World population is growing faster than we thought

We’ve all heard the aphorism ‘Lies, damned lies and statistics.’ Statistics are an invaluable tool for understanding and responding appropriately to the world, but when the numbers say one thing and the headlines say another, it’s a cause for concern. TOP takes a dive into World Population Prospects 2022.

by Jane O’Sullivan

The world’s population has grown more than anticipated in the past three years.

That should have been the headline when the United Nations released its latest revision of world population data (World Population Prospects 2022) on 11 July. Instead, the headline was that global population would peak in 2086 at 10.4 billion, about 15 years earlier and half a billion fewer than projected in 2019.

Is this fake news? Why should greater-than-anticipated growth yield lower future growth projections? Let’s look at the data they have given us. Apologies if this article is a bit nerdy, but the UN projections play an important role in government planning throughout the world. Any criticism of them needs to be thoroughly justified.

Figure 1 shows the world population as it was estimated in each revision of World Population Prospects (WPP) from 2010 to 2022. The pink line connects each revision’s estimate of the current population, i.e. the mid-2010 population as estimated by WPP2010 connected to the mid-2012 population as estimated by WPP2012 etc. Using this rolling-current estimate avoids any bias in the UN’s model that might be influencing the slope of the projected line.

In blue dashed lines are the projected growth anticipated in each of those revisions. With the exception of 2019, where recent past estimates closely matched what was expected in 2017, each new revision has concluded that growth since the last update was greater than they anticipated.

The world population estimates for each successive revision of World Population Prospects from 2010 to 2022 have been higher than the previous years'

In 2012, 2015 and 2017, these upward revisions resulted in an upward revision of the projected population throughout this century. In 2019, when the estimate of current population closely matched its 2017 expectation, we might have expected the projection would stay the same too. But instead, the UN anticipated faster future fertility decline than previously and a lower population in 2100 (down from 11.2 billion to 10.9 billion). At the time, I called this out as unfounded.

Now we are told that, in mid-2022, there are 21 million more humans than were anticipated in 2019. The date for reaching 8 billion has been brought forward to 14 November this year – two and a half months earlier than expected in 2019. This is despite 15 million excess deaths due to Covid-19 up to December 2021, and more millions this year. The pandemic was not anticipated in the 2019 figures; without it, the population would have been above expectation by 36 million or more, in just three years! Compared with the 2010 projection, a shocking 177 million more people than were expected are present in mid-2022.

Despite this, the new projection is for an even steeper deceleration into the future. Without a good explanation of why the future will behave differently than the past (and I have found none in their documentation so far), this simply defies logic. We often read that the world is adding 80 million people per year. But if we take the UN’s estimate for the current population at the time of each issue (the solid line in Figure 1), the average annual increment over this period is 90 million.

Despite all this, according to WPP2022, some 14 million fewer people were born between mid-2019 and mid-2022 than were anticipated in WPP2019. How can this be? By the usual expedient of revising the past, so that the extra people present are deemed to have been born earlier. This allows the UN’s model to keep showing that, despite recalcitrant growth in the past, we’re on the cusp of a steady decline. Figure 2 shows the annual increment of global population published in each of the recent revisions. It shows how the extra 36 million-or-more people have been spread over the past 30 years. You can see the dramatic effect of the Covid-19-related deaths, but after the pandemic, the increment resumes well below the previous projection. This is despite the higher figures for the past and despite life expectancy resuming its previous upward trend. That is to say, they do not anticipate a lasting impact of Covid-19 on deaths, so the lower future increments are due to more rapid fertility decline, apparently based on wishful thinking.

Annual increase in global population for each projection varies back in time, with each successive one assuming higher increase in previous decades. Previous projections have increased each revision but this year the projection is lower despite having higher increase overall

Is it reasonable to project the future to diverge so dramatically from the recent past? A partial explanation is that we’re coming to the end of the second echo of the post-war baby-boom (in the 1950s to early ’60s, more babies in the global north coincided with fewer infant deaths in the global south). The first echo, seen in Figure 2 as the peak around 1989, reflects those big cohorts of baby-boomers becoming parents. The children from that peak are parenting now but the bulge is passing. However, this doesn’t explain the revisions repeatedly pushing this bulge out further: the UN’s model has always accounted for the size of cohorts entering parenthood. It seems the anticipated decline is repeatedly eluding us. The only explanation for this is that the UN’s model has consistently over-estimated fertility decline.

Projected fertility decline continues to be over-optimistic

Where is this extra growth coming from? I took a look at the reported fertility rates for the 21 countries the UN projects will contribute most to future growth. Between them, according to WPP2022, they will add 2.4 billion people by the time global population peaks in 2086. That is 97% of the total expected increase in global population. (Other countries will also contribute substantially, but will be off-set by population declines elsewhere.) Figure 3 shows their fertility change between 2019 and 2022, as projected by WPP2019 (interpolated data) and as estimated by WPP2022. Countries are listed in order of their contribution to future growth, from just over 300 million additional people for Nigeria to just under 50 million for Madagascar.

The “current” fertility line joins the 2019 fertility level that was reported in WPP2019 and the 2022 fertility level that is reported in WPP2022. This might not be more right than either revision but at least it avoids the UN model’s bias toward giving all high-fertility countries high rates of fertility decline, whether or not this is actually happening. It is exactly this feature of the UN’s model that causes each revision to show that the global growth increment has recently started to fall, even if the next revision finds that it hadn’t been falling after all. But previous editions are never discussed and not easy to find, achieving a convenient amnesia about past failures and allowing similar claims to be repeated without circumspection.

Total fertility rate of the top 21 countries contributing to future growth, comparing the 2019 and 2022 revisions

Of these 21 countries, 12 are reported to have a higher fertility now (according to WPP2022) than was expected in the 2019 projection (i.e. the slope of the pink line is less than the slope of the brown line). Averaging across all 21, fertility is higher than anticipated by 0.1 children per woman. This might not seem much, but it means half of the decline UN demographers expected between 2019 and 2022 did not happen. Five countries (DR Congo, Sudan, Philippines, Afghanistan and Mali) have a higher fertility in 2022 than they were believed to have in 2019 (i.e. the slope of the pink line is upward). That is to say, they have gone backwards.

Of course, the 2022 revision has also revised these countries’ 2019 fertility upwards (blue lines in Figure 3) and therefore shows a healthy fertility decline for each of them. Whether the revised 2019 numbers are due to new and better information, or are merely the products of a model that doesn’t accommodate fertility rebounds, I can’t tell. The fact WPP2022 ascribes Afghanistan among the biggest fertility falls—and we all know why its fertility is likely to have risen—suggests to me more model-forcing than data-revision. In any case, the data are showing more births and less fertility decline happened over the past three years in these crucial countries than were anticipated in 2019. On these grounds, the projected lower peak population in the 2022 revision is bewildering.

Messaging designed to stifle action

A few countries have had greater fertility decline than expected in 2019. Among the top 21 contributors to global growth, India, Egypt and Madagascar stand out. All have reinvigorated family planning services and public messaging about birth control in the past few years, in an explicit effort to rein in population growth. Others (outside the top-21) with greater than anticipated declines are Malawi and Rwanda, both having governments openly expressing concerns about population growth and promoting family planning.

It would have been nice to see the UN draw attention to this relationship between more government concern about population growth and more fertility decline. Instead, the UNFPA decried any expressed concern about population growth as ‘alarmist’.

The key messages published with WPP2022 state that “further actions by Governments aimed at reducing fertility would not have a major impact on the pace of growth between now and mid-century.” While they concede that action now ‘could’ have an impact in the second half of the century, this is a mere caveat, not a key message. While we all appreciate the power of population momentum, it is wrong to play down beneficial actions just because they have a long lead-time. The climate crisis we now face is largely due to leaders not acting early enough because the impacts were too far in the future.

It is also wrong to infer that impacts of more rapid fertility decline are all decades away. Benefits for health systems and household finances are immediate, the education system benefits within a decade, and employment prospects could be substantially improved within two decades as smaller age cohorts come through. That the biggest benefits might be decades away is all the more reason for the UN to champion them, to counter the political short-termism of national governments.

The WPP2022 key messages also say “the pace of growth is slowing down”, a false statement since (Covid-19 aside) no downward trend in the annual increment has yet been established (see Figures 1 & 2). When the eighth billion person arrives in November this year, it will be the fastest billion we’ve ever added. The falling percentage growth rate is attributable to the rising total population (the same increment divided by a bigger number yields a lower rate), but it does not mean that the pace has slackened.

All of this rhetoric is consistent with perpetuating the myth that the Cairo agenda has been successful, not only in providing better reproductive health services for women but that it would “also lead to lower population growth than targeted efforts for birth control.” This is not what the data tell us. What we are seeing is the abject failure of the strategy to halt population growth by suppressing any mention of it. It has failed to deliver elevated access to family planning services, it has failed to accelerate fertility decline, and it has failed to lower population growth rate, compared with the many earlier successful examples of “targeted efforts for birth control.” Consequently, it has brought more poor countries to the brink of food and water insecurity and locked them into cycles of poverty.

I can imagine the political pressure on the UN demographers to deliver an affirmation of the Cairo agenda. A higher-than-expected projection would place the whole strategy under scrutiny. It would also put them further out of kilter with projections issued by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and the IPCC’s SSP scenarios. The Summary document for WPP2022 discusses these in a subtly critical way, noting that while they “may be plausible for high-fertility countries individually, they depict rather unlikely outcomes for regional and global aggregates.” For my critiques of these projections see here for IHME and here for SSPs. What all of them have in common is the assumption that fertility is determined by development and education outcomes, not by “targeted efforts for birth control” through voluntary, rights-enhancing but nevertheless assertive actions of governments and NGOs. This is in denial of research that shows family planning effort is by far the strongest determinant of fertility decline.

Where WPP2022 should have been a call to action, it makes an explicit call to inaction. At this point in our global environmental and security crises, this is an unconscionable failure.

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70 thoughts on “World population is growing faster than we thought

  1. The misuse of ‘rate’ as opposed to actual number is an old trick. It has been used by many, it is disappointing that the UN is doing it too

    1. Well, media did a similar thing with COVID, reporting ONLY IN NET NUMBERS, never in percentages or, more importantly perhaps, as they compared COVID to the 1918 flu (which is hogwash) omitting that “similar” numbers were nothing of the sort because the global and U.S. populations were a faction of the population today. So, net numbers, rather than percentages–AS ANY HONEST REPORTER KNOWS–are deceptive and dishonest!

    2. Why disappointing? The UN is a self-serving organisation with high salaries, gilded lifestyles and not much to show for. They have to do what is necessary for them to survive.

      1. And some of us can remember when–rather than being an ineffective BUREAUCRACY–the U.N. actually had “blue helmets,” or soldiers who (as Eleanor Roosevelt worked for) would have been there right alongside Ukraine to stop Russian agression!

      2. Condemning the whole UN system is not going to help. If the Population Division has been taken over by a pro-natalist, as seems to be the case, then that should be taken up by governments with the Secretary General. Jane O’Sullivan has provided the case. How about the Australian Government taking this up, and also involving delegations from other similar countries?

    3. Great comment on rate. Rate of rates is also a cracker which describes decline whilst accelerating

  2. Disturbing. That the UN engages in such dishonesty should be a headline on major media. Unfortunately, many people – including journalists – struggle with reading original reports and with numbers, finding them difficult and boring.

    On a related note, I wonder what everybody’s gonna eat this fall, with the war blocking and destroying food trade, either droughts or floods all over the world, energy and other inputs becoming more expensive, and lesser-known crises on top of all of this.

    1. Major media? I wrote a paper on it and population for NPG a year or two ago. I am a journalist–from WHEN MEDIA WERE HONEST–and was shocked as I researched and found that media in the U.S. (and throughout Europe, S.E. Asia, Australia and much of the rest of the world) is now owned by just 6 companies: Disney, Sony, Comcast, National Amusements, News Corp, Time-Warner. They form what is, effectively, a MONOPOLY that operate in collusion to create the “reality” they want and that benefits those NOW ALLOWED TO OWN MAJOR MEDIA FOR THE FIRST TIME IN U.S. HISTORY, NOT THE NEWS THAT WE NEED TO BE INFORMED CITIZENS OR ACTIVISTS. That paper offers a reasoned narrative that not only has POPULATION DISAPPEARED FROM THE NEWS, but it is BEING DELIBERATELY LIED ABOUT, DISTORTED, CENSORED AND BLACK LISTED–just as scientists’ warning to the world that WE CANNOT SOLVE CLIMATE CHANGE WITHOUT ADDRESSING POPULATION WAS ABSOLUTELY BLACKED OUT BY BIG 6!

    2. And, don’t make excuses for journalists. A journalist who does his or her JOB EFFECTIVELY, doesn’t have to be an expert on a topic, because he or she builds the story based on the EXPERTISE OF OTHERS. For example, a story like this REQUIRES COMMENTS from the National Academy of Science and from top climate scientists. I as a journalist rarely did more than SKIM such reports, because the REAL STORY WAS THROUGH OBJECTIVE INTERVIEWS FROM OTHERS!

  3. Dear Jane,

    Thank you for this. Who are the specific UN Demographers that you suggest are fudging the data?

    It would be helpful to us all if you would contact them and get their response to your critiques . . . who knows, maybe from their point of view it’s you who are making math mistakes.

    Or if it’s them, they should be glad to see you correct their oversight.

    Either way, it will be a service to everyone to have all of you disputants in direct conversation: you, them, and even a neutral math whiz to serve as referee.

    Keep up the good work . . . you’re getting close . . .


    1. Dear Davy, I would indeed welcome an exchange with them, and a neutral referee. I’m always keen to be shown where I’ve got the wrong end of the stick.
      I would not say they are “fudging the data”. But they have clearly changed their rationale about future rates of fertility decline, if the model is projecting faster future decline despite slower past decline. In earlier revisions they applied a relationship between a country’s level of fertility and its rate of fertility decline. I discussed this with Patrick Gerland (their head demographer) at a conference a few years ago, and pointed out that, while that relationship might hold for countries that have already set off on their fertility transition, their model assumes that all countries have done so – that none are remaining in a steady state of high fertility. He conceded that this was the case. They are no doubt still applying the same thesis, but it bemuses me why the persistent slow change in sub-Saharan Africa does not appear to be reflected in model revisions. Now they have perhaps added some other factor that makes future fertility decline (at the same level of fertility) faster than in the past. This is moving in the opposite direction from where incorporating the experience of the recent past should be taking them.

      1. The situation is so serious that, even if what they are doing is wrong, I still hope that they are right and their “optimism” about fertility rates is justified. The alternative is too disturbing to contemplate.

      2. It doesn’t matter if they are ‘fudging the data,’ what matters is that POPULATION (thanks to our now-deregulated GLOBAL MEDIA) has now disappeared from the planet’s conversation, even as it continues to explode globally AND in high-carbon nations like the U.S. Sadly, in Africa, I fear we’re about to see what Garrett Hardin warned of: If humans won’t deal with population, Nature will and her way is never very kind!

      3. It’s not just their presentation of statistics that is the problem, it is also their commentary. In particular, pretending that family planning provision is not a key driver of fertility decline. The idea that it just happens is what they call magical thinking.

      4. Barbara, you’re right – the commentary is really the bigger problem, and quite likely controlled by different people than the population modelling. It is a central pillar of their orchestration of the population taboo to deny the role of population-focused voluntary family planning programs in past fertility declines. But the modelling team reinforces this by treating projections as probabilistic (dependent on chance rather than choice). The most frustrating thing to me is that the authors of the commentary are anonymous. The demographers we know – they publish under their own names. But the propaganda team is faceless and unaccountable. According to your account, they probably have the Holy See breathing down their necks.

  4. Meanwhile, as the Southwest U.S. is in the worst water crisis since the 1280 to 1350 A.D. drought that triggered FAMINE AND MIGRATIONS, Joe Biden and Kammie Kuteness invite in the world to the tune of HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF MOSTLY ILLEGAL BORDER CROSSERS, as though nothing at all is happening. Lake Mead and Lake Powell both approach DEAD POOL, and most of the 200 reservoirs on the Colorado River system are in roughly the same condition as the entire Colorado River system–critical to 45 million people–teeters at the brink of COLLAPSE.. The Rio Grande at Albuquerque (actually the Rio PLUS WHAT SHOULD BE A MILLION ACRE-FEET OF COLORADO RIVER WATER) is effectively dry. Meanwhile, OUR CORRUPT, NOW-DEREGULATED MEDIA think the ‘important’ story is corpses found at Lake Mead and certainly THEY ALLOW NO DISCUSSION of just how nuts Biden inviting the world into our highest carbon nation really is–just as they allowed NO DISCUSSION IN HIS PART IN CAUSING THE WAR IN UKRAINE! Nowhere to they acknowledge that it might be REALLY DUMB to have Phoenix currently be the FASTEST GROWING CITY IN THE NATION, and Salt Lake City (where the Great Salt Lake is almost dry) the 2nd fastest growing!

  5. Excellent analysis. If any apologies would be required for being ‘nerdy’ it certainly would not have to be addressed to me or anyone else who read your exposé full length. They can be ignored, but not however for the issue at hand.
    My money is on education, especially girls (even though this will offend those, who are equally offended by efforts for family planning)
    Needless to say, the statistical acrobatics indicate increasing fear for ‘the government’ for being punished. Indeed what should be the news’ headlines is replaced by left-brain crap to make us stop thinking, to prevent us to rebel.
    Here’s a quote from Henry Kissinger:
    “In the future it will be as impossible for the ordinary people to rebel against us as it is for a sheep to rebel against a farmer.”
    There will be no second chance my friends.
    Just watch the fear-porn in their media
    They will not rest until the total population will be vaccinated with their mind-numbing remote control nanotechnology.
    It’s probably against all odds to expect “us, the government” (the real meaning of “we the people) to understand that if they would do their job properly (what we pay them to do), there would be no rebellion.
    Let’s watch the sky ver closely.

      1. @Jane
        Hello Jane, thank you for your remarks and links. Indeed, theoretically the numbers would confirm your stance. Yet the current most virulent self-controlled slavery doctrine destroys girls schools and even kills them (which the guys in Rome condone: same difference). Never mind family-planning, it’s built in: their single one directive is: “conquer the world through the bellies of our women”.
        From a processing point of view however I hardly need to argue my case knowing that education is the key to better family [auto-)planning.
        Given the current Planetary Mess we certainly don’t need any government interference here, either with good intent or not.
        Thanks to your work the inadequacy of fuzzy action plans become much more focused and long term rather than virtually useless emo driven ad hoc impulses.
        We u r g e n t l y need to get our shit together. Team up. Ban violence. And speed up, so the corporate government will no longer be able to sabotage proper initiative.
        Then good things will start to happen [en masse) which they can no longer deny.
        Incidentally, to improve education massively the current toxicity of our environment that keeps corporate america “in the saddle” needs to be completely removed forever.
        Their rodeo will end face down for them. Those guys don’t like your report. At all. We will see the teacher return being highly esteemed and paid the highest salary of all.
        We can go on and on and on can’t we.

    1. Well, no arguments from me, although I do tend to lean, perhaps, a bit too heavily on the Thomas Jefferson’s, “Democracy requires the blood of a frequent revolution to refresh it,” which it wouldn’t if Americans–as you allude to and as we are REQUIRED TO IN A DEMOCRACY–upheld their end to be informed (hard with our CORRUPT media) and involved. But that is what concerns me–I spent my life in HONEST JOURNALISM!–thanks to media deregulation (compliments of Reagan and Clinton) we no longer have media adhering to the ethics and standards of journalism meant to serve a free people and our system of government. We (to include most of the rest of the Free World, too) have a propaganda machine that is fully owned and operated by Wall Street or our own oligarchy under ‘deregulation’ that has allowed those not previously ALLOWED TO OWN BIG MEDIA, to OWN BIG MEDIA! I’ve written 2 papers you might find interesting. They’re on the NPG website, one on drought and climate change in the Southwest (several years old, but sadly, still right on target) and one entitled, “Why population REALLY disappeared from the news and became politically incorrect.” Went into the latter worried about media. Finished the paper shocked by what I had learned in researching it and, frankly, not very optimistic about good outcomes cause a democracy without honest information is El Screwdo!

  6. Another brilliant piece by O’Sullivan. She should be working for the Population Council in New York and harassing the UN population people on a daily basis. I too have noticed in looking at successive UN Population Prospects going back to 2000 that the declines in growth are all in the future while the estimates of current population growth and near term projections keep rising. Between 2002 and 2019 the 2050 global projection rose from 8.9 billion to 9.77. There should be much more emphasis on the contingency of projections, especially long term projections, which are contingent on family planning policies and budgets.

    R Burger and Delong title a 2016 piece “what if fertility decline is not permanent” Projecting the trend of slowing fertility decline, perhaps fertility decline could reverse as high fertility populations expand their proportions of total population. Simple arithmetic and observation of correlations of fertility rates between generations. The point is to foster transitions and not accept those correlations as fate, nor to assume that transitions are automatic. They aren’t.

    Kolk, Cowden and Enquist 2014 asked if low fertility can persist when some groups maintain high fertility. There have to be “defectors” from high to low fertility or the weighted average math of rising proportions in high fertility groups increases overall fertility rates.

    Too much attention is paid in press coverage to the (very slowly) falling global fertility rate and not enough to the numbers added–which have not fallen–still adding a billion every 12 years, linear growth since 1970. During the decade of the 1970s world average fertility fell by close to one child per woman. During the most recent decade fertility only fell by a tenth of a child per woman. That is a stalling of fertility decline. Doubling from 4 to 8 billion in 48 years should set off alarm bells in a warming world failing to achieve a fast enough energy transition and plagued by a revival of racist politics stoked by mass immigration. Rich countries would be smart to greatly increase family planning aid to countries that are sources of immigration if they want to avoid dysfunctional politics (Trump, Johnson, Orban, LePen).

    And more attention should be paid to divergent fertility that generates rapid exponential growth in high fertility countries–doubling times less than 30 years that damages ecosystems and impoverishes children. Natural increase in Africa has not fallen since 1960 because birth rates have not decreased more than death rates. Still about 2.6% growth, doubling in less than 30 years.

    A simple weighted average calculation shows that if fertility rates persist across generations (they are correlated, due to the cultural persistence of family size norms and institutions that lead to fertility outcomes–like child marriage) then there must be “defectors” from high fertility to low fertility or the weighted average overall fertility rate will rise. The fact that nearly all population growth is occurring in high fertility countries could therefore explain much of the slowing or stalling of fertility decline. And how world fertility could actually rise in the absence of increased efforts to enable adoption and diffusion of modern family planning.

    Demographic transition theories get the philosophy of science wrong by assuming that people are passive objects influenced by variables like income and infant mortality rates, rather than actors who choose how many children to bear based on complex factors including culture, information, and the UN’s passivity, since 1994, in promoting family planning. The breakdown of “failed states” due in large part to populations six times 1950 populations, makes them incapable of affording or delivering or educating to accomplish demographic transitions. Africans seems fated to suffer greatly increased migration pressures and higher death rates and a great deal of human suffering that could have been avoided and still could be mitigated by increased direct action to reduce birth rates, as O’Sullivan recommends.

  7. At some point within the next decade, it is likely that mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa, and perhaps elsewhere (COVID is an example) will increase enough so the UN will have to think about increasing their future mortality projections.

    1. Covid seems to have hit more low-fertility countries and older people, with no significant impact on births.
      I don’t think the international community and agencies are going to let people starve in Africa. I think it’s more likely that migration from high-fertility areas will increase even further.
      Wars seem to be correlated with high fertility, so I doubt that will make a difference either.
      I don’t think people will die en masse, I think they will move en masse first.

      1. If you think they won’t let those in Africa starve, YOU’RE WRONG! THEY ALREADY ARE (CBS News, to their credit, has done multiple reports!) and, as those of us old enough to remember they did back in the 1950s and 1960s when international relief was MUCH BETTER THAN TODAY, relief agencies are saying, “WE CAN DO NO MORE! PEOPLE ARE GOING TO STARVE!” And, in contrast with today (and a global population of 8 BILLION versus about 3 billion then) that was when there was a grain glut all over the world! Part of what you’re not taking into account is that this is not just a loss of Ukrainian grain, but civil and other ongoing wars, plus CLIMATE CHANGE, in parts of Africa, the loss of crops due to FLOODING and in other parts of Africa, drought worse than anyone has ever seen as its population is through the roof! What is there about us humans that they believe the worst won’t happen when it HAS REPEATEDLY? And, under such conditions, with the POPULATION OF AFRICA NOW SKYHIGH do you think people are going to migrate too? Are you unaware that the ghastly civil war in Rwanda was directly linked to HIGH POPULATION, then DROUGHT, THEN SHORTAGES, then HUNGER, PLUS NO WHERE TO GO, as the international community did relatively nothing. But there was our CORRUPT media to pretend it was a civil war when it fact it was a RESOURCE WAR!

    2. In a few decades? I submitted that, with CLIMATE CHANGE (droughts in parts of Africa, flooding in others), civil war and the limits of aid organizations (One key one admits it can only provide ONE MEAL A WEEK to starving children.), it’s happening now and on a planet still gaining, net, over 80 million people a YEAR, we ain’t seen nothing’ yet–it’s the clash to two forces, climate change and the OVERPOPULATION that Sen. Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day to observe, not the woo-woo celebration of Mother Earth that Big 6 Media have re-educated us to believe!

  8. Indeed, Max. But it’s very politically fraught to project an increase in premature deaths. Even more so to attempt to identify where they’re most likely to happen.

    1. The ‘premature” deaths are already happening en masse, concentrated on the young and the elderly. CBS News (a pathetic remnant of its old self before DEREGULATION) has done multiple reports WITH RELIEF AGENCIES SAYING THERE IS NOTHING MORE THAN THEY CAN DO, in several regions PROVIDING ONLY ONE MEAL A WEEK!

  9. I used to think (probably from Limits to Growth 1972 & updates projections) that humanity would hit the wall from exponential growth around 2070 plus or minus a decade or two. Recent events–mainly faster climate change, learning about soil losses, and more awareness of how exponential doubling will exhaust the last half of something in the world economy’s 25 year doubling time, in fact go from 25% to 100% used up in 50 years (2 doublings) that we are almost to the end before 2050 and maybe before 2030. Human behavior and limits to “the ultimate resource” (intelligence) which turns out to be vulnerable to self-serving propaganda of selfish and incompetent elites look more like the limiting factor that will end growth. When things get scarce, humans fight wars and support dictators. And then there are the unknown unknowns. The experiments of dousing the earth with toxic chemicals while cutting down the forests and killing the corals might turn out worse than expected and sooner. My hopes of being safely returned to dust before the collapse are shakier now. I’m worried about getting through the next five years. Institutions to manage global problems are weak, institutions to pursue suicidal policies are strong. Apologies for negative tone of this.

    1. One of the maddening things about the war in Ukraine – aside, obviously, from the enormous human suffering it’s causing – is the sheer amount of wanton and relentless destruction of resources – food, infrastructure, buildings, fuels… and of the environment at a time where we should be conserving every little thing and investing the spare in the transition. What do we do instead? Destroy, destroy as much as we can. Not just Ukraine of course – Myanmar, Israel, possibly others soon. But the scale of the destruction of life and stuff in Ukraine is staggering. A snapshot of human madness.

      About Limits to Growth – in the business as usual scenario the peak was always gonna be before 2070:

      1. Well, another maddening thing is that Ukraine began when Biden told Obama not to worry about Russia taking Crimea. Then, just as needed to grow a spine and be a John F. Kennedy, not a Chicken Little, Biden assured Putin he “would not encounter U.S. troops in Ukraine.” What kind of an idiot would say that when a good poker bluff might have stopped Putin–though, considering Crimea, hard to make happen!

      2. As many Americans you are forgetting that Europeans have their own agency. We are allies, supposedly, not subordinates, and Europeans, including Ukrainians, don’t want American soldiers fighting wars with Russia on their soil. So Biden couldn’t have said otherwise.

      3. As per your absurd, “Biden couldn’t have said otherwise,” he could have had he understood the policies toward Russia by John F. Kennedy—or if he’d had a SPINE AND A BRAIN!

    2. And this, Max, is where I almost go postal against my own profession: the media! I hope you’ll boot up and read a paper I wrote for NPG a couple of years ago. I thought i pretty well could define the problem of the LACK OF HONEST REPORTING ON POPULATION as I went into it, but a few weeks of research into what has happened to our media–DEREGULATION gratis of Reagan and Clinton–and I realized that “they” (or those who for the first time can OWN AND CONTROL OUR MEDIA, don’t want us to have population in the headlights, and so they have embarked on a concerted program, most deregulation, to remove population from the national and global agendas!

      Consider: When the world hit 4 billion, Walter Cronkite led the evening news with it, and followed with feature after feature (over the following days) of its implications, good and bad. In contrast, when the world hit 6 billion (7 billion was mostly IGNORED), every major T.V. network focused not on population’s implications to climate or species extinction, but ONLY focused on Ben Wattenberg’s angle, the birth dearth in developed nation–with nary a mention, of course, that post-1965, over 80 percent of ALL GROWTH, at least in the U.S. is immigration, although currently, that number OF OUR EXPLODING POPULATION is 92 percent of our growth. That as media focus on our ‘falling birth rate” (which won’t actually decrease population for upwards of 80 years) and pretend we’re not growing, including that the Southwest–OUT OF WATER–isn’t the fastest growing region of ours one of the world’s fastest growing nations. (Another paper I wrote for NPG: THE SOUTHWEST: GROUND ZERO FOR GLOBAL WARMING.)

      Let me hasten to add, as a young journalist (long ago) I was taught we cannot have a democracy and a nation, nor the world, cannot deal with its problems WITHOUT FULL AND HONEST REPORTING!

  10. You are so right, Gaia. The more urgently we need a disciplined transition to lower resource use, the more likely it is that crises will cause conflict, chaos and destruction. And the more chaos and destruction, the less people will think population is a priority problem. This quote from a 2013 article on rising birthrates in Egypt captures the irony:
    …plans that could alleviate overpopulation have taken a back seat as the beleaguered government focuses on keeping the lights on and feeding its citizens. “The primary issues are food and security,” said Dr. Atef El Shitany of the state-run National Population Council. As a result, he said, “the political commitment to population issues is decreasing.” …
    (from “Egypt’s Birthrate Rises as Population Control Policies Vanish” By Kareem Fahim – New York Times, 2 May 2013)
    Thankfully Egypt has turned this around, but still not actively enough. It’s heading for double the current population and it’s already among the world’s biggest wheat importers.

    1. Egypt is super scary. They’re already way overpopulated, fighting with neighbours over the Nile, and even though this government is trying to do something about family planning, it is so obscenely repressive and brutal that I wonder whether the people will listen to it. But Egyptians won’t starve: they’ll come to Europe and other countries.

      I wonder whether we’re also gonna see a mass recruitment of youth from overpopulated countries to fight imperialistic wars. Russia threatened it but it doesn’t seem to have happened yet, but I’m sure there’s many people who would sign up.

      1. “Overpopulated?” Like our own? We’re the world’s 3rd most populated on Earth, and one of the 10 fastest growing, with it germane that our landmass is very similar to India and China, and no, we have not yet reached the critical ONE BILLION people of those nations, but for anyone who understand exponential growth and our CURRENT RATES OF GROWTH, that day is less and less distant. Are you aware, for example, that at current growth rates, the U.S. will be HALF-A-BILLION PEOPLE BY 2050, plus or minus? That when there isn’t sufficient WATER for much of the nation today!

  11. Yes, thankfully, fertility rates are falling in most parts of the world, but AS MEDIA MANAGE NEVER TO MENTION, due to momentum, it can take upwards of 80 years for that to affect OUR NUMBERS! (Do any of us, especially considering the warnings of 54 of the world’s Scientific Academies, think we have that long, considering climate change and species extinction?) Also, while our CORRUPT MEDIA, on the rare occasions they focus on population, have us believe it’s ONLY about birth rates, everyone’s ignoring GROWTH FROM THE OTHER END, or that due to a falling DEATH RATE, we also get growth, and if you think COVID represented even a hiccup in all of that, you’re wrong.

    And lower resource use? IT ISN’T GOING TO HAPPEN unless ‘shortages’ and inflation slow our consumption because–AS IT DECIDED TO IGNORE POPULATION–the environmental community has been saying that for 60 years or more as CONSUMPTION HAS CONTINUED TO EXPLODE throughout the developed world–part of why, from a climate perspective, growth in Africa simply doesn’t matter like growth in the carbon-giant nations: China, the United States and India, though I’ll add, India’s per-capita carbon footprint is SO LOW, I question it’s use in that statement. In contrast, that in the U.S. is a staggering 18 METRIC TONS PER-CAPITA, with China also far behind at a paltry (if memory serves) 6.7 METRIC TONS PER-CAPITA–this as media and Biden try to pretend that we can solve climate and not deal with the EXPLODING U.S. POPULATION.

    1. Max, I never said ONE WORD about right-wing media, and that you don’t grasp that saddens me, because the whole point of the paper is that BIG 6 are something FAR, FAR, FAR, FAR, FAR MORE DANGEROUS THAN THAT. And if you think there is one wit of difference in the ‘mission’ of CNN versus Fox News, you’re being foolish!

      1. Indeed, agreed, academic chatter however accurate will not remedy our alarmingly dire straits.
        People, get off your knees!
        Take responsability.
        Never ever kneel for anything again EVER.
        We could start explaining the difference between worship and warship, right.

  12. Thanks Kathleen for adding your research findings on the purposeful neglect of population by right wing controlled, science denying media. Reading books like Dark Money, Merchants of Doubt, and Shadow Network convinced me that most of what Americans “know” has been purposefully planted in their brains or taught by self-interested propaganda. Advertising has normalized lying. For the energy industry, climate denial is just part of the marketing and lobbying budget. The Koch agenda to demonize government has been so successful (Americans “know” that government is corrupt and incompetent) that I think it can, by Ju Jitsu, save abortion rights. The Kansas vote might have mostly been about Kansans mistrusting government to make a big decision that ought to belong to women.

    1. Max, you hit a NERVE! Nowhere did I–in that paper OR ANYWHERE ELSE–refer to “right-wing controlled” anything because PRECISELY THE POINT OF MY PAPER IS THAT THOSE WHO OWN OUR MEDIA ARE FAR, FAR, FAR, FAR, FAR MORE DANGEROUS THAN THAT OUTDATED WAY OF THINKING, and that you’re so steeped in liberal blindness you didn’t grasp the point of my paper, saddens me! If you think for one minute that FOX NEWS and CNN aren’t about the same “mission” you’re being foolish! (And God help our nation!)

    2. Again, I think this is far more complicated than you’re understanding, and as to WHOM have captured our media, but as Tom Friedman defined in HOT, FLAT AND CROWDED, since it’s easy to keep people under tyranny if you lie to them, propagandize them, AND KEEP THEM RELATIVELY WELL FED AND HAPPY, I think their goal is to turn us into the next China, population wise, and in every other way. We can all grow up to be good little worker bees and our reward will be freedom–or more correctly, our current ILLUSION OF FREEDOM, as media lies to us, blackout major topics (like population) and keep us so busy hating each other, WE DON’T FOCUS ON WHAT THEY’RE UP TO!

      1. Could not agree more. Not only more complex, bur also so much more sinister and malevolent, people simply cannot believe that level of evil. Now the last nazi money-laundering machine in the Ukrain (aka Khazaria) that kept the Biden/US administration afloat has been destroyed (Nazi 4th Reich run Mariopol Azov steelfactory giant underground facilities), Biden went begging for money in the Middle-East, who of course smiled and smug but politely sent him home empty-handed.
        Ask yourself, can you trust a government sporting 19 or even more secret services? Never forget that when they are done with the Palestinians, you are next!

  13. These comments and the original article are so interesting that I hope someone will make a paper out of them. Some important points are made.

      1. I actually have less trouble with government–and that is a top-secret nuclear weapons facility near me!–than I do with what a long-time reporter with the-then HONEST major newspaper that the world mostly trusted, told a famous mathematician friend of mine, “Oh for heaven’s sake, Don, we aren’t a democracy, we’re an oligarchy, and believe me, they run the show as you can’t even begin to comprehend!” At this point, what, a global oligarchy, although somehow that word might best be a cabel?

    1. i can’t agree to the MERIT of the paper. It is focused on SECONDARY ancillary stuff that is BUREAUCRATIC and not really germane to the real-world situation. Point of fact, WHAT MATTER WHAT THE U.N. PUTS OUT WHEN, THANKS TO DEREGULATED MEDIA, POPULATION–that which is WHY Sen. Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day–is now CENSORED, BLACK-LISTED AND SURPRESSED AS A TOPIC BY BIG 6 MEDIA, that which defines ALL the world’s agendas!?

      1. @Katleene
        Exactly. I mean, the cabal, originally being the caballeros’ top dogs, very succesful in what they do, without any austrich mode infected woke har-ass-ment, aren’t exacly democratic right? My ass-ess-ment about democracy today is a very smart design that is equally instrumental in conditioning people to say “me good inmate massa”, an ideal ingredient for a smooth tyranny -which humanity suffered for the last 7000 years. They -the cabal (or deep state if you will) made us believe “religion” is meant to “religare”, or “reconnect” with our spiritual life (but forbidden to do so without a priest!), while in fact it means “reshackle”, make no mistake.
        In your situatiin Kathleene, I’d rather live next to launching silos than near their target :-). Eventually of course all silos are targets too, so all nuclear weapons must be destroyed and neutralised. Forever. Technology is originally meant to improve our spritual quest, not for selling useless crap we don’t need.
        We can change that.
        We can stop the endless suffering.
        Stop feeding them, the cabal and their superscary overlords (their food being your fear).
        Population numbers are not our only worry. Population quality?
        If more than 50% of your population cannot champion iq80 (which is what WEF and the likes want), your/our democracy is toast. Democrazy. I mean, even the most draconic tyranny needs smart people to run it properly right.
        So, academics, trained at the expense of the taxpayer (even in the us), at universities financed and sponsored by the cabal, grab your expert analytics and start making to-do and not-to-do lists for people to take their lives in their own hands again.

      2. To Teddy Cool, since there is no ‘reply’ at your postings. As to nukes, I’ve had more experience on the topic that most, having visited a missile silo, having lived in a town contaminated by Cold War radiation, having had an uncle who ran a uranium processing plant, and most of all, having covered a nuclear-weapons lab (the ORIGINAL ONE), where over the course of time, I was blessed (no other word for it) to get to meet many of the ORIGINAL MANHATTAN PROJECT workers, an association that did not change me from my anti-nuke stance, but gave me a glimpse at their perspective IN THEIR TIME AT THE FOREFRONT OF HISTORY that I value and cherish, including the ANGER of many of them, that they BUILD Little Boy and Fat Man against HITLER, but then they were–without their being allowed input–redirected to Japan.

        One of the people I was BLESSED to get to know was Nobel Laurette Hans Bethe, who became an anti-nuke activist. Personally, I think his stance is the most reasonable I’ve ever heard. He didn’t believe we can EVER go back to no nukes (too many rogue nations and the technology is just TOO SIMPLE TO ASSEMBLE), but he did say the open-ended production of thousands of nukes is absurd and dangerous. He once said, “We need to decide on a number. I like 100 and all agree that no one will ever exceed that, because that number of weapons–while still dangerous to the world–is enough to deter attacks, while decreasing the danger of accidents significantly which is where we are with stockpiles of TENS OF THOUSANDS.”

        I’ll also hasten to add my disappointment that Los Alamos has QUIETLY (since our nation no longer has a news media) shifted from stockpile stewardship (or the maintenance of often-OLD nukes) to pit production, or the MANUFACTURE OF MORE NUCLEAR WEAPONS! IF WE HAD A NEWS MEDIA, THAT STORY WOULD HAVE LED THE EVENING NEWS FOR WEEKS, but now, why would it, since the same people making money from nukes ALSO ARE ALLOWED, FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, TO OWN OUR MEDIA!

        But let me add–as someone who has reported too often on CREEPING, ‘SMALL’ DANGERS that we ignored only to have them become very dangerous (Such as wildfires now reaching a MILLION ACRES OR MORE), I still believe that climate change, species extinction and overpopulation are FAR, FAR more dangerous than nuclear weapons. I submit, with each additional 80 MILLION PEOPLE ADDED we’re going further out onto a branch and happily sawing it off behind us as we risk an irreversible tipping point and a collapse that–considering our 8 BILLION PEOPLE–will be catastrophic, in ways like the people of the American Southwest experienced from 1280 to 1350 A.D., a bit of history our media are making darned sure remains as forgotten as any understanding on most peoples’ part about where their water comes from!

  14. You never know, it might work: I have emailed my member of parliament to ask her to raise this issue with the Foreign Secretary. The UK has been a leader in promoting family planning and they should have a word with the Secretary General and raise this in relevant committees. As I say, you never know until you try.

  15. And yet, the U.K.–just like the U.S.–EXPLODES ITS POPULATION, into its high-carbon lifestyle, at rates similar to the U.S. Sadly, as a lifelong activist on population issue, I SEE NO LEADERSHIP ON POPULATION ANYWHERE, except from the National Academies and MANY, MANY, MANY CLIMATE SCIENTISTS!

  16. I’m not sure if the Cairo agenda was formulated with the assumption of declining habitable land area due to global warming (quite apart from huge amounts of soil loss and water scarcity!). It seems to me, that even the Overpopulation Project is not taking this seriously and promoting far more agressively, the urgent need for rapid population decline. Apart from along the relatively elevated coastline of much of Africa, the bulk of the world’s population lives on land that is going to be under the sea by year 2100. Bangladesh will be almost landless. Everyone who lives and farms on river deltas, will be displaced, and this most fertile land lost for ever. Even in the USA, Trump should have been building his walls across Frisco Bay, and reinforcing and joining all the barrier islands along the whole east coast of the USA: all the land between the sea and the mountains is headed to being under water.

    The population decline curves we should be aiming for have to be very drastic, or they will be vertical before this century is out.

    1. We are seeing all of this, right now, in Pakistan. I am so grieved by the suffering of those masses of people, and yet, know it will only grow worse with climate change. As to Trump, he or any human can only do just so much in a political climate–MOST OF IT CREATED BY THE SAME PRO-GROWTH FORCES ON WALL STREET (now, for the first time, allowed to own media)–where media make darned sure that most Americans don’t know squat about population (are innumerate. Population, once a huge issue nationally and globally, have disappeared from media, and thus, the public conversation!

      (Did you read my paper on media on the NPG website?) Although, I note, that same media, if some nitwit writes an ill-considered book on why the U.S. “needs” one billion people, are all over it, because it fits the agenda of our own oligarcy.

      Jarrod Diamond, in his book, COLLAPSE pondered why so many civilizations, like the Easter Islands, clearly had to know they were in trouble. Yet, they continued doing the very things that were causing the problems. Yet, while Diamond defined every problem caused by population, his own book on COLLAPSE, utterly dodged population–or that we’re doing the same thing!

  17. Here is a do-able approach with which to address the problem: Envision a three or four-week Degree-REQUIRED college course for ALL first-year undergraduates of EVERY major. Course title and subject matter? BIOSPHERIC LITERACY 101 – What EVERY citizen should KNOW about our planet. No successful completion of the course? No college degree.

    (Secondly, and simultaneously, initiate a SIMILAR three-or-four week high school science course as a graduation requirement course. Contents? Population, environment, carrying capacity, overshoot, climb-and-collapse, limits, limiting factors, etc.

    The needed lessons, presentations, readings, and intellectual and science content, etc., etc. ALREADY EXIST and existing and accessible, and freely-downloadable OCW PowerPoints and Executive summary OCW PDFs and lessons and lesson plans, etc. are accessible and freely-downloadable. One OCW site to check out is here –

    And another site with similar and/or additional content is accessible at

    Sample easily-learned and easily-communicated understandings include quick overview of limits, limitiing factors, ecological interactions, population, over-population, population explosions, population climb-and-collapse examples, ecology, ecological services, and one eye-opening review of Exactly how-Large is a BILLION (since we are currently adding one billion ADDITIONAL people to our planet every twelve years, the literacy item above is of crucial importance.) (Hint, the one-billion item above involves a number involving 38,461 years.)

    Let’s put it this way: It would help humankind, society, and our planet, if EVERY student, citizen, voter, and elected official, etc. etc. etc. were literate involving the core understandings, science, and information and topics in our two websites above. Make them a high school graduation requirement and a college-degree requirement for ALL first and/or second year undergraduates (of EVERY major) at colleges and universities everywhere around the world.

    Check out our OCW resources listed at our two websites above and start using them RIGHT NOW, this fall and this year. (No completion of Biospheric Literacy 101 and The Wecskaop Project and their curricula? No college degree.).


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