In brief

According to the Population Reference Bureau's 2017 World Population Data Sheet, Earth will be home to 9.8 billion people by 2050. This represents an increase of 31 percent in just 33 years, and it raises existing concerns about the threat of overpopulation.

Billions and billions

The Population Reference Bureau has issued their 2017 World Population Data Sheet, and it asserts that the global population will reach 9.8 billion by 2050. That’s an increase of 31 percent on the estimated 7.5 billion people that live on Earth today.

Africa’s population is expected to swell to 2.6 billion by 2050 — more than double the current figure — comprising 57 percent of the global population increase from now until then. The population of Asia will grow by 750 million to reach 5.2 billion, while the population of the Americas will increase from 1 billion to 1.2 billion.

India is set to supplant China as the world’s most populous country, increasing to 1.7 billion people from 1.35 billion. The nation is expected to record the largest population increase of any single country over the next 33 years.

Meanwhile, Europe’s population (including all of Russia) will see a slight decline, shrinking to 736 million from 745 million.

Image: Population Division, DESA, United Nations

Sharing one world

Population growth throws up some thorny questions for the human race. According to reports, we’re currently using about 1.7 times the resources we should be in a given year, and that problem is only going to get worse if the increases predicted for the next three decades come to fruition.

These potential problems aren’t lost of some of the world’s greatest minds.

Noted naturalist Sir David Attenborough has described humans as a “plague” on the planet, while professor Stephen Hawking has argued that we need to find another world to live onbecause we’re quickly running out of space here. Even Elon Musk has spoken out about the risks of overpopulation.

The fact of the matter is that there’s no easy fix. Overpopulation is a complex ethical issue, one caused in part by medical advances that most would point to as crowning scientific achievements. Infant mortality is low, and people are living longer than ever.

Existing efforts such as vertical farms, innovative city planning, and emissions limits can help us cope with the burden of this growing population, but this latest report makes it ever more clear that we need to think very carefully about the resources we consume as we share the planet with billions of other residents now and in the future.