What does it mean to live in a world of 8 billion people, and counting?
- 11 January 2023
Perhaps you’ve heard that we will soon overload the Earth’s carrying capacity – or that, on the contrary, population collapse will crash the global economy. What should you believe, and what should you do about it?
Let’s start with the facts.
As a global population, we’re growing, and expect to continue to grow for decades to come.
At the same time, our growth is slowing. We’re having fewer babies, we’re growing older – and we’re moving across borders in unprecedented numbers, reshaping the demographic trajectories of countries and regions.
Asia and Africa are driving global population growth, and will continue to do so in the coming decades. In the second half of this century, sub-Saharan Africa will become our most populous region.
Meanwhile, as fertility falls and populations age, some countries’ populations – especially in Eastern Europe – are shrinking.
Some countries, including many of the world’s richest, are ageing faster than the global average.
Meanwhile, many countries, including the world’s poorest, will continue to grow for the next few decades. These are countries with relatively young populations, and some of them – but not all – continue to have high fertility rates.
Before the century is up, the growth of our world’s population will plateau, at just over 10 billion.
Our fertility rates will continue to fall. An even greater share of us will be over 65 – with the potential to live longer, healthier lives than ever. And even more of us will live in low- and lower-middle-income countries.
As we move forward into the future these projections describe, how many of us will fully enjoy our right to bodily autonomy, with access to the care and information we need to make choices about our bodies and futures?
How many of us will get what we need to fulfil our potential for health and longevity, and to remain independent, connected and resilient even as we age?
What will we do to address climate change, which threatens all 8 billion of us – especially those in the poorest countries, who have contributed the least to the problem, yet are already experiencing the worst of its impacts?
These numbers alone won’t give us the answers. But a clear-eyed view of what they do and don’t tell us can inform the policy choices we must make today.
Like everything else having to do with human beings, population numbers are politicized. Whether rising or falling, they are too often used to push policies that restrict reproductive rights and advance racist and xenophobic agendas.
So it’s important to stay grounded in the facts – and in fundamental human rights.
Our choices have a decisive impact on the sustainability of life on Earth, and the quality of that life. But it’s not a matter of how many children we choose to have, or how many of us stay within the borders of the country we’re born in. It’s about how much we choose to consume, how we invest our resources, and how we treat each other.
If we choose to invest in people and communities, and uphold every person’s right to bodily autonomy, these numbers – 8 billion people, growing, ageing, moving, changing – amount to a future in which every one of us can flourish.