing countries, of which 20% is irrigated. Massive effortsare required to maintain fertile cropland. FAO estimates that $15–20 billion ayear is needed to boost food production to control soaring food prices. Climatechange and monocultures undermine biodiversity, which is critical foragricultural viability.

Just over50% of humanity lives in urban areas today. Half of them live in cities of lessthan 500,000 inhabitants. By 2030 over 80% of humanity is expected to live inurban concentrations. During the same period, the 1 billion people living inslums today could double. About 385 million people are malnourished, and 25% ofchildren worldwide have protein-energy malnutrition, which reduces cerebraldevelopment. Continued economic growth will increase the demand for meat,requiring more land and water. This will further increase competition betweenagricultural resources for food versus energy. However, rural populations areexpected to continually shrink after 2015, freeing additional land foragriculture. About 40% of agricultural land is moderately degraded and 9% ishighly degraded, reducing global crop yield by as much as 13%. A quarter of allfish stocks are overharvested; 80% cannot withstand increased fishing pressure.FAO estimates that water for agriculture needs to increase 60% to feed anadditional 2 billion people by 2030, even as urban water requirements areincreasing. Without sufficient nutrition, shelter, water, and sanitationproduced by more intelligent human-nature symbioses, increased migrations,conflicts, and disease seem inevitable. ICT continues to more optimally matchneeds and resources worldwide in real time, and nanotech will help reducematerial use per unit of output while increasing quality.

Challenge 3will be addressed seriously when the annual growth in world population drops tofewer than 30 million, the number of hungry people and the infant mortalityrate both decrease by half from their peaks, and new approaches to aging becomeeconomically viable.

Regional Considerations

Africa: About 40% of children under five are chronicallymalnourished. Africa is the only region with a median age below 20 today, andin 2050 the share of population aged 60 or above will still be just slightlyabove 10%. Ten of the 34 countries with life expectancies of 49 years or beloware in West Africa. Sub-Saharan population is growing at the rate of 2.5% peryear compared with 1.2% in Latin America and Asia. Some 12–13 million Africansare expected to move from villages to urban areas during 2008. The populationof urban slums in Africa could increase to 350 million by 2020.  Much of the urban management class is beingseriously reduced by AIDS, which is also lowering life expectancy. Conflictscontinue to prevent development investments, ruin fertile farmland, createrefugees, compound food emergencies, and prevent better management of naturalresources.

Asia and Oceania: China is growing old before it has grownrich. With the one-child policy (to continue for at least another decade), thefertility rate in China has fallen to 1.7 from about 5 in the 1970s. The numberof Chinese over 60 is expected to grow from 144 million in 2005 to 430 millionby 2040. China could experience labor shortages in two years. The boy-to-girlratio in 2007 was 118 to 100; China could be short 15 million women in 15years. China has to feed 22% of the world’s population with less than 7% of theworld’s arable land and could face a food shortfall of 100 million tons by2030. India has more than 500 million people under 25, will have more peoplethan China by 2050, and has more malnourished children than sub-Saharan Africa.Japan’s workforce is expected to shrink from 66.5 million to 42 million by2050. Without some 4,000 new immigrants, Japanese population would havedecreased in 2007.  Japan expects to userobots to handle the future aging population. Australia’s population is growingdue to migration. By 2025 South Asians may consume 70% more milk and vegetablesand 100% more meat, eggs, and fish than today. Asians earning more than $7,000annually outnumber the total population of North America and Europe—laying thefoundation for unprecedented consumption. New concepts of employment may beneeded to prevent political instability among the 60% of Arabs who are nowunder 25 and face poor prospects for conventional employment.

Europe: By 2031 the population is expected to reach 71.1million, with 22% over the age of 65. Spain’s fertility rate is 1.1, Italy’s is1.2. Russia’s falling birth rates may be changing with government incentiveslike reproduction days off and $10,000 when the second child turns three; itsbirth rate increased 9% during 2007 and death rate decreased by 8%. Europe’saging and shrinking population and the dearth of young people will forcechanges in pension and social security systems, incentives for more children,and increased immigration, affecting international relations, culture, and thesocial fabric 

Latin America: The region is aging, but not as rapidly asEurope is. The population is expected to grow from 550 million today to about800 million by 2050 and become 85% urban by 2030, requiring massive urban andagricultural infrastructural investments. Some 16% of children under fivesuffer from chronic malnutrition

NorthAmerica: Less than 2% of the U.S. provides the largest share of world foodexports. In the past two years, the U.S. allocated more than 20 million tons ofgrain to ethanol production, about half of the additional grain supply neededworldwide to have averted the current food crisis. Global warming shouldincrease Canadian grain exports. Biotech and nanotech are just beginning tohave an impact on medicine; hence dramatic breakthroughs in longevity seeminevitable in 25–50 years. Reducing “throw-away” consumption in favor ofknowledge and experience could change the population-resource balance. In theU.S., the Incentives for Older Workers Act were introduced to eliminatebarriers for older Americans wishing to work longer and to encourage employersto recruit and retain them.