Stretching the Planet to the
Limit: The Demographic
The demographic force can be described in one short sentence: we will go from an already overstretched planet of 5 billion people in 1990 and 6 billion people today to about 8 billion by 2020—2025—in less than one generation. 1
The good news is that after that, the planet's population will either stagnate or, even if it grows some more, reach a plateau at around 9-10 billion in the second part of this century, after which it may even decline. 2 About fifteen years ago, forecasters fretted about much more worrisome scenarios. Happily, they were wrong. Some experts may therefore feel that I am overdoing it a bit when I talk about an explosion.
But consider the bad news: like a locomotive, global population growth requires a long braking period before it comes to a halt. In other words, there's nothing one can do about this increase to 8 billion. The people who will have these children are, for the most part, already or about to be born. And this figure does reflect the recent and ongoing decline in birth rates in much of the developing world. At any rate, this increase of about 2 billion over today's population, coming to a planet that is already overstretched, will act and feel like an explosion sending ripples into various directions.