Predicting future population numbers remains a difficult issue. While popular (and populist) media tends to dramatise every new release of population predictions, it is less often discussed that these figures are one possible scenario for what is an extremely complex issue. Small political and cultural changes in societies can lead to drastic long terms effects that change the future numbers of people within a country. The current estimates are therefore never figures that are engraved in stone, but estimates that look at the current trends that we can observe. The different scenarios therefore have an extreme variability, ranging from a decline down to just above 6 billion to an increase up to almost 16 billion. These are of course the very extreme scenarios in the latest revision of the Unites Nations’ World Population Prospects that has just been released. While it is almost certain that any scenario is likely to not happen in that way, the trends outlined in the report are in important political guideline that tells, what humanity should be prepared for and which economic, ecological and other implications the different scenarios have for the future. The following map shows a population cartogram of the most recent population estimates where each country is resized to its total population in 2013 (approximately 7.1 billion):
As this map shows, there is an important element of geography in these data: “Although population growth has slowed for the world as a whole, this report reminds us that some developing countries, especially in Africa, are still growing rapidly,” said the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo in the press release on the report. As I have shown on this website before, the predicted population changes show a constant shift towards the African continent, while the wealthy parts of the world decline. The following animation shows these shifting population shares as a cartogram animation of the medium variant estimates (the middle of a range of estimated populations, leading to 10-11 billion people by 2100):
Geography matters because where populations increase and where they decline is highly relevant for finding solutions that provide a better future for all of humanity. While we are already producing enough food for 10 billion people, as shown in a study published in Nature, we do not manage to distribute this fairly so that hunger is a persisting problem. A population of 9, 10 or even 11 billion does not have to be a disaster if humanity makes more effort to minimise its environmental impact while providing a sustainable basis for how many people there are in the world. Danny Dorling argues in a similar direction in his new book Population 10 Billion, where he concludes that we will and can manage future population increases. Solutions exist already to adapt and transform societies to cater for the extra billions that may populate the future planet. A great transformation, that is also proposed in a graphic novel published by the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU), is inevitable for the future for humanity. It’s not the world that needs to be saved, but it’s ourselves and our future generations that we should start thinking about more seriously.
In a new map feature published on the World Population Atlas website to complement the release of Danny’s book I have created an interactive version of the 2013 population cartogram where one can explore the UN WPP data and visualise past and predicted future populations (from 1950 to 2100) for each country in a chart alongside the main map. The main section of the atlas features individual gridded population cartograms for every country of the world. See all this material on the following website:
Here is a preview of the interactive population map: