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Fewer than ten billion people

In the beginning, I supported my specification of ten billion with the projections of U.N. experts. I did, however, hint that their projection of a longer life in Africa in 2025 AD. than today left me nonplussed. Newspaper reports had impressed me that an AIDS epidemic, even pandemic, was underway. Other reports depicted famine.

Inasmuch as growing income  has been credited with slowing population growth, I wonder at the speedy economic growth in China and can believe that it might slow the multiplication of so great a population.

The slower rise of cereal and oilseed consumption since the 1970s (Seckler, 1993[Sec93]), which has barely entered expert predictions of demand, would compound the effect on demand of any slowing of population growth.

The experts, however, will likely be proven right. Newspapers necessarily report the tragic and speedy, which may turn out insignificant in the face of historic juggernauts like multiplying population. Instantaneous warnings of new diseases, prompt research for ways to slow contagion, and finally development of remedies all make epidemics less likely to decimate population in the twentieth than in the fourteenth century.

Nevertheless, the Black Death of  the fourteenth century left Europe too small for its clothesgif, and in a few months in 1918 the influenza pandemic left 20 million dead (Francis, 1965[Fra65]). So a surprising pandemic could slow the growth of population. Consequently, more land would be spared for Nature in the twenty-first century, as it was in the fourteenth. The spared land might, of course, be regarded less in nature magazines than in jeremiads.

Yasuko Kitajima
Thu Jun 19 16:20:56 PDT 1997