We continue with our list of optimistic trends. See Episode 121 for the beginning of the list.
4 – Peak Population
Speaking of increasing population and demand, that seems to be all we’ve talked about. 1 billion to 8 billion. And it is rising. When will it end?
The world population will likely peak at around 9.8 billion near 2080 and begin to fall slightly after that.
The primary cause of this is education and economic advancement. Most of the population growth is in developing countries. Many children are required, partly in hopes that some will survive and partly so those who do can help the family. As world poverty decreases and economic opportunity increase, the trends clearly show that most populations choose to have fewer children.
While it is trite to call it “quality over quantity,” that’s precisely what happens. As the poverty curve sharpens downward, population growth curves toward zero and then down.
5 – The End of Famine
With a rising population comes the perennial question: can we feed 10 billion people?
It’s evident to anyone looking around that the developed world is not lacking in calories. But what about the world’s poorest regions, like Sub-Saharan Africa, which also have the highest population growth?
The average active man needs between 2,200 and 2,800 calories per day, and the average active woman needs 1,800 to 2,000.
In 1960, the average number of calories consumed per person per day was:
- World: 2,200
- Sub-Saharan Africa: 1,800
In 2017 those numbers had grown steadily to:
- World: 2,900+
- Sub-Saharan Africa: 2,400+
Moreover, the poorest regions have seen the sharpest rise in calories per person over the last thirty years. The trends show no sign of slowing.
How is this possible?
- Greater agricultural productivity due to scientific progress. (Thanks, Monsanto?)
- Greater world wealth leads to greater purchasing power to spend on food, stimulating production.
- The spread of democracy has significantly reduced authoritarian governmental interference.
- Improved communication and transportation mean wealthier countries can donate and sell to countries suffering from food shortages to carry them over.
While famine rocked the world for almost all of human history, they are all but gone today outside war-torn countries.
Optimist Trend 6 – More Land for Nature
Would you guess that the global levels of forests are growing or shrinking? Do you hear more about deforestation or afforestation? (Have you ever heard of “afforestation?” I hadn’t until now. Maybe I’m dumb, and the last one to the party on that point.)
And yet, 865,000 square miles of tree canopy were added to the global forests between 1882 and 2016. That’s a land area larger than Alaska and Montana combined of nothing but trees. As with all these trends, the numbers continue positively.
Continents like Asia, Europe, and North America have such massive passive change between deforestation and afforestation that they more than make up for South America and Africa’s negative impacts.
All this extra tree coverage acts as a sponge for carbon emissions to lessen (though not eliminate) their impact.
I’m no tree-hugger, but I do love trees. This is definitely a positive.
7 – Planet City
Most people throughout history have lived in rural areas. Even in 1900, 41% of Americans worked on farms. Less than 2% do today.
Cities are where innovation and advances come from. According to the World Bank, “No country has grown to middle income without industrializing and urbanizing. None has grown to high income without vibrant cities.”
Cities are good for the planet, as inhabitants emit less carbon, use less electricity, and have a smaller land footprint compared with rural dwellers. Where do you think all that afforestation came from?
What is the trend for urbanization? The percentage of the global population living in cities was, is, and should be:
- 1950: 29%
- 2018: 55%
- 2100: 85% (Estimated… obviously.)
Do you personally hate cities? This is still good for you. More people in cities means more land for you.
8 – Democracy on the March
While you may hear rhetoric on the end of democracy and the coming wave of fascism or communism (depending on who is screaming), the trends still disagree.
Aside from the World War II era, democracy has been spreading, from only a handful of countries in 1800 to roughly 50% in 2023.
Further, Autocracies have decreased from nearly 70% to almost 10%. While there are more blips in these trends than in others, the directions are still positive.
Optimistic Trends So Far
You can find these trends and more in the book Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know. Let’s review quickly.
- The world is getting richer.
- Poverty is ending, hopefully within this decade.
- We aren’t running out of resources as fast as some would have you believe.
- The Population Will Peak Under 10 Billion
- Famine is Ending
- There is More Land for Nature
- We are Moving to Cities, which Helps Nature
- Democracy is Still Spreading
We’ll be back next week with more.