Humanity in transition

September 13, 2005

2005, Joel Cohen says, is the midpoint of a historic decade. Before this decade, young people always outnumbered older people; rural residents always outnumbered city dwellers; and the median number of women per child always exceeded two. By the end of this decade, none of this will ever be true again.

In a special issue of Scientific American titled “Crossroads for Planet Earth,” Cohen, who is head of Rockefeller’s Laboratory of Populations, writes about the major changes in human population over the next 50 years. His report appears alongside several others on the economic, public health, agricultural and environmental concerns facing our planet.

“Virtually all population growth between now and 2050 is expected to happen in the less economically developed regions of the world, and half the global increase will be accounted for by just nine nations, most of them in Asia and Africa,” Cohen says. “Most of that growth will be in urban areas. Poor countries will have to build the equivalent of a city of more than one million people each week for the next 45 years.”

In the short term, the Earth can provide room and food for the increased populace – we already grow enough grain to feed 10 billion people a vegetarian diet – but whether it will be a comfortable existence is a matter of politics, values, economics and distribution. “The question is whether 2050’s billions of people will be able to live with freedom of choice and material prosperity, however freedom and prosperity may be defined by those alive in 2050,” Cohen says.

Reference: Scientific American 293(3):48-55

Source: Rockefeller University

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Researchers design first artificial ribosome

July 29, 2015

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University have engineered a tethered ribosome that works nearly as well as the authentic cellular component, or organelle, that produces all the proteins ...

Meet the high-performance single-molecule diode

July 29, 2015

A team of researchers from Berkeley Lab and Columbia University has passed a major milestone in molecular electronics with the creation of the world's highest-performance single-molecule diode. Working at Berkeley Lab's Molecular ...

Researchers build bacteria's photosynthetic engine

July 29, 2015

Nearly all life on Earth depends on photosynthesis, the conversion of light energy into chemical energy. Oxygen-producing plants and cyanobacteria perfected this process 2.7 billion years ago. But the first photosynthetic ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.