UN: Population To Swell To 15 Billion By 2100

It took two- to three-hundred thousand years for humans to break the 7 billion mark, which it is scheduled to do sometime late this year or early in 2012. But in just 88 short years after that, breeding will hit the afterburners and the world’s population will more than double. It will increase by a whopping, gee-willikers 214% to 15 billion. Golly!

Or so says the United Nations, an organization not usually given to making silly mistakes that align with its political agenda. Or so says The Guardian, a newspaper of noble intent and purpose. That paper reports it got a sneak preview of the still unavailable The State of World Population 2011 , a report which claims that, this time, this is it:

That figure is likely to shock many experts as it is far higher than many current estimates. A previous UN estimate had expected the world to have more than 10 billion people by 2100…

Some experts reacted with shock to the figure. Roger Martin, chairman of Population Matters, which campaigns on population control, said that the Earth was entering a dangerous new phase. “Our planet is approaching a perfect storm of population growth, climate change and peak oil,” he said. “The planet is not actually sustaining 7 billion people.” [link mine]

It is easy to make asinine, logically false statements. The hope is that is difficult to have a reporter (Paul Harris) reprint them as worthy of notice. No, I don’t mean the “perfect storm” or peak oil bluster. I mean that last sentence which is so monumentally stupid it is equivalent to Martin saying to Harris, “I am not now talking to you” (and having Harris reporting it in wonder). If the Earth is not “actually sustaining” the population that now exists, then the population that now exists does not exist.

It is also pointless to surmise what Martin might have meant. It is what was reported that of interest. Martin’s absurdity should have been caught.

But what about the 15 billion? The far upper range of all previous forecasts had been around 10 billion by this century’s close.

Professor Jack Goldstone of George Mason University, author of The Population Bomb, said that he thought world leaders would act to ensure the Earth’s population would start to plateau below that higher level. “The means and the desire to reduce the number of children people have is spreading around the world,” he said, adding that he thought a level of 10-12 billion would be more likely by 2100.

Incidentally, I was unable to discover Goldstone’s book, though we all recall one of the same name by Paul “The End Is Near—And This Time I Mean It” Ehrlich. Goldstone, whose specialty is in discovering reasons for revolution—via the magic of statistics and p-values—did write an article in Foreign Affairs (Jan/Feb, pp. 31-43) called “The New Population Bomb: Four Population Megatrends that will Shape the Global Future.”

Anyway, all prior evidence is that the rate of increase of population is and will continue to shrink. Take a look at this picture of year-on-year change in world population (data source):

Change in world population

The shaded area indicates what is forecast. Up until present, the change in the world population is still positive, but the rate of change has been decreasing fairly rapidly. In the UN’s new figures are to be believed, this rate of change must do an abrupt about-face and jump to the level indicated by the flat portion of the graph.

Follow that flat line and by 2100 the world’s population will be at 15 billion. Of course, other lines than flat are possible. I don’t know the assumptions the UN is using, but once I get my hands on the report, I’ll redo this graph. Something like it must be true, though, else it impossible for the population to increase to 15 billion.

Update What’s that hollow around the 1960s? That rapid decrease in population was a gift of international socialism, a.k.a. communism.

Where are these new folks coming from? It won’t be, for example, Japan. Here’s the same picture for that country:

Change in Japan's population

Japan is already losing people and is projected to lose more over the next decade. Italy is in the same boat, as are several other well-to-do countries, “well-to-do” being relative, of course.

There isn’t a shred of evidence that any first or second-world country will suddenly boost its birth rate, so if new people are to be added, they’ll have to largely come from the third-world. But that assumes—again, contradictory to current evidence—that these places will decline in prosperity and return to the old ways of having very large families.

Of course, there will be a temporary bump or stasis in the population caused by people living longer. As third-world counties begin to prosper, they’ll have fewer kids, but they’ll also have better health, so the population change will bounce around some number, but it won’t decline or increase. Much as what happened in Japan after World War II, as is shown in the picture. Population change started declining at the same time their “economic miracle” hit (remember when Japan was going to take over the world’s economy?).

We’ll have to wait for the UN report to say more. Prediction: the report will call for increased spending (euphemism: resources) for some program or programs; these will be seconded by Big Green.

Update Another relevant post: India Aborting Girls At Full Speed: Sex Selection And Demographics (a lower percentage of women mean lower future populations, of course).


  1. The UN might intend the third world to get no better off, or maybe even worse off. It makes sense. The master planners don’t recommend allowing third-world denizens the benefits of potent energy sources such as coal, oil and natural gas. The prevailing mindset seems to be, “Better they should starve, than to ‘pollute’ the climate with CO2!”

    I’ve read that regions which experience high infant mortality tend to produce more infants. It makes sense that prosperity would reduce the birth rate (as the post above asserts), as it would certainly reduce the infant mortality rate.

    Don’t worry, though. Our top people, like John Holdren, are all over this problem. I’m thinking that, before long, he’ll come up with the finest solution. I resisted the urge to use a different adjective to describe his solution. And still, some doubt my purity of heart!

  2. Hans Rosling on Global Population Growth.

    Elizabeth Kolbert at The New Yorker writes …

    Obviously, many of the predictions that [Malthus] made in his “Essay on the Principle of Population,” in 1798, proved to be wrong. But the premise of the work—that there must be some limit to population growth—is hard to argue with. The question of where that limit lies—of how many people the earth can support over the long or even medium term—remains, at this point, open. As we sail past the seven-billion mark toward eight, nine, or ten billion, we should, sooner or later, arrive at an answer.

    There is some limit to most everything and we should, sooner or later, arrive at an answer to most every question. Kolbert’s insight takes my breath away.

  3. Speed,

    Love Rosling’s data, particularly the sliding graph which shows the UN’s forthcoming projections must be nuts, but let’s look at his interpretations.

    (1) How about that euphemism for “family planning” when he pointed to China’s red bubble sliding down the graph. Family planning with a vengeance!

    (2) He says to look at the billion who are still poor, that they are “still with us.” The poorest billion will always be with us as long as there are at least one billion and one humans alive.

    (3) Did we notice that call for “global governance”? Good grief!

  4. Thomas Friedman, allegedly one of our brightest minds, lamented that the U.S. government, under Democrat rule, can’t dictate to its citizenry as authoritatively as do the Red Chinese top dogs.

    He said, “So while America’s Republicans turned “climate change” into a four-letter word — J-O-K-E — China’s Communists also turned it into a four-letter word — J-O-B-S.”

    Friedman’s insight takes my something, not sure what, away.

    Friedman’s fount of wisdom is at http://tinyurl.com/645nwfq

  5. Briggs, there was also some stuff about global warming and cheap (maybe he said economical — in any case the correct term is plentiful) energy.

    Rosling’s genius is in presentation of history, not some ability to predict the future. Much of what passes as “news” today is in fact prediction and I pretty much tune that stuff out. The future is a very big thing and it is something that we make, not something that is predetermined or cast in concrete.

    Predictions are, at best, entertainment as evidenced by ESPN, CNBC and political polsters.

    Gotta go. Powerball is up to $173 million and I’m feeling lucky.

  6. The 15B is the high estimate of population from the UN. Here’s the 2010 version of the data, which already has a high end estimate of 15.8B in 2100. The medium estimate is 10.1B. I think this is the data being talked about, it’s just repackaged in a new report and is being presented in the media with the worst (best?) case scenario.


    Population rate of change:

  7. Another fallacy. Gaia can no longer sustain us.

    Generally, where starvation occurs it is the foreseeable result of bureaucratic or cultural ineptitude or roadblocks, not lack of available resources. Over the years agriculture has increased the efficiency and sizes of crop yields at a higher rate than corresponding population gains, but that inconvenient fact is not important and certainly doesn’t support the UN’s narrative. Briggs is right. The demands for $$$$$$$ follow.

    I live in the salad bowl of the world. My friends in four of the major companies involved say with advance notice they could double production in their key crops every year for five years before running low on available tillable fertile land – within their current areas of operation. Isn’t that a potential 1600% increase? Without even looking for new locations? In this as in so many other matters, the UN is simply pathetically wrong.

  8. The history of contraception is sometimes tragic and sometimes funny. The majority of it has happened in the last 60 years.

    Summer 1957: The FDA approves the use of Enovid for the treatment of severe menstrual disorders and requires the drug label to carry the warning that Enovid will prevent ovulation.

    1959: President Dwight Eisenhower states in a press conference that birth control “is not a proper political or government activity or function or responsibility” and adds emphatically that it is “not our business.”

    Less than two years after FDA approval of Enovid for therapeutic purposes, an unusually large number of American women mysteriously develop severe menstrual disorders and ask their doctors for the drug.

    1964: Less than a decade after President Eisenhower declared that the government should not get involved with birth control, President Lyndon B. Johnson pushes through legislation for federal support of birth control for the poor.

  9. “The means and the desire to reduce the number of children people have is spreading around the world,”

    Well, that’s true. I grew up in New Mexico and the Mexican famlies oops, I mean Latinos, used to have half a dozen kids. Now they usually have 1 or 2 and the same thing is occuring in Mexico even though most people are Catholic. They just ignore the Pope.

  10. We are in a cyclical warming cycle that began about 1850 after the cyclical cooling cycle (known as the little ice age ended). The warming cycles are very good for humans and food production and this in conjunction with vaccines for diseases that used to kill most children before they reached age 5. No one can really predict when the next cooling cycle will begin but it is quite probably going to begin in this century. When it does we will have the largest “die off” of humans in history, worse then the great plagues or the butchers who ruled Russia and China ever caused. We may not have to worry about over population.

  11. This is a serious question: Do the UN projections include all the (supposed) deaths that will result from Global Warming? How can their be catastrophic global warming AND population increases?

  12. William McGurn writes in today’s Wall Street Journal …

    The truth is that the main flaw in Malthus is precisely his premise. Malthusian fears about population follow from the Malthusian view that human beings are primarily mouths to be fed rather than minds to be unlocked. In this reasoning, when a pig is born in China, the national wealth is thought to go up, but when a Chinese baby is born the national wealth goes down.

    In short, it all comes down to your conception of the human person … Instead of looking for ways to reduce the number of people at the banquet of life, we would do better to look for ways to lay a better and more bounteous table.

  13. Reviewing some comments here I am struck by the difference between the views expressed by William McGurn in the WSJ and Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker.

    This internet thing is great …
    Julian Lincoln Simon’s classic “The Ultimate Resource” is available here. For free. Supply unlimited. Sort of its own Ultimate Resource.

    The “ultimate resource” is not any particular physical object but the capacity for humans to invent and adapt.

    Also available from Amazon (used) for under two bucks.

  14. “There isn’t a shred of evidence that any first or second-world country will suddenly boost its birth rate”

    I don’t know how to quantify suddenly but there is evidence that the simple inverse relationship between fertility and development (as measured by HDI) may be incorrect. Have a look at this post from the gnxp blog:


    It seems that the inverse relationship fails for HDI scores over 0.9. A large part of this breakdown of the inverse relationship will be the growth of highly fertile minorities.

    The HDI/TFR relationship is especially weak with religious minorities. In the case of the UK, South Asian muslims have a TFR of about 4, plus about 50% marry a new immigrant from the subcontinent, making each generation about 3x the size of the previous one. Also in the UK, Haredi (Ultra orthodox) Jews have a TFR of about 6.9 children. Similarly, Russia will become more muslim each generation and, as far as I know, Mennonite TFR in America is still over 8 (though the population is still low). Even with some integration with the low fertility irreligious majority, these communities look like they will continue growing exponentially for the foreseeable future and understanding them is more important than generalising from Japan’s homogeneous population. A simple model would project that in these nations the fall in birth rates will level off and start to converge on the minorities’ birth rates.

    Will integration outpace the growth and will the minority birth rate decrease to the lows of the irreligious? I don’t think we can be certain.

    Of course, what happens in the Asian subcontinent, the Arab countries, and Africa will be more important to total world population in the next century.

  15. genemachine,

    Interesting plot. Wonder about that “development index”, but even accepting it for the moment (and ignoring the over-fitting of those curves), we notice that all points save one with an index greater than 0.9 have fertility rates less than or at replacement. It appears (I’m going by eye) that a fertility rate less than or equal to replacement is there for indexes greater than 0.8, too. Not very compelling.

    Another interpretation: it appears that after some level of “development” human breeding plateaus—plus or minus, to a number indicating population loss.

    Would be nice to have the same thing but with the plotting characters sized by population.

  16. Ask and ye shall receive.

    HDI vs. fertility, plotting characters sized by population and animated over time:


    There’s a very small bounce for most of Europe after 1995, and Europe make up most of the countries scoring >0.9.

    I don’t know how much we can read into this, lets look again in 10 years time.

  17. genemachine,

    Thanks. From the end of the animation, it looks like most of the pop is below replacement rate (which decreases world pop), more are right near it (which holds world pop steady), and a few are breeding old school (which increases pop). And the trend is to move more and more to less than or near replacement. Overall, I can’t see how the UN can extrapolate from this and come to 15 billion.

    Anyway, remember the rule of Malthus: there can’t be too many people. Stated better, it is impossible for there to be too many people.

  18. Too many for what purpose?

    I understood Malthus as saying “something – war, pestilence, or famine – will eventually limit population growth”. I forgive him if he did not anticipate the Haber process and hydrocarbon transportation, but this just raises the limit and does not prove him wrong.

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