American Culture

U.S. population to hit 1 billion in 2100, prof says

It’s often difficult to get the attention of my students. But when I told them that it’s possible that a few of them would see the year 2100, and that most of their children surely would, they stopped furtively texting under their desks and began paying attention.

When I was born just after World War II, I told them, the population of the United States was about 141 million; of the world, about 2.7 billion. Now, 62 years later, Americans tip the scale at about 303 million; the world’s population has grown to about 6.6 billion.

A little extrapolation of U.S. Census data, I told them, shows the American population hitting 518 million at mid-century and 758 million in 2100. The world’s population is likely to grow to 14 billion at century’s end. Imagine what that world — their world — would be like, I challenged them.

But I was too optimistic. In a report to be released today, a Virginia Tech professor estimates that between 2100 and 2120 the population of the United States will reach one billion people.

Arthur C. Nelson, described in a press release as an expert in estimating population changes and their impact on planning and economic development, will present his new and as yet unpublished findings at the American Planning Association’s 100th National Planning Conference in Las Vegas.

(Las Vegas seems to be an appropriate place to announce a tripling of the American population in one lifetime. More than 500,000 people live there, and its population has more than doubled since 1990.)

Dr. Nelson says, according to the planning association’s press release, that his predicted population figure isn’t the issue. Rather, the factors driving population growth and the inadequate planning accompanying that growth ought to be closely examined. According to the release, Dr. Nelson points out:

• Public water supply systems often have a 100-year planning horizon, and there is an argument for thinking 500 years out.
• Major rail transit facilities take up to two or three decades to plan and another one or more to build.
• Airports were built less than 50 years ago with the thought they would never need to be replaced, but many have been, with more planned.
• We know enough now about the threat of climate change to shape planning for coastal communities over the next century.
• Government involves many fixed investments that in order to be economical must be paid off over a long period of time.

There are few public policy issues unaffected by one blunt, rarely discussed fact: There are too many of us, and, although growth rates vary from nation to nation, we’re increasing in number at the rate of about 1.17 percent of the world’s population per year.

That impacts health care. Drinking water. Foodstuffs. Commodities. Housing. Energy. Name an issue; population growth affects it. Politicians discuss resource issues solely in terms of scarcity; they do not discuss the other side of the equation — demand caused by increase in population. Population growth determines peace: Wars are fought over resources strained by population pressures.

Paul Ehrlich’s book, “The Population Bomb,” launched the Zero Population Growth movement in the late 1960s. It was widely mocked in a post-war era of economic growth and higher living standards. [ZPG (birth rate = death rate) changed its name to Population Connection in 2002.]

Few are laughing now. My students will have to unplug the cell phones and iPods from their ears and figure out to live, survive, even prosper in a nation that at least one researcher says will triple in population in their lifetimes. Unbridled growth is unlikely to serve my young students well as they inexorably descend to dotage.

17 replies »

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  2. Zero population growth has been elbowed aside from the national scene because:
    1. The religious right believes in going forth and multiplying.
    2. Whites in America fear being outnumbered by Hispanics.

    Imagine the fate of the politician who would dare to suggest: “One’s enough”?

  3. It seems unlikely I’ll be here for the 1 billionth served. So on that I’m a little less terrified.

    Fortunately, we live in a society where our leaders take a long-term view of things, so I’m sure planning is already under way.

  4. Malthus was right, you know, he was just off on the timing.

    Already, we’re seeing the effects of overpopulation in the current food crisis in many countries. Oil may have already reached peak production, and it is fertilizer from petrochemicals that has brought us plentiful and cheap food in the 20th century. And we’re looking to food (corn) to produce alternate fuels as oil declines.

    What are people going to eat?

    Personally, I don’t think the world’s population will hit 14 billion. People who are starving to death are rarely the most sexually active people around.

  5. I think Erlich’s 1970’s bestseller, “The Population Bomb” was off the mark as for the timetable, but he was correct in his extrapolation of the works of Malthus. The population of the world, barring a big war or global catastrophe, will continue to really grow. Since our resources are finite, one can assume that there will be scarcities of staple items. Time to stock up on the basics.


  6. The US population will never reach 1 billion people for the sole reason that there will be no easily obtainable oil in the year 2100. The population explosion the world has experienced is in direct proportion to the availability of cheap energy. Once the cheap energy is gone, and we’re getting close now, the world population will decline. Many people in this world depend on food, plant and animal, that requires huge amounts of energy to produce (about 10 calories used to produce 1 edible calorie, I think that’s correct). When the majority of people must once again produce their own food, with no tractors/combines/trucks etc., the population will decline.

    Oh and Russ, you are 100% correct. No one ever mentions overpopulation as an issue or problem to be dealt with. Unbelieveable.

  7. Bah. I know how we can solve all of these silly overpopulation/food shortage problems. Just add the Gospel of Swift to the New New Testament and get Fundies to take it literally. Shouldn’t be too hard…

  8. when I was born in 1925 US population was around 90 further comment is nessessary

  9. zero population is alive and well in europe. after ww2 the native populations were thinned by 50 million! began their zero population idea soon afterward and now dont have enough people to work. they soon wont even be able to sustain their small populations. the brilliant answer…bring in immigrants from around the world and let them bring the populations back up as fast as possible….a europe with no europeans…i wonder what french cuisine will be like then?…

  10. I’m assuming that this is either a joke, or someone completely uninformed on current stats. Children alive to day will not out live their parents, not even close. Given the current real stats behind obesity, cancer, diabetes, and other once (less than 100 years ago) diseases, the population will begin to reverse within the next 2 years. Personally, I think it will turn around completely later this year or next. You’re odds of contracting cancer alone are 1 in 1. Imagine the rest of the scenerio. Heart disease, etc…

    With the coming Codex Clinton set us up for in 2009, added to Bush’s continued collapse of the dollar through the deficit, food diseases and starvation will begin later this year. When the two merge, we’re already in too deep. By the UN’s Codex’s own addmission, over 1 million will die within the 1st year from malnutrition and related diseases in the US. The dollar facing a beating, even without the UN’s plan, we are in serious trouble. This year also, big agri businesses released a mold, purpose??? Perhaps to wipe out what small farms are left, or destroy crops, naturally they have created the seeds immune to this mold.

    This is what’s being taught by the so called learned? I would suggest they actually research the whole picture. Don’t take my word for it though, put some effort in and research it for yourself.

  11. Anthony,
    I’d be interested in knowing about the agri business that released a crop killing mold, what crop is affected, and which mold is it. Where and why did they release this mold, and what was the method of delivery? Is that what the black helicopters are all about?

    As for the beaten up dollar and high commodity prices….surely, you have noticed an unwinding of the dollar/commodity spread in the past couple of months. Wheat is off 35%, beans are off 25%, gold is well off it’s high, and the dollar has bottomed.

    While I predict that food shortages are in the future, I don’t think will be the result of government/business, but will be due to natural causes. Anthony, you need to do your homework, keep quiet, and stop making it hard for true conservatives to hold a rational discussion. It’s hard enough already…..


  12. The wheat fungus infecting the crop in Africa and up toward Pakistan is Ug-99. It’s said that scientists are just now in search of a resistant strain. It’s said.

  13. Jeff:

    I think Anthony has provided you with some insider info. I’m no expert, of course, but it seems to me that, if big agribusiness has released a mold, it would be a good idea for you invest heavily in wheat futures. Hey man, opportunities like these don’t come along very often.

    Jump on it!!

  14. Billrobbins:

    That wheat fungus has been priced in the market for quite awhile.