Archive for November, 2011

Post 7 Billion People: Peek Population

// November 4th, 2011 // Comments Off on Post 7 Billion People: Peek Population // Foresight, Opinion

Great data visualisation on population levels that is getting a lot of attention.

One of the interesting issues I’ve highlighted as futurist for the past 6 years has been that of a “peek population.” I originally got alerted by this paper:

The global macroeconomic consequences of a demographic transition – Professor Warwick McKibbin, Lowy Institute for International Policy, Working Papers in International Economics – November 2005 – No. 7.05


The world is in the midst of a significant demographic transition with important implications for the macroeconomic performance of the global economy. This paper summarises the key features of the current and projected future demographic changes that are likely to have macroeconomic effects. It then applies a new ten region global model (an extended version of the MSG-Cubed model) incorporating demographic dynamics, to examine the consequences of projected global demographic change on the world economy from 2005 to 2050. A distinction is made between the effects on each country/region of its own demographic transition and the effects on each country/region of the equally large demographic changes occurring in the rest of the world. It is estimated that the macroeconomic consequences of demographic change over coming decades are large for the world as a whole. For each country both domestic and foreign demographic changes are important.

Posting the above to the Association of Professional Futurists listserv I followed up with this missive which pretty much summarises my thinking at present:

I wish I had your clients: ones I could entice to explore an un-picking of assumptions and the multifaceted insights that can arise in the process.  Unfortunately, for my passions, I’ve often had to work hard to even get such data sets / analyses on the table to be considered at all, let alone looked at in depth.

I agree there are a huge number of factors involved in population levels, and any scenario, particularly simple trend extrapolations, are incredibly unlikely to be realistic. So the main thing I come back to is making it as simple as possible for people to digest *something* about this topic: high level assumptions, primary interactions and practical implications for today:

  • I see the main assumption being continued lowering of the birth rate, to a possible plateau, involving a clear ‘cresting’ of population numbers at some stage in the next 40-80 years.
  • The primary interactions that influence the scale and timing of the cresting, and if it is a slow or fast decline thereafter or establishes an unlikely stability in total population numbers, include technology (innovation/invention), carrying capacity/resource limits and socioeconomic stability (which are highly, dynamically, interdependent themselves!) as they impact on/are impacted by healthcare, food, education and capital.
  • The possible plateau in birth rates is the fundamental uncertainty point for me: it represents an echo of what the trans-humanists think of as the singularity: a lot could be said of it, most of it with little practical insight for the present;)
  • By contrast, the main practical insight I elicit for ‘today’ is that the ratio of productive labour v’s dependant populations will continue to skew heavily towards increasing economic dependency, and possibly, followed by rapidly declining population levels altogether.
  • Which leads to a clear challenge: how to prepare to better cope with increasingly aged populations who are living longer while the very foundations of our environmental-economic systems are fracturing?  How do ‘we’ survive and thrive in this context? Can ‘we’ even help humanity ride this wave?

All very interesting stuff, highly debatable, and incredibly challenging to grok and respond to in the present!