GEOG 597i
Critical Geospatial Thinking and Applications

Demographics

Although the world's population growth rate has been decelerating since the 1970s, many places continue to experience explosive increases. Unfortunately, those regions and countries with the highest rates of growth are also the least economically developed. The current annual average world population growth rate is approximately 1.82 percent. However, the less developed countries have average rates of growth that exceed 2.25 percent, while the more developed nations are growing at about 0.48 percent per year.

Despite a slowing rate of growth, the total number of people on earth continues to increase exponentially. Demographers estimate that the total global population will exceed ten billion within the next fifty years, at which point the growth rate will finally drop to near zero. Therefore, if these predictions hold true, after the year 2060, it will be necessary for the world to adequately sustain ten billion people, or experience unthinkable, catastrophic results. Currently (2013) more than six billion people inhabit the earth.

Whereas a multiplicity of concerns, issues, and problems currently have the potential to create global havoc and threaten civil security, the potential for the chaos associated with war, terrorism, and even natural disasters will be exacerbated if current population growth projections actually occur. In 1798, Thomas Malthus, a British minister, published his Essay on Population in which he postulated that human numbers will eventually exceed the earth’s food production capabilities. He argued this will bring about food and resource shortages that will cause mass starvation, war, and immense levels of misery. These horrific consequences would, in turn, bring about a sharp decline in the numbers of people, but it would only be a matter of time before people would again overpopulate the planet. Malthus believed that this horrific cycle will continue for as long as humans inhabit the earth, because human population increases exponentially whereas food production increases at a linear rate.

Malthus based his concepts on the scientific information available in the last years of the eighteenth century. He could not foresee the massive productive capabilities of the "New World," or imagine such technological breakthroughs as modern birth-control methods or the "Green Revolution." Thus, some have suggested that Malthusian prophesy is largely irrelevant in modern times. They may be correct. Technology may provide for ever increasing numbers of people, while at the same time slowing the growth rate. After all, there is no question that these technologies exist. However, the willingness of people all over the globe to apply this technology for the good of all humankind is less certain. In another section of this course, we will discuss the concept of cultural conflict and its potential impacts on the security of the world order.

In recent years, even the poorest nations have been able to gain access to the technologies and materials needed to produce weapons of mass destruction. As their populations grow, many of these countries may soon find that they are unable to provide sufficient food and infrastructure to stave off mass starvation and devastating outbreaks of contagious diseases. In the face of such chaos, these governments will almost certainly seek massive amounts of assistance from the more affluent. If they believe that it is not sufficiently forthcoming, they may, out of desperation, decide to employ terrorist tactics, and may also attempt to use weapons of mass destruction to force compliance with their demands.

In the more affluent nations, demographic patters also create problems. In Western Europe for example, some nations have a negative population growth rate. In these countries, the elderly are slowly coming to represent greater percentages of the total population. China also faces this demographic trend. Low birth rates eventually lead to a relatively smaller labor force, which in turn means that the burdens associated with supporting national infrastructures, social systems, and the public welfare will fall on the shoulders of fewer and fewer people. Some of these nations are already (not China) finding it necessary to import workers from other parts of the world to fill jobs and support the tax base. Whereas this may initially serve to equalize the demographic balance, the integration of large numbers of young people from other parts of the world into their societies has not been easy for countries such as Germany, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the pervasive poverty of some nations relative to the economic opportunities found in others, has led to the illegal movement of massive numbers of younger people across international borders. The United States, in particular, has been the destination of thousands of undocumented immigrants, mostly from Central and South America, but also from Asia, the Middle East, Haiti, and Africa. Therefore, changing world demographic patterns are important, and they directly influence the stability of the world order.