Historical Determinisms Shaping Tomorrow's World

World Population Explosion

Since the second half of the twentieth century, the world has experienced a radical increase in its population (Planetoscope 2014). This should continue during the first half of the twenty-first century and then stabilize. Within a century, the world population will have thus increased from 2.5 billion people to over nine billion in 2050 (Fig. 2.1).

Within the next 20 years, the world population will increase by more than 1.6 billion people (© OECD/IEA, WEO 2012) to reach over 8.7 billion people in 2035. This disruptive growth comes from the worldwide demographic transition that is still in progress. This transition started with improved access to sanitary conditions by rural populations. As such access became more available worldwide, life expectancy rose and infant mortality dropped, resulting in an exponential increase in world population. Rural families which used to have six to eight children, of which more than half did not reach 20 years of age, saw all their children live to adulthood. Local economies were unable to absorb this massive increase of population. Consequently, youths were forced to seek employment in large cities. Once absorbed into the economy, they started their own families. However, the cost of raising children in cities was (and still is) much higher than that in the countryside. Dual-income families emerged as more women entered the workforce and developed careers. Consequently, the number of children per family progressively dropped as living standards increased. It takes one or two generations to accomplish such a demographic transition. During this time, the population increases significantly. When it is finally over, the population stabilizes again (Larousse 2014), and starts to grow older.

This transition happened in the nineteenth century in Europe and North America during the Industrial Revolution. In the rest of the world, it started during the second half of the twentieth century and will stabilize towards the end of the first half of the twenty-first century. World population should by then reach a peak between 9 and 10 billion people (Geohive 2014) (Fig. 2.2).

World population (Planetoscope 2014)

Fig. 2.1 World population (Planetoscope 2014)

World population (Planetoscope 2014)

Fig. 2.2 World population (Planetoscope 2014)

In Asia, population growth has started to slow down after 50 years of dynamic expansion. Its population should increase by more than 1.4 billion people by 2050, after an increase of over 2.3 billion people since 1950. It would then reach 5.1 billion people, more than half of the world population. Growth in Africa, however, has just started. Since 1950, the African continent has increased only by 600 million people, but it should increase by more than 1.4 billion people by 2050, and even 2.8 billion by 2100. Africa then follows the same development path, albeit 50 years later than Asia.

As the world population grew, the living conditions of billions of people also improved tremendously. The emergence of a global middle class is actually the turnaround of the twenty-first century. Because of the size of this change, with more people living a new way of life which demands massive quantities of energy, the traditional and precarious energy balance on which the world was built is deeply put in question.

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