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Human Population Growth Study Launched

12th July 2010

Human population growth can be a controversial topic at the best of times, given the implications of where it may take us, but it is becoming an increasingly important subject for discussion.  The UK’s Royal Society has acknowledged the need to tackle it head on by setting up a study on human population growth which will consider the impact on society and the economy.  In 1930 the world’s population was 2 billion.  It is currently around 6.8 billion and set to rise to 9 billion by 2050.  The Royal Society’s working group will be headed by Nobel Laureate Sir John Sulston who is keen to look at the “effects that population changes will have on our future in terms of sustainable development” and the group will include experts on agriculture, economics, law, theology, and the environment - including the founder and director of UK think-tank Forum for the Future, Jonathan Porrit CBE.  A growth in human population has implications for climate change, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and falling water resources, and as Jonathan says, “It is likely to have a greater impact on the future of humanity than some of the other issues we talk a lot about.” 

Jonathan Porrit is a renowned keynote speaker on environmental issues and his most recent book ‘Living Within Our Means’ was published in 2009.  He is a former Director of Friends of the Earth and chaired the UK Sustainable Development Commission for 9 years until 2009 advising government ministers on sustainability.  Jonathan’s think-tank Forum for the Future works to promote sustainable development and help businesses deal with the challenges of climate change, energy security, and green business and it will work in conjunction with the Guardian newspaper for the Guardian’s Sustainable Business Quarterly in September.  The topic for discussion will be “Sustainable Business vs. Sustainable Consumption” and the speakers will look at whether a low-consumption culture is possible if business is to be sustainable.  The speakers involved will include Larry Elliott, the economics editor of the Guardian, Professor Alan Knight OBE – founder of Single Living Planet – and Tony Juniper, one of the UK’s most well-known environmentalists.  In terms of human population growth Tony himself has commented that “I do think there are some dangers when talking about population if you don’t simultaneously talk about consumption” and he is aware that blame can fall on the growing populations of the developing world when they actually have a smaller impact in terms of energy and resources than the more developed countries.  The Forum for the Future have published their own report on the subject entitled ‘Growing Pains’ which looked at the extra infrastructure requirements, the demand on resources, the possibility of zero-carbon homes, and the need to consider family-planning policies.  The UK population itself reached 61 million in 2008 and is estimated to rise to 70 million by 2030 and Sir David Attenborough has also commented on the need for family-planning.

The Royal Society’s study was launched yesterday to mark World Population Day, and it is expected to come to completion in early 2012. 

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