Over a period of six orbits on on February 3, 2012, the recently launched Suomi NPP satellite provided the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument enough time to gather the pixels for this synthesized view of Earth showing North Africa and southwestern Europe.
The common perception is that as time marches on, the human population will continue to rise. Advances in technology and health will lead to longer lives, and thus the Earth will be burdened by billions upon billions of hungry mouths to feed, both young and old. And not just food, but oil, land, water and other resources will be gobbled up until there isn’t enough to go around.
But recently, some studies have found that birth rates seem to be leveling off across the globe. This has long been the case in developed countries, but now it looks like developing countries are slowing down as well. Typically, it was these nations which kept the total reproductive rate for the human race at a satisfactory point to replenish the numbers every generation. It looks like by the end of this century, that may no longer be the case.
While differing accounts show population shrinkage or just a plateau, many demographers are convinced that the population boom, which has been going on since humanity began, is finally over. Not everyone agrees with this assessment, however, and stress that the damage has already been done. We have grown so much that no amount of dwindling could counteract the impact we’ve already made on our planet.
So what does this mean for humanity? Are we headed out? Or are we going to continue to explode in numbers? Which science fiction future are you more looking forward to?
Warren Sanderson, Professor of Economics, Stony Brook University and researcher with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
Phil Cafaro, Professor of Philosophy at Colorado State University, works with CSU’s College of Global Environmental Sustainability