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For the first time there are 8 billion people on the Earth, U.N. report says


There are now 8 billion people living on planet Earth. It's a milestone that came pretty quickly. The world added 7 billion people in just over 200 years. And while we continue to grow, the Earth does not. So should we be alarmed about so many people using the world's finite resources, especially amid climate change? Joining us to unpack this is Jack Goldstone. He's a professor of public policy at George Mason University. And he writes about global population trends. Good morning. Thanks for being on the program.

JACK GOLDSTONE: Good morning. Glad to be here.

FADEL: OK. So let's start with that big question. Should we be alarmed? Eight billion people, is that too many people living on this planet?

GOLDSTONE: It's really not. We've handled 8 billion. I think we can still manage at 9 billion or even 10 billion. It's all a matter of paying attention to what people are doing, how they live and which specific areas and groups are growing the fastest. The fact that global population is 8 billion and it's going to be nine or 10 billion, that's not the critical issue - it's the fact that the United States, for example, is half again larger than Nigeria today. But in a hundred years, Nigeria will be half again larger than the United States.


GOLDSTONE: So how do we manage that imbalance? Do we have to prepare for increases in immigration? Or will Nigeria be so prosperous that it can employ all of its own people?

FADEL: Well, let's...

GOLDSTONE: I think what's important about the 8 billion is that we're going to be connected. And so we have to get used to the idea that what happens in other places will directly affect our quality of life here.

FADEL: Well, let's talk about that because there are - the birth rates are actually down across much of the world. So if you could just break down what parts of the world account for all of this population growth or much of this population growth?

GOLDSTONE: Of course. Well, places like India and China, which are the largest countries in the world today, have pretty much stopped growing. In fact, China's population will likely decline a little bit in the next 30 years, and then a lot more between 2050 and 2100. The growth is taking place mainly in Africa. A few countries in Asia, like Pakistan, are also growing fast. But it's really - Africa right now we think will grow from today's 1.4 billion to 2.5 billion in 30 years and 4 billion by the end of the century. That's the real driver of growth.

Now, some people say, is that something to worry about? Well, if that African population is productive, if they're on a low fossil fuel energy trajectory, then that's great because without that population becoming productive, the world will struggle to find economic growth. Other countries don't have growing populations. But if that African population is on a high fossil fuel growth path and remains relatively poor, then the world as a whole will face great difficulties. We won't be able to compensate for the growth in population, plus a high fossil fuel trajectory.

FADEL: So what do...

GOLDSTONE: So that's a big problem.

FADEL: So what do world leaders need to do to make this sustainable? - because you talk about how there are actually enough resources. But right now, there are famines in places like Somalia, for example. So what do world leaders need to do to make sure that with these billions of people on the planet, everybody has access to food and the resources on this planet?

GOLDSTONE: Well, there will be more famines if climate change is not slowed.

FADEL: Yeah.

GOLDSTONE: And so the big issue is helping countries that are going to face a lot of growth in energy in the future get on a fossil fuel path that is cleaner. The same thing is true for the countries that are big fossil burners now - the U.S., India, China. They also need to get on a clean path as soon as possible, which is to everyone's advantage because in the long run, solar and wind are cheaper than the way we make energy now. But the sooner we can get into that clean, lower cost future, the better for the world. The other thing I should point out is that just because population is not growing very fast in Europe or the U.S. or China, that doesn't mean that population issues don't exist there. What's growing fast is the over 65 population.

FADEL: Right.

GOLDSTONE: In fact, it's growing much faster than the world population as a whole. So we also need to develop policies to keep over 65 - our elder populations, which include folks like me, keep us productive, keep us contributing to the economy.

FADEL: Jack Goldstone is a professor of public policy at George Mason University. Thanks so much for your time.

GOLDSTONE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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