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Global Issues An Introduction


Kristen A. Hite and John L. Seitz

This fifth edition first published 2016 © 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

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Cover image: © Martin Barraud / Getty Images

To those who serve the needs of others – humans, animals, and plants, all essential parts of our lovely but endangered planet

Contents Acknowledgments Foreword Introduction

The Creation of Global Issues Developing toward What? Notes

Chapter 1 Population The Changing Population of the World Causes of the Population Explosion How Population Growth Affects Development How Development Affects Population Growth Governmental Population Policies The Future Conclusions Notes Further Reading

Chapter 2 Wealth and Poverty Wave of Hope: The Millennium Development Goals A Pessimistic View: The Persistence of Poverty Development Assistance and Foreign Aid A Market Approach The State as Economic Actor A Blended Approach Geography and Wealth, Geography and Poverty Globalization Conclusions Notes Further Reading

Chapter 3 Food World Food Production How Many Are Hungry?

Causes of World Hunger How Food Affects Development How Development Affects Food The “Green” Revolution Governmental Food Policies Future Food Supplies Conclusions Notes Further Reading

Chapter 4 Energy The Energy-Climate Crisis Government Responses to the Energy-Climate Crisis The Effect of the Energy-Climate Crisis on Countries’ Development Plans The Relationship between Energy Use and Development The Energy Transition Nuclear Power: A Case Study Conclusions Notes Further Reading

Chapter 5 Climate Change The Evidence and Impacts Uncertainties What Is Being Done at Present? What More Can Be Done? Conclusion Notes Further Reading

Chapter 6 The Environment: Part I The Awakening The Air The Water The Land The Extinction of Species The Extinction of Cultures

Notes Chapter 7 The Environment: Part II

The Workplace and the Home Managing Waste Responsible Use Environmental Politics Overdevelopment Conclusions Notes Further Reading

Chapter 8 Technology Benefits of Technology Unanticipated Consequences of the Use of Technology Inappropriate Uses of Technology Limits to the “Technological Fix” War The Threat of Nuclear Weapons: A Case Study Conclusions Notes Further Reading

Chapter 9 Alternative Futures Development Pathways: Evaluating Our Current Situation Current Outlook: Business as Usual Collapse and Sustainable Development Choices Governance: Deciding How to Act on the Choices We Make Conclusion Notes Further Reading

Appendix 1 Studying and Teaching Global Issues For the Student For the Teacher Notes

Appendix 2 Relevant Videos

Appendix 3 Relevant Internet Websites Appendix 4 The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Glossary Index EULA

List of Tables Chapter 1

Table 1.1

Table 1.2

Table 1.3

Chapter 2

Table 2.1

Chapter 3

Table 3.1

Table 3.2

Chapter 4

Table 4.1

Table 4.2

Table 4.3

List of Illustrations Chapter 1

Figure 1.1 Population growth from 8000 BCE to 2011 CE

Figure 1.2 Economic differences in population growth, 1950–2050 (projected)

Figure 1.3 World population projections to 2050: three scenarios

Figure 1.4 Population by age and sex in different groups of countries, 2010 (projected) Source: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision (2009).

Figure 1.5 Urban and rural population by development group, 1950–2050

Plate 1.1 Rural migrants often settle in urban slums in developing nations

Plate 1.2 Growing cities in less developed nations often have a mixture of modern and substandard housing

Plate 1.3 Children take care of children in many poorer countries, as this girl is doing in Mexico

Figure 1.6 The classic stages of demographic transitions

Figure 1.7 Demographic transition in Sweden and Mexico

Figure 1.8 Fertility decline in world regions, 1950–1955, 2000–2005

Plate 1.4 Breast-feeding can delay a woman’s ability to conceive and provides the most healthful food for a baby

Plate 1.5 Advertisement for contraceptives in Costa Rica

Figure 1.9 Increases in modern contraceptive use in selected countries Percentage of married women aged 15–49 using a modern contraceptive method. US figures are for women aged 15–44. Modern contraceptives include sterilization, oral contraceptives, IUDs, condoms, diaphragms, Depoprovera, Norplant, and other barrier and chemical methods.

Plate 1.6 Family planning class

Figure 1.10 A growing population and carrying capacity

Plate 1.7 A more frequent picture in the future? A crowded train in Bangladesh

Chapter 2

Figure 2.1 Global extreme poverty rate

Figure 2.2 Fewer people in extreme poverty: people living on less than $1 a day, 1981, 1990, 2001

Figure 2.3 Reduction in extreme poverty in China and India, 1981–2001

Plate 2.1 Poverty in Indonesia

Plate 2.2 The weight of poverty falls heavily on children in less developed nations

Figure 2.4 Percentage of the population and number of people living in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 a day) in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa

Plate 2.3 Street children in Nepal

Plate 2.4 The market approach is followed on the streets in many countries

Plate 2.5 The state approach to development struggles to survive the collapse of communist regimes in Europe, as can be seen in the posters of a Communist Party conference in Nepal

Figure 2.5 World trade: merchandise exports, 1950–1998 (in 1990 dollars)

Figure 2.6 World trade: goods exports, 2001–2009

Chapter 3

Figure 3.1 Per capita consumption of major food items in developing countries, 1961– 2005

Plate 3.1 Starvation in Somalia

Plate 3.2 The bloated belly is a sign of malnutrition, a major cause of stunting and death in children worldwide

Figure 3.2 Contribution of agriculture as share of Gross Domestic Product, 2012 (percent)

Plate 3.3 Street vendors sell food to many urban dwellers

Plate 3.4 Tropical rainforests are being cut down to clear land to raise beef cattle for the US fast-food market – the so-called “hamburger connection”

Map 3.1 The Mediterranean

Plate 3.5 Much of the food in Africa is grown and prepared by women

Figure 3.3 Number of Earths required to sustain global population, 1960–2008 and 2008–2050 (scenarios)

Chapter 4

Plate 4.1 Shortage of wood is a part of the energy crisis, since many urban dwellers in developing nations rely on wood as their major source of fuel

Plate 4.2 The replacing of human-powered vehicles with oil-fueled vehicles in poor and crowded countries, such as Bangladesh, will be difficult

Figure 4.1 Global energy consumption, 1850–2000

Figure 4.2 Global energy supply

Plate 4.3 Wind turbines in Altamont Pass, California

Plate 4.4 Solar thermal power plant, California

Plate 4.5 Solar energy provides power for a water pump in Morocco

Plate 4.6 Geothermal power plant, California

Figure 4.3 Global nuclear production from 1971 to 2012

Chapter 5

Figure 5.1 Global carbon dioxide emissions from human activity.

Figure 5.2 Globally averaged combined land and ocean surface temperature anomaly.

Figure 5.3 Climate impacts to agricultural production, by region and crop.

Chapter 6

Map 6.1 China

Plate 6.1 Vehicles, such as this truck/bus, provide a lot of air pollution in the cities of the developing countries.

Plate 6.2 Deforestation in Mexico.

Chapter 7

Plate 7.1 Water pollution in the United States is partly caused by large amounts of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, which run off from fields during storms.

Chapter 8

Plate 8.1 Without modern technology to help, necessary tasks can be difficult. A woman in Nepal breaks up clumps of soil to prepare the land for planting

Map 8.1 Borneo and Indonesia

Map 8.2 Africa

Plate 8.2 Underground nuclear weapons testing in the United States

Figure 8.1 Countries with nuclear weapons capacity

Acknowledgments This edition benefited from the substantial research contributions of Whitney Hayes (particularly the population, wealth and poverty, environment, and technology chapters), Cody Samet-Shaw (food, wealth and poverty chapters), and Liz Schmitt (energy and climate chapters), who also provided timely proofreading support.

We would like to thank the following reviewers who made useful suggestions for improving this edition: David Williams, Queen Mary University of London and Scott Anderson, State University of New York, Cortland.

We would also like to thank Wofford College, both for providing author Seitz with an office and for supporting the development and teaching of Global Issues as a semester-long course, which enabled author Hite to take the class from Seitz in the late 1990s and informed her orientation toward the subject.

Foreword In the 1950s and 1960s I (Seitz) went as an employee of the US government to Iran, Brazil, Liberia, and Pakistan to help them develop. A common belief in those decades was that poverty causes people to turn to communism. As an idealistic young person, I was pleased to work in a program that had the objective of helping poor nations raise their living standards. After World War II the United States was the richest and most powerful country in the world. Many countries welcomed US assistance since it was widely believed that the United States could show others how to escape from poverty.

Disillusionment came as I realized that we did not really know how to help these countries relieve their widespread poverty. The problem was much more complex and difficult than we had imagined. Also, one of the main political objectives of our foreign aid program – to help friendly, noncommunist governments stay in power – often dominated our concerns.

And more disillusionment came when I looked at my own country and realized that it had many problems of its own that had not been solved. It was called “developed” but faced major problems that had accompanied its industrialization – urban sprawl and squalor, pollution, crime, materialism, and ugliness, among others. So, I asked myself, what is development? Is it good or bad? If there are good features in it, as many people in the world believe, how do you achieve them, and how do you control or prevent the harmful features? It was questions such as these that led me to a deeper study of development and to the writing of this book.

I came to recognize that development is a concept that allows us to examine and make some sense out of the complex issues the world faces today. Many of these issues are increasingly seen as being global issues. Because the capacity human beings have to change the world – for better or for worse – is constantly growing, an understanding of global issues has become essential. The front pages of our newspapers and the evening TV news programs remind us nearly daily that we live in an age of increasing interdependence. (The Introduction explains the creation of global issues.)

This book is an introduction to a number of complicated issues. It is only a beginning; there is much more to learn. Readers who are intrigued by a subject or point made and want to learn more about it should consult the relevant note. The note will either give some additional information or will give the source of the fact we present. Consulting this source is a good place for the reader to start his or her investigation. After each chapter a list of readings gives inquisitive readers further suggestions for articles and books that will allow them to probe more deeply. Appendix 1 gives the student some help in organizing the material the book covers and the teacher some suggestions for teaching this material. Appendix 2 offers suggestions of relevant video tapes and disks, an important and interesting resource for those who want to understand these issues more deeply. Appendix 3 gives internet sources. Many organizations on the internet now have a large amount of information related to many of the issues covered in this book. The glossary contains a definition of many of the uncommon terms

used in the book.

The world is changing rapidly and significant developments have taken place in many of the topics covered in this book since the fourth edition was prepared. Climate change has become so central to development considerations that it now has its own chapter. An expanded discussion on governance reflects the increasingly apparent challenges that, even as the world increasingly understands the technical basis of global problems, make responsible choices and effective decision-making ever more important across political and temporal scales. This edition also offers new insights into the global implications of the collective impacts of consumer choices, in part through the concept of environmental footprints in an effort to link global issues with individual choices a reader can make.

Global issues can be a depressing subject as the reader learns of the many serious problems the world faces. To help counter this depression without “sugar coating” the issues, a highlighted box of an example of a positive action the reader can take will be presented in most chapters.

John L. Seitz


The Creation of Global Issues What causes an issue to become a “global issue”? Are “global issues” the same as international affairs – the interactions that governments, private organizations, and peoples from different countries have with each other? Or is something new happening in the world? Are there now concerns and issues that are increasingly being recognized as global in nature? It is the thesis of this book that something new is indeed happening in the world as nations become more interdependent. While their well-being is still largely dependent upon how they run their internal affairs, increasingly nations are facing issues that they alone cannot solve, issues that are so important that the failure to solve them will adversely affect the lives of many people on this planet. In fact, some of these issues are so important that they can affect how suitable this planet will be in the future for supporting life.

The issues dramatize our increasing interdependence. The communications and transportation revolutions that we are experiencing are giving people knowledge of many new parts of the globe. We see that what is happening in far-off places can affect, or is affecting, our lives. For example, instability in the oil-rich Middle East affects the price of oil around the world and since many countries are dependent on oil as their main source of energy, the politics of oil becomes a global concern.

Many nations in the world are now dependent on other nations to buy their products and supply the natural resources and goods they need to purchase in order to maintain a certain standard of living. An economic downturn in any part of the world that affects the supply and demand for products will affect the economic status of many other nations. This is an important part of globalization that will be discussed in Chapter 2.

Even a global issue such as world hunger illustrates our increasing interdependence. A person might say that starving or malnourished people in Africa don’t affect people in the rich countries, but even here there is a dependency. Our very nature and character depend on how we respond to human suffering. Some rich nations such as the Scandinavian nations in northern Europe give a significantly higher portion of their national wealth to poor nations for development purposes than do other rich nations such as the United States and Japan.

Global issues are often seen as being interrelated. One issue affects other issues. For example, climate change (an environmental issue) is related to an energy issue (our reliance on fossil fuels), the population issue (more people produce more greenhouse gases), the wealth and poverty issue (wealthy countries produce the most gases that cause climate change), the technology issue (technology can help us create alternative energy sources that produce less or no greenhouse gases), and the future issue (will the changes we are making in the Earth’s climate seriously harm life on this planet?). As we recognize these interrelationships, we realize that usually there are no simple solutions.

Interdisciplinary knowledge is required to successfully deal with the issues. The student or adult learner reading this book will be receiving information from multiple disciplines such as biology, economics, political science, environmental science, chemistry, and others. Neither the social sciences nor the physical sciences have the answers on their own. Feel good about yourself, reader, because you are engaged in the noble task of trying to understand how the world really works. Complicated? Yes, of course. Impossible to discover? Certainly not. Just read seriously and carefully. It takes effort and you can keep learning throughout your life.

Perhaps, global issues were born on the day, several decades ago, when the Earth, for the first time, had its picture taken. The first photograph of Earth, which was transmitted by a spacecraft, showed our planet surrounded by a sea of blackness. Many people seeing that photograph realized that the blackness was a hostile environment, devoid of life, and that life on Earth was vulnerable and precious. No national boundaries could be seen from space. That photograph showed us our home – one world – and called for us to have a global perspective in addition to our natural, and desirable, more local and national perspectives.

This book discusses some of the main current global issues of our time. The reader can probably identify others. During the reader’s lifetime, humanity will have to face new global issues that will continue to surface. It is a characteristic of the world in which we live. Maybe our growing ability to identify such issues, and our increasing knowledge of how to deal with them, will enable us to handle the new issues better than we are doing with the present ones.

Developing toward What? When we talk about global issues, “development” can be a confusing term. Development, as used in this book, is the ways in which economies progress through their societies to improve well-being. This requires us to consider how to measure progress as a society at the global level. But cultures across the world have very different ideas of how to define progress. Many define it by material wealth. But not all, by any means. Bhutan, for example, has a national happiness indicator in addition to measuring national wealth by the more conventional means of domestic production (gross domestic product – GDP). The definition of development we use in this book is a “neutral” one – it does not convey a sense of good or bad, of what is desirable or undesirable. We have chosen this definition because there is no widespread agreement on what these desirable and undesirable features are. This inevitably causes us to wonder what we are developing toward.

The United Nations now defines human development as the enlarging of human capabilities and choices; in a yearly publication it ranks nations on a human development index, which tries to measure national differences of income, educational attainment, and life expectancy.1 The United Nations has suggested that the purpose of development to be the creation of an environment in which people can lead long, healthy, and creative lives. Economists have traditionally used gross national product (GNP) or a country’s average per capita income as the measures of economic development. This book combines both the economic and the social components into the concept of development. We use the neutral and expanded definition of

development because economic development alone has sometimes led to negative social and environmental consequences that rival in scale the economic benefits generated.2

For roughly the past century, “development” has been viewed primarily through the lens of economic growth plus the social changes caused by or accompanying that economic growth.3 With those advancements, which included major improvements in health conditions for many and the overall lowering of the death rate, came a population explosion. So at first development solved a huge human problem through its advancements in medicine: the early death of many by disease was ended. But this great success helped create a dangerous long- term problem – the population explosion, an explosion of the numbers of humans on the planet that we are facing today, with significant impacts for how rapidly humans deplete the Earth’s resources, especially when combined with the growth of consumption. We will explore all of these dimensions in the coming chapters.

From 1950 to 2000, nations generally took one of two approaches to development. The first approach was to develop government policies focused on creating jobs and providing social services to meet basic needs.4 In the 1950s and 1960s, it was common to think of development only in economic terms. It was, of course, economic growth with the agricultural and industrial revolutions that created the increased food and higher standard of living that permitted more human beings to inhabit the planet. For many economists, political scientists, and government officials, the conventional notion of “development’ meant an increase in a country’s average per capita income or an increase in its GNP, the total value of goods and services produced. Development and economic development were considered to be synonymous.

The other approach to development, encouraged by international development institutions like the World Bank, reevaluated the role of government in economic development and focused on minimizing government influence on market prices by gearing public policies away from regulation, encouraging the private sector to provide social services (also known as “market- based solutions”).5 This approach became known as the “Washington Consensus,” focusing on economic efficiency and fiscal discipline. The Washington Consensus led on one hand to increases in the GDPs of many countries but also to cuts in social spending – and as a result some of the poorest became even worse off.6 Both approaches were predicated on the assumption that economic growth was functionally synonymous with “development”; they simply differed in the political pathway to achieve it.

In the 1970s an awareness grew – in both the “less developed” nations and the “developed” industrialized nations – that some of the social and environmental changes which were coming with economic growth were undesirable.7 More people were coming to understand that for economic development to result in happier human beings, attention would have to be paid to the effects that economic growth was having on social factors. Were an adequate number of satisfying and challenging jobs being created? Were adequate housing, healthcare, and education available? Were people living and working in a healthy and pleasant environment? Did people have enough nutritious food to eat? Every country is deficient in some of these factors and thus is in the process of developing.

As concerns mounted about the social and environmental implications of more and more countries following a development model based on ever increasing rates of production and consumption, the concept of “sustainable development” emerged. This said that improving well-being requires considering social and environmental conditions in addition to economic growth. The United Nations environmental conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 made the term “sustainable development” widely known around the world. At first, the concept of “sustainability” was mostly a popular buzzword for those who wanted to be seen as pro- environmental but who did not really intend to change their behavior. It became a public relations term, an attempt to be seen as abreast with the latest thinking of what we must do to save our planet from widespread harm.

Within a decade or so, some governments, industries, educational institutions, and organizations started to incorporate “sustainable development” in a more serious manner. In the United States a number of large corporations appointed a vice president for sustainability. Not only were these officials interested in how their companies could profit by producing “green” products, but they were often given the task of making the company more efficient by reducing wastes and pollution and by reducing its carbon emissions. Many colleges and universities adopted sustainability as a legitimate academic subject and something to be practiced by the institution. Many nonprofit organizations added the promotion of sustainability to their agendas.

Meanwhile, the “Washington Consensus” began to erode. In 2000 many nations adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration and launched a set of Millennium Development Goals, which refocused development on the “basic needs” approach, recognizing that market-based solutions alone could not solve widespread poverty and that governments needed to support effective social policies such as healthcare and education to avoid marginalizing the poor.8 Between 2000 and 2010, natural resource shortages contributed significantly to food and energy crises, in turn challenging traditional notions of economic development based on the once dominant Washington Consensus model.9 Nancy Birdsall and Francis Fukuyama of the Center for Global Development argue that the global recession driven by the United States at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century changed the model for global development and that now the focus is much more on the ability of government to help the poor and provide social protections.10 They predict that many mid- and lower-income countries will reject the free-market approach and will more likely adopt a basic needs approach while increasing domestic industrial production. “In fact,” they explain, “development has never been something that the rich bestowed on the poor but rather something the poor achieved for themselves.”11

In the second decade of the twenty-first century, countries began developing a broad set of “sustainable development goals” intended to help the United Nations develop new targets after the Millennium Development Goals had run their course by 2015. By integrating these sustainable development goals with conventional, high-level development discussions at the UN, countries made it clear that the concept of sustainability is fundamental to development. Now sustainable development is more integrated and global development goals are increasingly focused on the social and environmental basis of well-being in addition to

conventional economic indicators.

In this book we will look at some of the most important current issues related to development. The well-being of people depends on how governments and individuals deal with these issues. We will first look at the issue of population, then move on to issues related to wealth and poverty, food, energy, climate change, the environment, and technology, and conclude with a consideration of the future. As you read this book, consider for yourself: If the goal is “development,” what are we developing toward? And how do we manage the interdependent relationships between societies, the environment, and a globalized economy? The way we answer these question informs how we address global issues.

Notes 1 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Human Development Report 2004 (New

York: UNDP, 2004), p. 127.

2 For a criticism of the Western concept of development see Ivan Illich, “Outwitting the ‘Developed’ Countries,” in Charles K. Wilber (ed.), The Political Economy of Development and Underdevelopment, 2nd edn (New York: Random House, 1979), pp. 436–44. See also Lloyd Timberlake, “The Dangers of ‘Development,’ ” in Only One Earth: Living for the Future (New York: Sterling, 1987), pp. 13–22.

3 See, generally, Wolfgang Sachs, The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power (Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 2003).

4 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), World Economic and Social Survey 2010: Retooling Global Development (New York: United Nations, 2010).

5 Ibid.

6 Nancy Birdsall and Francis Fukuyama, “The Post-Washington Consensus: Development after the Crisis,” Foreign Affairs (March/April 2011); UN DESA, World Economic and Social Survey 2010.

7 The term “developing country” is based on the economic-focused definition of development and refers to a relatively poor nation in which agriculture or mineral resources have a large role in the economy while manufacturing and services have a lesser role. (Some of these countries are highly developed in culture and many such regions of the world had ancient civilizations with architecture, religion, and philosophy that we still admire.) The infrastructure (transportation, education, health, and other social services) of these countries is usually inadequate for their needs. These are the conditions for the vast majority of the world’s inhabitants, and economists have focused on increasing economic growth as an opportunity to generate more resources with the expectation that doing so will improve livelihoods. Since many of the less (economically) developed nations are in the

southern hemisphere, they are at times referred to as “the South.” During the Cold War these nations were often called the “Third World.” Because countries which were early adopters of intensive manufacturing amassed large amounts of wealth that lifted many of their citizens out of poverty, economists referred to these “industrialized” nations as “developed” nations. Most of them are located in the northern hemisphere, so they are also sometimes called “the North.” Some organizations such as the World Bank also divide countries according to their level of income. The Bank considers low- and middle-income countries to be “developing” and high-income countries to be “developed.”

8 Birdsall and Fukuyama, “The Post-Washington Consensus.”

9 Ibid. (“The global food, energy and financial crises that exposed the systemic flaws inherent in the functioning of deregulated global markets required governments to step in to address those crises – and in ways that dealt a blow to the conventional wisdom underpinning the Washington Consensus.”)

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.

Chapter 1 Population

The Changing Population of the World

Causes of the Population Explosion

How Population Growth Affects Development

Rapid growth

Slow growth

An aging population and low birth rates

International conferences on population

How Development Affects Population Growth

Demographic transition

Factors lowering birth rates

Governmental Population Policies

Controlling growth

Promoting growth

The Future

The growth of the world’s population

The carrying capacity of the Earth

Optimum size of the Earth’s population

Population-related problems in our future



Further Reading

Prudent men should judge of future events by what has taken place in the past, and what is taking place in the present.

Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616), Persiles and Sigismunda

The Changing Population of the World The population of the world is growing. No one will be startled by that sentence, but what is

startling is the rate of growth, and the fact that the present growth of population is unprecedented in human history. The best historical evidence we have today indicates that there were about 5 million people in the world in about 8000 BCE. By 1 CE there were about 200 million, and by 1650 the population had grown to about 500 million. The world reached its first billion people in about 1800. While it took thousands of years for the global population to reach 1 billion, it only took a little over a century for the population to reach the next billion: the second billion came about 1930. The third billion was reached about 1960, the fourth about 1974, and the fifth about 1987. The sixth came in 1999 and the seventh in 2011. The eighth billion is expected by 2024.1 These figures indicate how rapidly the population is increasing. Table 1.1 shows how long it took the world to add each billion of its total population. A projection is also given for the next billion.

Table 1.1 Time taken to add each billion to the world population, 1800–2046 (projection)

Date Estimated world population (billions) Years to add 1 billion people 1800 1 2,000,000 1930 2 130 1960 3 30 1974 4 14 1987 5 13 1999 6 12 2011 7 12 2024 (projected) 8 13 2046 (projected) 9 22

Source: Data from UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision.

How can we explain this dramatic increase in population growth? Development gains over the last two centuries have seen major improvements in health conditions for many and the overall lowering of the death rate, dramatically and rapidly reducing rates of early death by disease. With this great success came a population explosion, the rapid increase of the number of humans on the planet that we are facing today, with significant impacts for the Earth’s resources. While population growth rates are starting to stabilize in many places, the total number of people on the planet continues to increase while natural resources continue to decline. This chapter explores the complex situation of the global population in the context of development, and later chapters explore the relationships between population, wealth, food, energy, climate, and the environment.

There is another way to look at population growth, one that helps us understand the uniqueness of our situation and its staggering possibilities for harm to life on this planet. Because most people born can have children of their own, the human population can – until certain limits are reached – grow exponentially: 1 to 2; 2 to 4; 4 to 8; 8 to 16; 16 to 32; 32 to 64; 64 to 128; and

so on. When something grows exponentially, there is hardly discernible growth in the early stages and then the numbers shoot up. The French have a riddle they use to help teach the nature of exponential growth to children. It goes like this: if you have a pond with one lily in it that doubles its size every day, and which will completely cover the pond in 30 days, on what day will the lily cover half the pond? The answer is the twenty-ninth day. What this riddle tells you is that if you wait until the lily covers half the pond before cutting it back, you will have only one day to do this – the twenty-ninth day – because it will cover the whole pond the next day.

If you plot on a graph anything that has an exponential growth, you get a J-curve. For a long time there is not much growth but when the bend of the curve in the J is reached, the growth becomes dramatic. Figure 1.1 shows what Earth’s population growth curve looks like.

Figure 1.1 Population growth from 8000 BCE to 2011 CE Source: Based on data from Population Reference Bureau, 2010 World Population Data Sheet.

The growth of the Earth’s population has been compared to a long fuse on a bomb: once the fuse is lit, it sputters along for a long while and then suddenly the bomb explodes. This is what is meant by the phrases “population explosion” and “population bomb.” The analogy is not a bad one. The world’s population has passed the bend of the J-curve and is now rapidly expanding. The United Nations estimates that the world’s population reached 7 billion in 2011, adding 5 billion people in less than one century. But recent estimates indicate that while the population will grow substantially – especially in Africa – over the coming decades, the population is growing at a slower rate than before: women throughout the world now have on average fewer than three children per woman whereas in the 1950s they had five. But an

average of slightly less than three children per woman still means the population is growing dramatically.

Figure 1.2 shows that the largest growth in the future will be in the less wealthy countries, with India, China, and some nations in Africa leading the way. In 1950 about one-third of the world’s people lived in economically wealthy countries. At the end of the twentieth century that total reduced to about 20 percent living in countries with relatively rich economies. During the present century, nearly all of the growth in population will occur outside of these historically wealthy countries. An ever larger percentage of the world’s population will be relatively poor. The United Nations projects that by 2050 about 86 percent of the Earth’s population will be residing in the poorer nations.2

Figure 1.2 Economic differences in population growth, 1950–2050 (projected) Source: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision, Medium Variant (2007).

Because no one knows for sure what the size of Earth’s population will be in the future, the United Nations gives three projections: a high, medium, and low one, based on the possible number of children the average woman will have. Projections are educated guesses. The United Nations believes the middle projection is the most likely, and most authors writing on the subject use that number. The population in wealthy countries is expected to slowly grow to 1.3 billion in 2050,3 with migration from poorer countries accounting for most population growth.4 The vast majority of the global population will be in less wealthy countries, which

are expected to increase from 6 billion people in 2015 to 8.2 billion in 2050.5 From 2013 to 2100 about one-half of the annual growth is expected to occur in eight countries – India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, United States, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Niger, and Uganda.6 The largest growth is expected in India, which is likely to pass China as the largest country in the world by 2028 with 1.4 billion people.7 At that time India and China will account for about one-third of the world’s population. Figure 1.3 gives the three growth projections for the world population by the United Nations up to 2050.

Figure 1.3 World population projections to 2050: three scenarios Source: Based on data from UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision (2009).

High growth rates will take place in the less wealthy countries because a larger percentage of their population consists of children under the age of 15 who will be growing older and having children themselves. If we plot the number of people in a country according to their ages, we can see clearly the difference between rapidly growing populations, which less wealthy nations tend to have, and relatively stable or slowly growing populations, which tend to occur in wealthier nations. Figure 1.4 shows the difference between these two population structures. The age structure of countries with relatively stable populations is column shaped, while the age structure of growing countries is pyramid shaped.

Figure 1.4 Population by age and sex in different groups of countries, 2010 (projected) Source: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision (2009).

Figure 1.5 Urban and rural population by development group, 1950–2050 Source: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision, Highlights (New York: United Nations, 2010), p. 3

Another major change occurring in the world’s population is the movement of people from rural areas to urban areas. Although this is happening throughout the world, the trend is especially dramatic in poorer countries, where a significant portion of rural youth are fleeing to cities with hopes of a better life. But all too often jobs are not as available in the cities as hoped, pushing many rural migrants into poorer areas such as slums on the edges of big cities. In 2012, 32.7 percent of the urban population in developing regions lived in these informal settlements.8 Table 1.2 lists the world’s ten largest cities in 1990 and 2014 and the projected ten largest for the year 2030. Note the trend in the growth of cities in countries with economies that have been rapidly growing. It is hard to imagine a city like Calcutta getting any bigger. In 1950, it had a population of about 4 million, with many thousands of people living permanently on the streets; in 1990 it had a population around 10 million and an estimated 400,000 lived on the streets.9 If the present rate of growth continues, it will have a population of about 19 million by 2030.10 Note also the increased size of the cities. Cities with over 5–10 million people are sometimes called “megacities.”11 In 1990, there were only six cities in developing countries with more than 10 million people. By 2014 there were 28 cities in the world with populations over 10 million people, the majority of these in emerging economies.12 Many of these cities had vast areas of substandard housing and serious urban pollution, and many of their residents lived without sanitation facilities, safe drinking water, or adequate healthcare facilities.

Plate 1.1 Rural migrants often settle in urban slums in developing nations Source: United Nations.

Table 1.2 Ten largest cities in the world, 1990, 2014, and 2030 (projection)

Population in 1990 (millions)

Population in 2014 (millions)

Population in 2030 (projected) (millions)

Tokyo, Japan 32 Tokyo, Japan 37 Tokyo, Japan 37 Kinki M.M.A. (Osaka), Japan

18 Delhi, India 24 Delhi, India 36

New York-Newark, USA

16 Shanghai, China 22 Shanghai, China 30

Mexico City, Mexico 15 Mexico City, Mexico 20 Mumbai, India 27 São Paulo, Brazil 14 São Paulo, Brazil 20 Beijing, China 27 Mumbai, India 12 Mumbai, India 20 Dhaka, Bangladesh 27 Kolkata (Calcutta), India 10 Kinki M.M.A. (Osaka),

Japan 20 Karachi, Pakistan 24

Los Angeles, USA 10 Beijing, China 19 Cairo, Egypt 24 Seoul, Republic of Korea

10 New York-Newark, USA

18 Lagos, Nigeria 24

Buenos Aires, Argentina 10 Cairo, Egypt 18 Mexico City, Mexico 23 Cites are formally called “urban agglomerations” in UN publications.

Source: Based on data from UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision; World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision, Highlights.

Innovative sustainable cities

Shenzhen, China

In 2014, Shenzhen won the City Climate Leadership Award for Urban Transportation, sponsored by Siemens and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. Known around the world as a leader in developing electric vehicles, the city aimed to add 24,000 electric vehicles to its transportation system by 2015. However, what sets Shenzhen apart from other cities is its push to start infusing public transportation sectors, such as buses and taxis, with hybrid and electric vehicles. The city’s leadership collaborated with public and private actors to add over 3,000 new energy buses and 850 pure electric taxis to the city’s general transportation circuit by late 2013. This project has already led to a reduction of 160,000 tons of carbon pollution between 2009 and 2013, and the city aims to reduce carbon emissions by another 0.82 million tonnes by 2015.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires, another 2014 recipient of the City Climate Leadership Award, was honored for its Solid Urban Waste Reduction Project. By 2017, the city aims to treat 100 percent of

waste sent to landfills and reduce the overall waste production by 83 percent. The city seeks to achieve these goals through a combination of public education and infrastructure development. Thirty-two public parks contain “Green Stations,” at which residents may bring recyclable waste for sorting, and every city block has a waste disposal bin. This initiative has created 4,500 urban recoverer jobs and has reduced overall landfill waste by 44 percent in 2014. Curitiba, Brazil

Curitiba has been called the most innovative city in the world. City officials from around the world visit Curitiba to learn how this city, with relatively limited funds, has been tackling urban problems. By using imaginative, low-cost solutions and low technology, Curitiba has created a pleasant urban life that many cities in the more developed nations have yet to achieve. Here is how the city achieved this.

Transportation The city has made public transportation attractive, affordable, and efficient. Instead of building a subway, which the city could not afford, it established a system of extended, high-speed buses, some carrying as many as 275 passengers on express routes, connecting the city center with outlying areas. Many people own cars in Curitiba but 85 percent of the commuters use public transportation. This has reduced traffic congestion and air pollution. There are 30 percent fewer cars on city streets than you would expect from the number of cars owned by its residents.

Trash collection The city’s “garbage that is not garbage” initiative encourages residents to exchange their trash for goods such as food, bus tickets, and school supplies. This program has led to the recycling of 70 percent of Curitiba’s trash.

Education Small libraries have been built throughout the city in the shape of a lighthouse. Called Lighthouses of Learning, they provide books (many schools in Brazil have no books), an attractive study room, and, in a tower, a strong light and guard to make the area safe.

Health Curitiba has more health clinics – that are open 24 hours a day – per person than any other city in Brazil.

Environmental education The Free University for the Environment was built out of recycled old utility poles next to a lake made from an old quarry. Short courses on how to make better use of the environment have been designed for contractors, merchants, and housewives. Taxi drivers are required to take a course there in order to get their licenses.

Governmental services Colorful, covered Citizenship Streets have been built throughout the city to bring government offices to where the people live and shop. Here people can pay their utility bills, file a police complaint, go to night court, and get a marriage license. Vocational courses are subsidized to help provide accessible classes to all residents.

The main credit for this innovative city has been given to its former mayor Jaime Lerner. Lerner, an architect and planner, headed an honest and very capable government. He served three terms as mayor of the city and later served two terms as governor of the state.

Sources: On Shenzhen: “City Climate Leadership Awards 2014: The Winners,” at; UN Commission on Sustainable Development, Electric Vehicles in the Context of Sustainable Development in China (May 2–13, 2011), p. 26, at; C40 Cities, “Shenzhen: New Energy Vehicle Promotion,” at (all accessed July 2015). On Buenos Aires: C40 Cities, “Buenos Aires: Solid Urban Waste Reduction Project,” at project-buenos-aires-plan-integral/; Buenos Aires Ciudad, “Waste Management,” at (both accessed July 2015). On Curitiba: Ali Soltani and Ehsan Sharifi, “A Case Study of Sustainable Urban Planning Principles in Curitiba (Brazil) and Their Applicability in Shiraz (Iran),” International Journal of Development and Sustainability, 1 (2012), p. 126; Robin Wright, “The Most Innovative City in the World,” Los Angeles Times, June 3, 1996. Curitiba’s accomplishments are also described in Jonas Rabinovitch and Josef Leitman, “Urban Planning in Curitiba,” Scientific American, 274 (March 1996), pp. 46–53; Eugene Linden, “The Exploding Cities of the Developing World,” Foreign Affairs (January/February 1996), p. 62; Arthur Lubow, “The Road to Curitiba,” New York Times Magazine, May 20, 2007, pp. 76–83.

With respect to urbanization, although countries differ on their definitions of “urban” (the United States defines urban as places of 2,500 or more, Japan uses 50,000, and Iceland 200), by 2012, more than half of the global population lived in urban areas.13 There has been a particular trend toward increased urbanization in poorer nations: in 1950 only about 20 percent of their population was urban, but that increased to 40 percent in 2000. In 2009, for the first time in human history, more people lived in urban areas in the world than in rural areas, and by 2012 less than 30 percent of the global urban population resided in wealthy countries.14 Nevertheless, 60 percent of the population in Africa and 52 percent in Asia still live in rural areas.15 The trend is toward more urbanization as megacities and other cities continue to grow. The United Nations expects nearly all the world’s population growth in the future will be in the urban areas of less wealthy nations.16

Plate 1.2 Growing cities in less developed nations often have a mixture of modern and substandard housing

Source: United Nations.

Causes of the Population Explosion Although it is easy to illustrate that the human population has grown exponentially, it is not so easy to explain why we are in a situation at present of rapidly expanding population. Exponential growth is only one of many factors that determine population size. Other factors influence how much time will pass before the doublings – found in exponential growth – take place. Still other factors influence how long the exponential growth will continue and how it might be stopped. We will consider these last two matters later in the chapter, but we will first look at some of the factors that drastically reduced the amount of time it took for the world’s population to double in size.

The agricultural revolution, which began about 8000 BCE, was the first major event that gave

population growth a boost. When humans learned how to domesticate plants and animals for food, they greatly increased their food supply. For the next 10,000 years until the industrial revolution, there was a gradually accelerating rate of population growth, but overall the rate of growth was still low because of high death rates, caused mainly by diseases and malnutrition. As the industrial revolution picked up momentum in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, population growth was given another boost: advances in industry, agriculture, and transportation improved the living conditions of the average person. Population was growing exponentially, but the periods between the doublings were still long because of continued high death rates. This situation changed drastically after 1945. Lester Brown explains why that happened:

The burst of scientific innovation and economic activity that began during the forties substantially enhanced the Earth’s food-producing capacity and led to dramatic improvements in disease control. The resulting marked reduction in death rates created an unprecedented imbalance between births and deaths and an explosive rate of population growth. Thus, while world population increased at 2 to 5 percent per century during the first fifteen centuries of the Christian era, the rate in some countries (in the late 1970s) is between 3 and 4 percent per year, very close to the biological maximum.17

It was primarily improvements in life expectancies around the world after World War II that gave the most recent boost to population growth. The spreading of public health measures, including the use of vaccines, to less developed countries enabled these countries to control diseases such as smallpox, tuberculosis, yellow fever, and cholera. Children and young adults are especially vulnerable to infectious diseases; thus, the conquering of these diseases allowed more children to live and bear children themselves.

While life expectancies around the world were increasing rapidly, birth rates generally remained higher than death rates. Birth rates have been high throughout human history. If this had not been true, you and I might not be here today since high birth rates were needed to replace the many people who died at birth or at an early age. (If you walk through a very old cemetery in the United States or especially in Europe, you can see evidence of this fact for yourself as you pass the family plots with markers for the many children who died in infancy and through adolescence.) Birth rates remained high right up until the late 1960s, which was the beginning of a gradual lowering of birth rates around the world.

Sons preferred in India

Sons are preferred in many less developed countries. This has been particularly notable in India, where there are a number of places where a strong preference for sons has increased the ratio of men to women over the past century. A census in 2011 found an estimated 943 women for every 1,000 men nationally. Girls are more likely than boys to be neglected or mistreated, and India has a history of higher death rates and lower life expectancy for women than for men. Additionally, medical technology enables expectant parents to abort female fetuses, which has pushed the sex ratio at birth well above 105

boys to 100 girls, the normal ratio throughout the world. In the state of Haryana, just to the northwest of New Delhi, for example, a 2011 survey found that for children age 0–6, there were only 834 girls for every 1,000 boys.

Map 1.1 India

Many families in India, as in China, Korea, and a number of other East and South Asian countries, value sons because sons usually live with their parents after marriage and contribute to family income. Sons provide vital financial support to elderly or ill parents, who often have no other source of income. Traditionally daughters move away at marriage and transfer their allegiance to their husband’s family. At least historically, parents would therefore expect less financial or emotional support from daughters after they leave home.

In many parts of India, daughters can mean an additional cost to parents – the obligation of paying her prospective husband’s family a large dowry. Dowries often require parents to go into debt, and the amount families must pay has been increasing over the years.

The financial and social disadvantages of having a daughter prompt some women to abort their pregnancies if they are carrying a daughter. Pregnant women can determine the sex of their fetus through ultrasound and other examinations. As this technology becomes more widely available, more parents are using it to choose the number and sex of their children. Nearly all aborted fetuses in Indian hospitals are female. The national government has passed laws prohibiting sex-selective abortion, as have many Indian states, but abortion practices are difficult to regulate.

Sources: Nancy E. Riley, “Gender, Power, and Population Change,” Population Bulletin, 52 (May 1997), pp. 14–15; Sanjay Kumar, “India: Where Are All the Girls?” The Diplomat, August 27, 2013, at (accessed July 2015).

Birth rates have dropped close to or below replacement rates in wealthier nations but remain high in most other countries. There are a number of reasons for this. First, many people want to have many children. If many children die in infancy, as they still do in countries with relatively high infant mortality rates, more births are needed to replace the number of people surviving into adulthood. In many families, particularly in rural areas, children are tasked in helping with domestic and agricultural work, sometimes at the expense of their education. Before child labor laws severely restricted the use of children in factories in the United States and Europe, it was common for children to take paying jobs to help the family gain income. Additionally, the expectation is often that children (and specifically males in many cultures) are needed to ensure that the parents have someone to take care of them when they are old and can no longer work, which becomes a particularly acute need in the many countries where pensions or other assistance are unavailable.

Other reasons for continued high birth rates include tradition and religion. Cultural and religious norms are strong and one does not break with these norms easily. Tradition is very important in many societies, and traditionally families have been large in rural settings. Also, religion is a powerful force in rural societies and some religions either advocate for large families or against birth control. The unavailability or unacceptance of birth control options is a particularly significant factor for higher birth rates in some places. It has been estimated that about 143 million married women of reproductive age worldwide are not using contraceptives even though they do not want more children.18 It is believed that these women have an unmet need, or demand, for family planning services.19

Plate 1.3 Children take care of children in many poorer countries, as this girl is doing in Mexico

Source: Mark Olencki.

How Population Growth Affects Development How does population growth affect development? While there is no easy answer to the question of what is “too large” or “too small” a population for a country – a question we will return to in the final section of this chapter – we can identify some obvious negative features of a rapidly growing population, a situation which would apply to many less developed countries today.

Rapid growth Let’s look again at the age distribution of the population in less developed regions in Figure 1.4. It is striking that a large percentage of people is below the age of 15. This means that a

large proportion of the population in these countries is mainly nonproductive. Food, education, and healthcare must be provided for children and youth until they become independent. Obviously, if a nation has a large portion of its population in the under-15 age group, its economy will be faced with a significant burden to provide for its younger members.

A rapidly growing population also puts a great strain on the resources of the country. If the population is too large or the growth too rapid, people’s use of the country’s resources for food and income can actually prevent the biological natural resources from renewing themselves. This can lead to the land becoming less fertile, and the forests being destroyed. An example of this is the making of patties out of cow droppings and straw by women in India and Pakistan. These patties are allowed to dry in the sun and are then used for fuel. In fact, dung patties are the only fuel many families have for cooking their food. But the use of animal droppings for fuel prevents essential nutrients from returning to the soil, thus reducing the soil’s ability to support vegetation.

A large popul

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