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Population. According to the non-profit group Population Connection (formerly ZPG) there are 6,641,215,403 people in the world, up from a figure of 6,603,567,010 the last time I taught this course (Spring 2007). We’ve added over 37.6 million people in that time. .

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According to the non-profit group Population Connection (formerly ZPG) there are 6,641,215,403 people in the world, up from a figure of 6,603,567,010 the last time I taught this course (Spring 2007). We’ve added over 37.6 million people in that time.
Since 1965, world population has more than doubled. Neo-Malthusians or “Population Bombers” (e.g., Paul Ehrlich, Lester Brown, Garret Hardin, and David Pimentel) have long argued that we are in danger of exceeding Earth’s carryingcapacity.
  • Over the past few years, we have experienced the slowest growth since the 1940s. Cornucopians or “Population Optimists” (e.g., Julian Simon) believe that population is not that big a problem and that economic growth and technology will see us through.
  • Still others claim that our focus on human population growth is misplaced. They view excessive growth as a symptom of other bigger problems. People in this camp are “Gender Equity” or “Equity” Advocates.
  • More on these perspectives later . . .
as environmental geographers we are interested in knowing
As environmental geographers, we are interested in knowing . . .
  • What significant population patterns are out there
  • Why these patterns exist and persist
  • Where significant population growth is occurring today
  • Where populations have stopped growing (or at least slowed down)
  • What the environmental impacts of population growth are
If one were to analyze a series of world population density maps published over the past several decades, two important points emerge:

1) Population is not distributed uniformly around the world.

  • Some areas support large populations (One out of every three people in the world is from either India or China); other areas are very sparsely populated.

2) Population patterns and rates of growth change over time.

  • With respect to growth rates, there are tremendous disparities around the world. We live in “two very different demographic worlds,” one relatively small, old, and wealthy (with very high consumption rates per capita) and the other very large, young, and poor (with relatively low consumption rates per capita).
speaking of consumption
Speaking of Consumption . . .
  • If everyone in the world consumed like the average U.S. citizen, we would need four more planet Earths to meet everyone’s needs!
population distribution
Population Distribution
  • MDCs account for 20% of world population but consume the lion’s share of resources. Some countries (e.g., Denmark, Sweden) have reached ZPG (births plus immigration = deaths plus emigration); others have negative growth rates (e.g., Italy, Germany, Hungary, Japan).
  • LDCs account for 80% of world population. Some countries (esp. in the Middle East and Africa south of the Sahara) have very high growth rates. Nigeria - the most populous country in Africa - had 33 million inhabitants in 1950. By 2050, it is projected to have 300 million.
  • By 2025, MDCs will account for only 16% of world population. This is because over 90% of population growth over the next 30 years will occur in LDCs (esp. “hot spots” Africa and Middle East)
demographic momentum
Demographic Momentum
  • In at least 68 countries, more than 40% of the population is under the age of 15.
  • Afghanistan (42.9%), Benin (47.9), Cambodia (45.4), Ethiopia (46.0), Haiti (42.6), Pakistan (41.8), Syria (46.1), Libya (48.3)
Over the next class period or two, we’ll

examine these and other issues more

closely, as well as explore different ways of

looking at population growth & distribution:

  • different types of maps
  • population pyramids
  • different perspectives
a couple of things to remember about maps and numbers
A couple of things to remember about maps and numbers . . .

1) maps are generalizations, interpretive tools - we need to read them carefully

2) population by political boundaries can be deceiving

3) population numbers can be deceiving

On October 12, 1999, the UN announced

that world population had officially reached 6

billion people.

  • How accurate were the data upon which this statement was made?
  • Some countries do not have reliable census data. Some countries may wish to overstate or understate their populations. Why?
world population concentrations
World Population Concentrations
  • East Asia
  • South Asia
  • Southeast Asia
  • Western Europe
  • N.E. U.S./S.E. Canada
axiom for the day people live where they can eat
Axiom for the day . . . People live where they can eat!
  • People tend to live in arable areas
  • People tend to live in areas that are accessible (especially by water)
  • People tend to migrate to areas where others have migrated
historically what has caused world population to grow
Historically, what has caused world population to grow?

When we look at world population growth

over the past several thousand years, we

see that it has not grown evenly. There

have been spurts in growth.

spurts in population growth three revolutions
Spurts in population growth (Three Revolutions)
  • ca. 8000 B.C. - Agricultural Revolution (plant and animal domestication)
  • ca. 1750 A.D. - Industrial Revolution (agricultural mechanization, transport, sanitation, health)
  • ca. 1950 A.D. - Medical Revolution (elimination of many historical causes of death)
and it keeps on growing
And it keeps on growing . . .

It took all of human

history to reach 1 billion

people in 1804. Then it

only took 150 years to

reach 3 billion by 1960.

And as I noted earlier,

world population has

doubled since 1965.

how do we measure population changes
How do we measure population changes?
  • Rate of Natural Increase - Percentage by which a population grows in a year (birth rate minus death rate). Does not take migration into account. Current rate is about 1.3%.
  • Doubling time - Number of years needed to double a population. Current doubling time is about 53 years for the world (Calculated by dividing 70 by the natural increase rate).
  • Recent evidence suggests . . .
    • that population growth is slowing down
    • that doubling time is increasing
geographers also look at
Geographers also look at . . .
  • crude birth rate - total number of live births in a year per 1000
  • crude death rate - total number of deaths in a year per 1000
geographers also look at29
Geographers also look at . . .
  • total fertility rate - number of children a woman will have during child-bearing years (ages 15-49)
fertility rates cont d
Fertility Rates (Cont’d)
  • Some demographers argue that births per male is a more effective measure.
  • Average fertility rate for the world is 2.7;2.1 in the U.S.
  • Fertility rates across the globe have been on the decline over the past 50 years - except in Africa. In Mexico, the average family in 1975 had 7 children. In 2000, the average was down to 2.5.
  • China introduced a policy known as “later, longer, fewer” in 1971 followed by a 1 child per family policy since 1979 which has reduced the fertility rate. The rate has dropped from 6.2 in 1949 to 1.6 in 2006. Negative side effects - female infanticide and bride abduction.
  • Family planning Iran has also lowered fertility rates.
geographers also look at31
Geographers also look at . . .
  • infant mortality rate - number of infant deaths (<1 year) per 1000 live births
    • 95 percent of the estimated 529,000 maternal deaths in 2000 occurred in Africa and Asia.
  • life expectancy - number of years a newborn infant can be expected to live
    • Even in the U.S. there are pockets where infant mortality is high and life expectancy is low for some members of society (e.g., Native American Indians).
why is population increasing at different rates in different countries
Why is population increasing at different rates in different countries?
  • To answer this, we’ll talk about demographic transition (demographer Frank Notestein ca. 1945) and then take a look at population pyramids.
  • Nearly all the population growth is occurring in poorer countries - those countries least able to support the growth.
demographic transition process of change in a society s population
Demographic Transition - Process of change in a society’s population
  • process with four stages (based on European and North American experiences)
  • every country in the world can be grouped into one of four stages:
What lowers the death rate?
  • food security
  • improvements in water supply and sanitation
  • improvements in medicine

Why does birth rate drop after death rate?

  • decision to have fewer children is a cultural one
  • fewer children needed in an industrial society
  • fewer children needed in an urban society
  • highereducation and personalfreedom for women tend to lower birth rates
a couple of questions
A couple of questions:

Do people base their decision on whether or not to have

children in purely economic terms?

  • Children are valued in different ways (e.g., Where there is little opportunity for upward mobility, children offer status)

Is the DTM an accurate predictor of trends in LDCs?

  • Some LDCs stuck in Stage 2 (Birth rates have remained high after urbanization and industrialization)
  • There may be a cultural preference in some countries to have larger families
population pyramids
Population Pyramids
  • An analytical tool, a bar graph, that allows us to examine the distribution of a country’s population by age and gender.
  • Tells us something about dependency (young and old).
  • Tells us something about the future as well (demographic momentum).
  • The shape of a pyramid is determined by the crude birth rate.
Population Projections

for Nigeria (2000, 2025,


Population Projections

for Hungary (2000,

2025, 2050)

Population Projections

for U.S. (2000, 2025,


Population Projections

for Chile (2000, 2025,


“Because labor was scarce and land plentiful, a low

person/land ratio existed. Hence, each family had to

reproduce its own labor force, and population grew rapidly

during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Industrialization ultimately helped to bring about a

demographic transition to smaller families, as children

ceased to become an economic asset. In Sturbridge,

Massachusetts, for instance, women marrying between

1730 and 1759 bore an average of 8.8 children, whereas

those marrying between 1820 and 1839 bore an average of

5.3 children. Nationwide, women who married in 1800

bore an average of 6.4 children, but in 1849 the figure was

4.9 children and in 1879 it was 2.8 children.”

- Carolyn Merchant

  • What does overpopulation mean?Population exceeds carrying capacity.
  • What does carrying capacity mean? The maximum population that the environment can support indefinitely.
  • Is there an overpopulation problem in the world today? In the U.S.?This is a debate that has been unfolding for centuries.

Today the debate is carried on by . . .

Neo-Malthusians (a group named for English economist ThomasMalthus)

Gender-Equity and Equity advocates (who trace their roots to the writings of KarlMarx), and

Cornucopians (best represented by the work of the late economist and statistician JulianSimon)


Thomas Malthus (1766 - 1834) was an English essayist and

minister whose 1798 treatise on population got the ball

rolling. It contained three key points:

  • food supply grows arithmetically while population grows geometrically
  • passion between the sexes is constant and necessary (Indeed, he had several illegitimate children!)
  • resources are limited
  • His conclusion? Collapse in the future. His predictions have not come true – he did not foresee technological advances, especially where agricultural output is concerned.
  • Must understand what was happening in London at the time he was writing.

Neo-Malthusians (e.g., Paul Ehrlich, Garrett Hardin, Lester

Brown, David Pimentel) have revived some of his ideas.


  • Population is an important issue because the planet is already overpopulated.
  • Population growth puts unsustainable pressure on the earth and its limited resources.
  • One of these days, we will overstep the Earth’s ability to support us. We need to control population soon.
  • Karl Marx vehemently opposed Malthus’s positions, arguing that population growth is a symptom rather than a root cause of poverty, resource depletion, racism, classism, and other problems.
  • Today, people like Betsy Hartmann and Paul Harrison have picked up on this “equity” argument. They state that most environmental problems have been caused by “first world” countries and poverty in “third world” countries.
  • We need to raise standards of living, address the low status of women, expand services, education, reproductive rights.
  • They argue that the DTM works!
  • Then there are the Cornucopians. According to Julian Simon, population may or may not be the cause of environmental problems. He maintains that the quality of life by a variety of measures is improving in many places around the world.
  • To Simon, population growth is a good thing - people are the “ultimate resource” and the more people on earth, the more minds we will have working on our problems.
  • The solution lies in economic policies that promote economic growth.
  • He too argues that the DTM works!
in conclusion
In conclusion
  • Who is right? Each camp makes some good points.
  • Without a doubt, explosive and unchecked population growth will have negative effects on the earth.
  • Without a doubt, resources and amenities are not distributed equitably around the globe and poverty is at the root of many of the world’s problems.
  • Family planning and education have done much to reduce fertility rates around the world. We are better off now in terms of reducing growth than we were 30 years ago.
in conclusion57
In conclusion
  • Can we concentrate our efforts on reducing fertility rates in LDCs without addressing the consumption problems in MDCs?No! Consumption rates in MDCs pose even greater risks to the planet.
  • Although population growth is difficult to predict and there are a variety of different viewpoints when it comes to future projections, it is likely that world population will level off around 8-10 billion sometime this century.
  • According to the U.N. Population Division, medium-range population estimates for 2050 are down from 9.4 billion to 8.9 billion. The U.N. estimates population might stabilize at 9 billion by 2300.