This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

You can download an iPhone app for the 13th edition from the App Store (search for Weeks Population).

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Are We Running Out of Room on the Planet?

It is not a good visual. No one who has ever traveled can readily absorb the idea that there are more humans than the planet can handle. There just seems to be so much space out there, right? The problem, of course, is that most of the planet is not fit for human habitation, and we are, indeed, using almost all of the useful land to sustain ourselves. This is the idea behind the ecological footprint and it is the subject of two different stories in today's news.

From BBCNews comes the story with the exact title of "Is the World Running Out of Space?" This is a good overview of population growth with quotes from a lot of familiar people.
“Virtually all population growth between now and the end of the century will be in cities,” says Joel Cohen, head of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller University and Columbia University, and author of a book called How many people can the Earth support? “It boils down to more than one million additional people living in cities every five to six days from now until 2100.”
“People can live at much higher population densities – it is possible,” says John Wilmoth, director of the Population Division of the United Nations. “As someone who lives in Manhattan, I have to say that it’s not awful.”
“The Africa projections are really scary,” says John Bongaarts, vice president and distinguished scholar at the Population Council, a non-profit research organisation based in New York City. “A large proportion will end up in urban slums, which is not a recipe for happy living.”
“I’d say there’s no threat of the world’s rainforests all being taken over by cities,” says Karen Seto, a professor of geography and urbanisation at Yale University. “The bigger threat is the indirect impact of urbanisation on those landscapes.” Indeed, cities require wood for creating buildings and furniture, agricultural land for growing food, space to dispose of tonnes of rubbish produced on a daily basis – and much more.
Karen Seto's concern is echoed by a new report from Negative Population Growth on the replacement of good agricultural land in the US by the spread of cities out into the countryside.
Part of the reason that growth is unsustainable is because it is devouring the land it needs to feed itself, sawing off the limb it stands on. Eventually that limb will snap. But we’re smarter than that – one hopes.
Even if you don't feel very crowded where you are, rest assured that the increasing number of us--all clamoring for a higher standard of living--is crowding the planet.

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