Global demographic pressures accelerate

Behind the world-wide concern over climate change sit two macro-demographic factors which are well-known but whose continuing and increasing impact is often forgotten: population growth, and urbanisation.

The United Nations has just released new reports on world population which put the challenge in unmistakable terms. The current world population is about 6.5 billion, increasing by sopme 80 million each year. The net increase in population is three per second. The world population is predicted to level out at between 8 and 10 billion people by 2050. Yet even at the current level, it is estimated that more than three billion people are malnourished, with per capita grain availability declining. Half the world’s animal and plant species are harvested for human use, which, when combined with the pressure on habitats, is producing what conservation biologists are calling an extinction crisis. And, of course, it is primarily the energy needs of this expanding population which is driving climate change.

These pressures are multiplied in urban aggolomerations. Half the world’s population now lives in urban areas; by 2030 the figure will be closer to 60%, driven largely by urbanising trends in Asia and Africa. The rate of urbanisation is far outstripping the ability of societies to deal effectively with it. Lack of basic infrastructure, in sanitation and water, vast slum populations, endemic crime and poverty are already more the norm than the exception. One countervailing trend is the likelihood that the mega-city urban agglomerations are reaching maximum capacity; already the frontier of growth is moving to smaller urban populations, of perhaps half to one million, which can be planned for more adequately.

Demographic realities on this scale are clearly of overwhelming importance to every facet of human life. Grappling with them is arguably the task of highest priority confronting the world’s political institutions. As with the linked problem of climate change, the sheer scale and urgency of the challenges may compel the development and adoption of the kinds of global political structures that will be necessary to handle them. One hopes so, as these structures, and the commitment to them, are today tenuous at best.

As an aside, it’s also worth noting the immeasurable impact of these factors on business. Writing more than forty years ago, Peter Drucker, the incomparable commentator on the theory and practice of businesspointed this out in discussing the changes that generate the future business environment:

“The first area to examine is always population. Population changes are the most fundamental–for the labor force, for the market, for social pressures, and economic opportunities. They are the least reversible in the normal course of events. They have a known minimum lead-time between change and impact. . .And their consequences are most nearly predictable.”

[Drucker, Peter F. (1964, 1986) Managing For Results, Harper & Row, New York.]

Report from The Independent on world population link here.

Report from The Guardian on world urbanisation link here.

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