In June, the United Nations Population Division announced that the world's population could grow from 7.2 billion today to 9.6 billion by 2050, assuming that global fertility continues to decline. Such growth constitutes a fundamental challenge for humanity, and now two thoughtful but very different takes on it explore the implications.
In Countdown, Alan Weisman, a journalist probing whether a sustainable balance between nature and the human population can be achieved, offers a key message to guide future action. He avers that no matter what environmental, ecological or social problem we face, it will be easier to solve with fewer people. His book provides an array of examples on how to reduce population growth and, in the process, improve prospects for future generations. He makes a strong case for slowing global population growth — and even for reducing overall population numbers — as a prerequisite for achieving a sustainable future.
Stephen Emmott's 10 Billion takes for granted that the population will continue to grow, and is much less sanguine about humanity's chances of avoiding looming crises. Emmott, head of computational science for Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK, leads an interdisciplinary group of scientists engaged in addressing fundamental problems through complex modelling. His slim, even terse book — based on his 2012 stage show, which presented his view on the “unprecedented planetary emergency we've created” — primarily examines the transformation of the global environment by human activity, a transformation that includes climate change, increasing water shortages and growing urbanization. Emmott's assessment of the capacity of people and technology to prevent the global crises that confront us is grim.I was not aware of Emmott's "2012 stage show" and the minute I heard about it in this article my mind flashed to Dan Brown's Inferno and the "madman's" presentation to the WHO director (if you've read the book, you know what I'm talking about; if not, you should read the book).
Zlotnik ends her review by noting that both authors believe that sustainability requires curbing consumption, while Weisman adds the recommendation that access to contraceptives must be viewed as a high priority.