The question of what constitutes a sustainable global population hinges on how wisely and frugally we consume the planet’s resources. The world’s current population would be unsustainable if everyone lived (and shopped) like the average Australian. Indeed, given the obvious pressures on the planet’s natural processes the current population is probably unsustainable even with existing patterns of consumption. If we develop smarter technologies and adjust to less materialistic lifestyles, our planet might be able to sustain ten billion or more people. But clearly there must be some upper limit, and the larger the planet’s population, the more stretched its resources will be.
The most dramatic population growth is now taking place in the least developed countries, whose populations are projected to increase from 900 million in 2013 to 1.8 billion by 2050. The populations of 35 countries could triple or more by 2100, and some, including Burundi, Malawi, Niger and Somalia, are on track for a five-fold increase. Such increases could result in massive resource shortages and escalating conflict unless these countries can achieve levels and rates of economic growth unprecedented in human history.
The current high rates of population growth in the least developed countries are both a cause and a result of ongoing poverty. Reducing population requires, amongst other things, empowering and educating women and providing essential health care including reproductive health. Countries that have done this have generally seen a reduction in poverty. A good historical example is Thailand, which dramatically curbed its population growth in the 1970s and 80s, and now ranks roughly halfway on the UNDP’s Human Development Index.
Population Matters has an excellent website that addresses the question of sustainable population.
Many sites discuss the role of reproductive health in preventing overpopulation. The United Nations Population Fund and the Population Action International (PAI) sites are good examples.
An important landmark in the struggle against overpopulation was the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994.
The Population Media Center promotes reproductive health by creating educational soap operas and entertainment radio and television programs. PATH (previously known as Program for Appropriate Technology in Health) focuses more on technical innovation.
K4Health is a good resource site on family planning and reproductive health. It includes Popline, which is a reproductive health literature database.
A South-South initiative, Partners in Population and Development brings together developing world countries to work on this issue.