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(092112)

Population and Change


by T. Peterson, Ph.D.
(the following text excerpts are taken from:
The Creator's Window -Viewing Global Change,
Universal timelines, & The Promise, © 2000)

''Examining processes in motion identifies driving forces behind change. Humanity is undeniably the source of many changes. A collective human bias sees the world according to societal need—this is the anthropocentric, human-centered source for change. Indirect effects stemming from the wake of human activity also generate unforeseen secondary changes. All together, these developments become the objects of debate or studies drawing attention to the immense complexity of global problems.

''Centuries ago, the Earth represented a relatively infinite, inexhaustible, resource. But as time passed, human use of space and natural resources increased, especially with advancing industrial capacity and the population’s recent, unprecedented, growth (see Figure 3). Understanding change over time, by studying timelines, illustrates how expansion of human habitation and exploitation of non-renewable resources underscores the finite capacity of Earth.''

Population Map


• Population

Very soon—in the first few decades of the new millennium—the increase in human population will attain an annual growth rate of one-hundred million. This follows two decades, the 70s and 80s, when the world’s total increased by 1.6 billion. Incredibly, humanity’s numbers have turned an exponential corner to sail straight up into uncharted waters. Simultaneously there is also an explosion of global consumption and development of new technologies. Figure 3 is a timeline illustrating the magnitude of our population’s amazing growth. For life to continue, the Earth must endure increasing pressures from an additional one billion people per decade. Present indications suggest this trend will continue for each of the next three decades. The World Bank estimates the human population—now at 6 billion—will reach 12.5 billion by the year 2100. The United Nations (UN) provides estimates ranging from 9 to 14 billion.

NYC from air


Where are all these people? Some live on the land, some in towns, suburbs, or cities, but humanity now moves away from the earth. Migration within a less populated world previously offered new survival opportunities or escape from less desirable conditions. Migration was a solution when a homeland was destroyed by fire or flood, or when hunting grounds were depleted. But this option is ineffective today and humans are rarely nomadic hunters and gatherers. A Mexican anthropologist, Dr. Lourdes Arizpe, is concerned by the numbers of people who move from farm to city when global economic conditions force agrarian people from their land. Money and jobs draw them to urban centers. Secondary problems later arise because valued agricultural land is consumed by expanding urban centers. "Globally, it has been forecast that 24 million hectares of crop land will be transformed to urban-industrial uses by the year 2000; this is only 2 percent of the world total, but it is equivalent to the present-day food supply of some 84 million people." (SXi 50) This loss of agricultural land is most severe in developing countries.

The size of our population is often blamed for global problems. However, the window view indicates what people do—their activity—may be more important than any number. With this point in mind, one can also see that humanity is stratified into regions defining population growth, poverty, and types of activity. The world’s population is comprised of subsets generally identified as: the North—i.e., richer industrialized countries—and the South—i.e., poorer developing or less developed countries (LDCs).

Less educated parents and poorer families generally produce more children compared to better educated or more affluent parents in Europe and North America. Future parents of the South will produce more children, who in turn enter the child rearing cycle at an earlier age compared to their counterparts in the North. Approximately 95% of the global population growth occurs in developing countries (SXi 123). Thus, the population cycle from kids to parents, to more kids, is simply faster in the South. Relatively speaking, the North is shrinking! This example of differential change accentuates the future locations for increasing human activity, and thus illustrates new sources for driving forces that cause accelerated global change. The poor will want more of what the rich already have.

Improved health care, education, sanitation, and greater personal wealth hold the promise of higher standards of living and longer life spans. Ironically, these desired advancements plus solutions to making peace, solving global problems, or building a sustainable future actually spur population growth and resource consumption. With few exceptions, global population has always realized net gains and humanity seems hopelessly unable to lower its own numbers.


Population graphic

Figure 3: Global Population. This graph makes the simple statement that the Earth is continually pressed to support an ever increasing human population of historically unprecedented proportion. When humanity finally exhausts any one significant limiting factor—logical examples include food or water resources—the present population trend leads to catastrophic events or consequences that produce rapid population decline.

• Poverty versus Wealth

The distinction between rich and poor should remain fixed in your mind. This key point reflects a historical difference, which presently shows no sign of reversing itself. Wealth is a significant theme here, because future events—discussed later with regard to a biblical timeline—revolve around a world struggling to achieve greater material prosperity.

What are the present dimensions of poverty? The World Bank estimates 1.2 billion people live in absolute poverty—with per capita incomes under 370 dollars per year. This figure compares with the annual sum many North American children spend on school lunches. Incredibly, most of Earth’s peoples—roughly 4 to 5 billion—only live on 15% of the global economy (SXi124). Meanwhile the rich are getting richer, they consume more, add to global environmental problems and jeopardize fragile ecosystems in developing countries.

Poor nations possess a greater proportion of the world’s resources— including a high percentage of the globe’s plant and animal biodiversity. The environment suffers when the poor attempt to close the poverty gap by selling precious tropical hardwoods, exploiting rare animal and plant species, and eroding the Earth to find valuable minerals. They have few other options to elevate their earning power and standard of living. Furthermore, the world’s poorer citizens are most vulnerable to drastic environmental change—especially from catastrophic events including earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, droughts, and floods. If not a total effort to survive, life for the poor is forever a game of catching up.

A tension develops from an imbalance between those who have money and technology and those who have far less. The real insult comes when exports from the South earn a meager compensation trapping poor nations into their LDC status. A backlash may yet appear if the poor succeed in placing tighter controls and higher prices on their native wealth. The North considers this possibility a threat to its economies which depend on unimpeded access to a cheap supply of resources. Meanwhile, increasing numbers, especially within the ranks of the poor, assert growing demands for life style improvements and increased material security—better food, more money, autos, consumer electronics, homes, etc. The critical nature to humanity’s future consumption is appropriately expressed by Alan Durning:

In the end, the ability of the earth to support billions of human beings depends on whether we continue to equate consumption with fulfillment.

This raises a key point for the timeline ahead because growing markets now lead humanity into an ever expanding material age.

The activities of the rich influence climate change and essentially—by an advantage of wealth and technology—maintain poverty elsewhere in the world. The abyss between privileged and oppressed peoples is only bridged by the hope that one day the poor might cross over to a better standard of living. If there were no poverty, if people were granted total equity, if global commerce flowed freely, there would be less migration, a lower universal birth rate, and fewer armed conflicts. The elimination of poverty may be a logical goal, but market advantage, greed, and national debts put this objective into the distant future.

• Planet Carrying Capacity

Everything examined to this point leads to this one topic. Carrying capacity is the ability of our planet to house, feed, and otherwise support all life forms. In every aspect of life, there is a global maximum level for: population size for each species, the amount of solar energy available to grow plants, water in a form suitable for land and sea creatures, and habitats with soils, vegetation and space for those who occupy the Earth. Here, I quote several members of the scientific community to summarize the major concerns for Earth’s future carrying capacity:

The rise in global dominance of the human species has led to the appropriation of an astonishingly large fraction of global productivity. Clearly this could not have occurred without a compensating reduction of the share of that productivity used by wild animals and plants. ... It is not just species that become extinct; entire natural systems are being reduced in size and complexity or completely eliminated.’ — Munro (SXi 95)

'The numbers of humans that can live on the planet will be restricted by agricultural production and the number of kilocalories that each individual requires to thrive or simply survive. — Arizpe and Valezquez (SXi 36)

...the 'sacred truths,' that the earth is infinite and progress is possible, must be discarded... — Arizpe and Valezquez (SXi 37)

We have changed the land and continue to do so to secure much of the food, fiber, and special products that we need or want. In doing so, the 5.3 billion people now on earth use 40% of the energy of the sun that is made available by green plants on land. — Munro (SXi 94)

Six to seven million hectares of agricultural land are being lost to erosion every year, and an additional 1.5 million hectares to water logging, salinization, and alkalinization; at the same time grazing land and all other productive land around the world are being degraded. — Raven (SXi 128)

In Europe and the United States, we tend to overproduce, and to be concerned with the expense of subsidies for agricultural production. We largely ignore the fact that much of our agricultural productivity is taking place at high costs in energy and sometimes as a result of expending non-renewable supplies of groundwater. — Raven (SXi 128-129)

Above all, one point interests me most. Presently, 5.5 billion people are using 40% of the world’s photosynthetic base. In other words, humanity alone controls or consumes 40% of the Sun’s energy stored each year in crops, trees, and other plant matter. Humanity is faced with the astronomical question: Is it possible that a population of 10 billion might succeed in using 80% of the photosynthetic base—in a peaceful and nondestructive way? For the first time in history, humans encounter a biological ultimatum. Remember, at present the other 60% of the Sun’s energy supports all other species on Earth. As humans consume more, one dominant species tips the scales and reduces the amount of support for all other life forms. This shifts increasing numbers of species toward extinction. Humans live within a finite system. Some get more, while others get less, but all the while humanity’s self indulgence diminishes the importance of all other species. The scientific community continues to express alarm and concern. I know progress will be made in some areas, but how will the planet endure overall?



The importance to global change is in looking at how social, biological, and physical sciences all reveal data and signs for more ominous changes in the near future. This is change in every aspect of human and earthly affairs ... globally. The Window looks further to see change as a backdrop to a biblical timeline. Driving forces for change force us to ask the most important questions about our true origin, who we are, why we are here, and what the Scriptures tell us about the future. Change forces us to look deeper to face choice or crisis. Life is an opportunity to look for the answers.


This is just one of many panes in the WindowView. This is a fraction of the process identified earlier within the section entitled 'Convergence.' Keep exploring the view, visit our page titled 'Experience WindowView' to see how global changes are part of a larger holistic paradigm which is the reason behind assembling this cyber-place. Putting the picture together helps to envision humanity's direction along the dimension of time.

A copy of this text with footnotes and a complete listing of references used in writing this text can be obtained by downloading the chapters and reference list for the Creator's Window. References that appear as ''(SXi #)'' signify the page number from Sigma Xi's publication related to a 1991 forum on global change (see reference list for the Creator's Window for a complete citation of this work).


References from SXi and page number refer to the Sigma Xi Forum Proceedings: Global Change and the Human Prospect: Issues in Population, Science, Technology and Equity, November 1991. The importance of this science society's forum is that the meeting was forward looking and demonstrates how scientists from social, biological, and physical sciences all saw change on the rise. Not just climate change, but change in every aspect of human and earth affairs ... globally.


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