Monday, 31 October 2011

Global population = 7 Billion

UN predictions suggest that today the world's population reaches a staggering 7 billion and I have to admit that it is pretty cool, although slightly scary, to think that I share my birthday with the 7 billionth inhabitant of Earth -  quite fitting considering it is Halloween!

The graph above illustrates where I fit into the picture - 5,582,734,706th person when I was born, making me the 80,819,731,395th person ever alive on Planet Earth - follow the link to find out which 1 of 7 billion you are....

I realise you are not going to be short of things to read on this topic over the coming weeks so I am not going to delve to much into the details of this pretty historic moment but first up for a few statistics that I am sure we could all slip into a Geography essay (or two!) over the common year...

Globally, every hour there are:
- 15,347 births
- 6, 418 deaths
= Average yearly increase of +1.162%
Fast-growing country is Qatar at +514 people per day
Fast-shrinking country is Moldova at -106 people per day

Highest life expectancy is in Japan at 82.7 years
Lowest life expectancy is in the Central African Republic at 45.9 years

97/100 new people on the planet are currently being born in developing countries

In the UK, the population is around 62156764 and every hour there are:
- 85 births
- 66 deaths
- +23 immigrants
= Average yearly growth of 0.6%
Average life expectancy is 79.6 years (81.7 for females and 77.4 for males)

It is quite hard to visualise all these statistics regarding population expansion but this interactive graphic produced by the Guardian, based on the UN projections, is quite good, especially when aiming to make comparisons between countries. Whilst talking about the Guardian and the resources they offer, they are very good at reporting on development and environmental issues and so checking up on that ever so often would be a good way to keep up with your independent reading, or if you are likely to forget to check you can like the facebook pages for both. However, if the thought of reading lots doesn't really excite you much then they also produce podcasts which are not too long and quite interesting to listen to - I find some of them quite good for helping me form opinions on this human geography stuff - here is the link to a recent podcast on population growth.

Whats next? Will people numbers stop rising?
The global population is expected to continue to increase during the course of this century, reaching 10 billion by 2083 - follow the link above to see a clip that illustrates this quite well. However, the rate of this growth is expected to slow in comparison to the rapid rate of exapnsion witness over the last 100 years. Little of this growth is happening in countries such as the UK, who are expected over coming years to see a drastic reduction in growth with many possibly experiencing negative growth. Instead, the growth is occuring in the developing world - with Asia presently experiencing most growth although this is soon likely to switch to Africa. We have recently placed quite a bit of focus on to the issues of ageing populations and so it is easy to forget that the world's population is actually quite young, with 43% under 25 (this constitutes 60% of the population across developing countries).

I have been struggling to know what excatly to write but the idea of writing a letter to the 7 billionth person caught my eye so I thought I would give it a try.......

Dear 7 billionth person,

First up, welcome to the world! We havent really been looking after Earth that well and unless we start to change our attitude then the future does not really look that bright......

I am trying really hard not to start on a negative but I have to admit its not easy. 7 billion people on the planet - I doubt if you said that 50 years ago anyone would have believed you, especially in the given timescale. 1 billion people added to the planet in 12 years is crazy and worryingly, for a while atleast, the rate of population expansion could continue to accelerate before it begins to slow down - I would love to know what Thomas Malthus would think about this all if he was still alive today. Anyway, whilst its easy to focus on all the doom and gloom that the future may hold, I think that this historic moment in time warrants us all to sit back and reflect, reflect on the progress made my mankind over the past few centuries. As a race we have come so far and the fact that I can stand here today and say that the global population has reached 7 billion is real testament to the great thinkers of  past generations who have solved so many of the problems society has face. Yes, we have made some huge mistakes in the past, and prevail to do so, but enough of us have learnt from this to allow for progress to be made. If you are born into a developed country (although this is unlikely considering 97/100 babies are born in developing countries) you will have access to all the simply remarkable scientific discoveries and technological advancements that have been made and therefore we be able to experience the best that we have so far achieved. If you are fortunate enough to be granted this luxury, please don't be ignorant to the fact, like so many, that the world is full of inequality, poverty is rife and suffering is an unnerving norm for so many. Suffering extends to the environment we inhabit and there is no hiding the fact our current status has been built on unsustainable foundations whilst we continually threaten our world in an unacceptable and, possibly, unforgivable way.....

Perhaps, its good that the UN have decided not to name the 7 billionth inhabitant of Earth as I feel a lot of responsiblilty would have been placed on you. Instead I think the number and the idea itself that there are 7 billion people on planet Earth should be enough (hopefully!) to shock people into changing - if we don't change (and soon!) then the thousands of children born each day are only going to inherit problems, problems generated by our ignorance and arrogance. Unification is what is required as we all need to act together if our efforts are to have the desired effect. Of course, politcans and public figures leading the way will help but we need to want to change for ourselves and the good of mankind. Hopefully the symbolic nature of your existance should catalyses the reaction needed to bring about required change but we are, as a global community, quite unpredictable and do some strange things, our persistant abuse of the Earth's finite resources even though we are fully aware of the consequences just one example.

You symoblise perfectly the issue of over-population, an issue that needs to be addressed, especially as we seem intent on continuing the unsustainable lifestyles a significant amount of us lead. This problem is slightly trickier to solve than environmental issues, to some extent, as why should we have the right to dictate how many children a couple can have. Its one that, until recently, has not been publicised enough across the world and is an issue that will only get worse before it gets better. Whilst I understand the theory behind possible solutions to this issue I am not confident enough to offer a solution, as to most of the problems this world faces, but I live in hope that one day someone will and we will all listen. When that day will be, who knows, but if current trends continue it is likely to be the time at which it is almost too late. Sounds a little skeptical I know but that seems to be the way the world works these days..... we fail to change until our bank accounts feel the impacts!

Advice I can give you...... well I cannot really offer you much in the way of life advice apart from enjoy it, make the most of any access you can get to education (it really is the key to the future), be yourself, help others to the best of your ability and strive to make a difference. Don't live in the past but don't ignore it, learn from the mistakes some have made. Adaptablity is going to be the key in the future, we have messed with systems we are yet to fully understand and thus the consequences are unknown, so we have to be prepared to adapt to the coming changes and make comprimises with the environment we live in. Whatever you do, just don't lose hope with the human race, unpredictability can work both ways and hope is all that some have. It is easy to look at the future and give up but we have always found ways in the past, and hope in the future is the only way forward. If you want to really do something with your life when you are older, and be able to offer solutions to the problems our and future generations face, then become a scientist/politican. This world needs another great thinker, someone who is willing to take the risk of looking far outside the box and take a chance on their gut feelings. Whilst we currently have many great scientists who are making advancements towards understanding the impacts of anthropogenic forcing, we are in desperate need of someone who can understand this knowledge, convey it to the wider audience in a way that will grap their attention and demand their support. We need someone that can unite the world, which I realise sounds strange considering we all pretty much  share the same common goal and are more connected to each other than even before. I fear that, if we are not carefull, the resource war, which could be immentent, will be catastrophic and leave the world in an even worse state than before. This resource war, at present, may remain a theory held by many but I believe we will all learn to fear the idea, especially when the unnerving probability of it occuring not too far in the future becomes public knowledge - a war that could easily violently erupt within our lifetimes.

The symbol you form could start to unite the world and make us reflect, with the words 7 billion, I am sure, spoken far more than 7 billion times tomorrow. Its key we allow this milestone passing to have some form of resonance so in  years time we can identify this date as a key turning point in the history of mankind.....

......the day humanity decided to stop, think, reflect and ultimately change

Well I live in hope! Good luck in the future, I wish you all the best in life and what you decide to make of it.


Writing that I harder than I thought it would be and I have perhaps been slightly skeptical (poor kid!). What would you say to the 7 billionth inhabitant on Earth, any advice or warnings you would give them?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

What should be the top environmental priority for the next 40 years?

Last week, in London, some of the world's experts in environmental change and challenges gathered, as part of Earthwatch, to discuss what aspect of environmental change should be our priority for the next 40 years. So, what factors came up during the discussion...........

Education and Population:

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution some 250 years ago, we have changed the character of the Earth;  hence the increasing use among geologists of the term Anthropocene to follow the Holocene epoch. Although a complex mix of factors are responsible for such changes, population growth is without a doubt the most dominant - and continues to be. The human population rose from around one million 12,000 years ago to around one billion 250 years ago. Since then there has been an extraordinary acceleration from 2 billion in 1930 to 6 billion at the end of the century and now approaching 7 billion this month, with projections suggesting a further rise (albeit at a slower rate) to 9 billion by 2045 - scary thought if ask me!!! As hopefully you have gathered from the AS Population module and our current Development A2 module, education is critical if we hope to solve the issue of population growth and thereby dilute the effect of the appending impacts - especially education of women ( = the Girl Effect) as where emancipation of women is achieved, CBR drastically drops, as seen in most industralised countries where the fertility rate is below replacement level fertility. However, in reflection, this does causes problems in its own right - think ageing populations - but, with regards to the environment, is no where near as detrimentally damaging. There are also many other issues such as increasing population density and rapid urbanisation, especially in the developing world, which are all causing global societal problems with secondary economic, political and environmental impacts.  To think that global education could attenuated many of these demographic issues is incredibe - if education is the answer, something which is perhaps possible to start to globally implement on the mentioned timescale, should it be our priority for the next 40 years?


I will try and keep this one short and simple as in truth I could probably write a few essays for you on this one! Approximately 70% of the globe is ocean and we are incredibly connected and consequently reliant on it in a multitude of ways. The oceans (although specifically the ocean circulation)  are a critical mechanizism in the Earth's heat transfer system, feeds over 25% of our population and, as a result of its close coupling with the atmosphere, absorbs the heat generated by our unhealthy addiction to burning fossil fuels. Although the oceans may look very stable and unchanged over recent decades, they are not, and are increasingly vulnerable to anthropogenic forcing. With more photosynthesis occuring on the sea surface than anywhere else, many consider that the oceans breathe for the planet, with the oceans also being the largest carbon sink. This is all set to change, if our unsustainable environmental usage and consequentially accentuated global climate change continues to happen and once a significant change happens within the oceans (as is already happening with depletion of the oceans fisheries, toxic contamination of the sea by industrial runoff and plastic pollution and acidification etc.) it will pose a great threat to the health of the world's population.


Water is a resource that many take for granted but it is a resource that we simply cannot survive without. Whilst we cannot live without it, when we are forced to drink that which is not clean it becomes lethal with diarrhoea the biggest killer of children in sub-Saharan Africa - preventable diarrhoea associated with dirty water and poor sanitation kills more children than Aids, malaria and TB combined.Water provokes other societal issues, especially for women and girls who bear the burden in developing countries of walking for miles in search of water whilst dirty water, poor sanitation and hygiene undermines maternal and child health and nutrition. This has knock on impacts on education, with 443 million schools lost due to water-related diseases, as girls, especially, are needed to find water thus cannot attend school. The World Health Organisation estimates that every $1 invested in water generates $8 in wider economic benefits. All of the above, are linked to water as a drinking resource, but it has wider uses to, in industry and agriculture. Agriculture is reliant on water supplies, with 70% of the globally available freshwater used for agriculture, making livelihoods even more reliant on water what with droughts and famines going hand in hand. It is a critical ingredient for industry - almost every manufacturing process needs water - whilst,  it's intertwined with energy and not just through hydropower but thermal power stations need water for cooling and for the steam needed to turn turbines.


I am guessing that this one is quite obvious - we humans are different to other species on Earth as not only do we gain energy from the things we eat but also from things that we don't eat. Our energy usage throughout our history has changed, as both a consequence of our development and as a factor allowing for our development. Currently, the issue of generating energy sustainably is a huge issue for the global community, with climate change accelerated by our insatiable hunger for burning fossil fuels, a desire that is only likely to increase as the global population continues to grow and countries continue to reach higher levels of development.

Food security:

With water security and supplies under threat, whilst the population continues to expand, the challenge of feeding the world is a huge! This challenge is not going to be easy with our oil-reliant food system, our environment under stress from global climate change, distruption to water supplies and soil degradation/loss, weakening overturning in oceans, biodiversity loss, land use competition with people and animals needing space to live, space needed to grow food and people starting to utilise fertile land for energy production. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges is changing our attiutde towards food and waste as if every country fed its population to the extent that we do in the UK or the USA, we would need several planets just to grow food, with estimates that 40% of what is fit to eat we waste. If we have to feed 9 billion people by 2045 we cannot continue in the way that we are - especially if you factor in the likely future changes to agriculture patterns and productivity as a result of global climate change.

What do I think? Well, I think that just the above mentioned are cause for concern and there are other factors that I am shocked did not get on the list. We place a lot of focus on how oil fuels fighting and whilst it cannot be argued that it doesn't, I think greater focus should be placed on possible/likely future fighting over resources that are essential to our survival - primarily water and food. If we are prepared to start wars over oil what would countries be prepared to do when the resource we are all after is one intrinsic our survival. This is worthy of a few blog posts on its own but I am reading a really interesting, if not slightly worrying, book at the moment called Climate Wars which covers this - a book review will be on its ways shortly, once I have finished reading it, but it is definetly worth a read for any Geographer! Anyway, back to the question,  to be honest, I feel that all these factors (and many many more) are so closely interlinked that we cannot hope to untangle them and thus it is crucial that instead of trying to prioritise them we spend the time discussing how to prevent worse case scenairo's from occuring by developing mitigation techniques whilst also ways in which society can adapt to the inevitable consequences of the damage already caused by humankind. So, I suppose what I am trying to say is that I believe we need a more holistic approach to environmental change rather than trying to prioritise different aspects.

Anyway, the afore mentioned are the factors covered during Earthwatch, followed by my view for the need for a holistic approach but what do you think should be the top environmental priority for the next 40 years? Would you choose one of the above or do you think something is missing from the list? Let me know what you think!

I am a bit reluctant to tell you which of the above factors was voted to be the greatest environmental challenge and thus should be our priority over the next 40 years but I am guessing I probably should tell you and anyway, hopefully, by now you will have formed your own opinion. The chosen factor was Population and Education with the agruement for the desperate requirement to address expotential population growth and providing education for all, viewed as the most compelling. The speech given by Sir Crispin Tickell, on this topic, can be replayed here - do you agree with the factor chosen?

Friday, 7 October 2011

Geography Picture of the Week - Kerala churches rewarding big families

I realise that this week's Geography Picture of the Week post is not particularly centred one specific picture but I just read this story online and thought that it may be of some interest and, as an added bonus, it is related to human geography and links can be made to our current module.....

Hindu groups have said the two child policy should be imposed as
 there are limited resources
It seems like ages ago that we studied the AS population module but do you remember that really interesting case study of Kerala, in India, that we learnt about. Well I am guessing that it is probably quite a good case study to know a little bit about for this current module - here is the basics incase you have forgotton.......

KERALA :- Kerala is a really good case study to know about as it is an anomally to the general pattern between population and development indicators in LDC's/MDC's and it also demonstrates the spatial differences within countries themselves.
  • Kerala is India's longest lived, healthiest, most gender-equitable and most literate region with one of the best education systems. The state's basic human development indices are roughly equivalent to those in the developed world and the state is substantially more environmentally sustainable than many of the countries in Europe and North America. A survey conducted in 2005 also concluded that Kerala was the least corrupt state in India. Although Kerala is a poor state with a GDP of around $11000, it has very good demographic indicators........
    • Population = 31.8 million
    • Life expectancy = 73.3 years
    • IMR = 20/1000
    • Literacy rate = 96.6%
    • CBR = 14/1000
    • CDR = 6.4/1000
    • TFR = 1.7
  • WHY? 90% of the people own the land they live on, and each family can only have a maximum of 8 hectares. In 1957 a communist government was elected to power and fair price shops and ration cards were introduced to ensure that everyone could afford to eat. This government has a strong commitment to female education and a participatory democracy in which; every 10 years, 10% of the population are invited to meeting to express their views and help make decisions on how to take Kerala forward.

So, what is happening in Kerala at the moment that is so interesting. Well, several Christian parishes, Catholics and Muslim groups in this developed state have started to offer incentives to couples who have more children, with one church reportedly offering 10,000 rupees ($200) for a couple's fifth child. Now in a country with a huge population that is only projected to continue to grow, passing that of China's by 2030 whilst having massive problems with water security which are only likely to worsen as a result of global climate change and with sea level threatening to displace millions; to me this seems like a really strange idea - trust me after spending 10 minutes in an Indian city you will fully appreciate why the last thing this country needs is more people!

The move by local churches comes after a report submitted to Kerala's chief minister proposed imposing a strict two-child policy. So, why excatly are the churches feeling the need to encourage couples to have more children? Some feel it is because the church groups are concerned about the dwindling numbers of Christians in the region; with the lastest censensus showing numbers are in steady decline and risk slipping below 18%. This is probably not really an excuse to pay people to have more children in a country that greatly struggles to provide for its already huge population. If you think back to when we learnt about population policies, you will probably remember all the disadvantages and negatives of the Chinese 'one child policy and many of the same opinions are being aired in Kerala by religious groups, prominetly the view that it is solely a personal decision on how many children a couple should have and consequently the church feels that any finanical punishments placed on couples for having more than two children should not prevent them from doing so and that the ruling encroaches upon the right to religious freedom. These rewards have not be announced by the church statewide yet but many individual parishes are choosing to other incentives in some form, including free treatment and the parish run hospitals. 

Although to many families these incentives will look rather appealing the punishments recently recommended by the panel for the Commission of Rights and Welfare of Women and Children, which include 3 months in prision or a 10,000 rupee fine for any father expecting his third child, are probably harsh enough to put many off.

The Hindu United Front, who strongly support the introduction of this policy, believe that "the two-child norm should be strictly enforced in India as we have limited resources to share among us"and they are definetly right about the country having limited resources when considering its population size!

Let me know what you think! Should a population policy be enforced in India? Does its forever increasing population help or hinder its development?

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Pathway to African development...

Africa are visibly the least developed continent on the globe and, collectively with regards to development ( = the process of social and economic advancements that leads to improvements in peoples quality of life and general wellbeing), are far behind Europe, the forever growing Asia and rapidly developing South America. Groups of countries (not necessarily confined to continents) have developed differently. The Rostow Model of Development represents quite well the stages taken by Europe and the other most developed countries in the world, all of which focused on developing agriculture and then implementing import substitution. On the other hand, the Four Asian Tigers exploited the growing materlistic attitude in the west to allow for a export-driven model of industralisation, and thus development, to be followed. China has been the most recemt recipient of large scale TNC investment due to its abundant and cheap work force and, combined with the resources it has to offer (especially rare earth metals) has continued to grow at, arguably, a worrying rate. South American nations have grouped together, favouring preferential trade, which has worked out really well for them so far as indicated by the 8% grow experienced for the last 5 years. All these groups of countries have adopted fundamentally different paths to the same end goal, some with more success and speed than others.

So, if Africa are to develop, how do you think they will achieve it? Will they follow the path taken by Europe, would it be easier for them to try and replicate the journey undertaken by the Four Asian Tigers, are they likely to recieve sufficient FDI and interest from TNCs to provoke cumulative causation or should they copy what South America are trying (and arguably succeeding ) to do?

I realise that this is a really big, open ended question and is one that I am probably never going to get a definite answer to until it actually happens (thus something that is probably going to annoy/frustrate me for a while - I am still trying to figure out what a stage 6 of the DTM would look like!!!) but I have been trying to do a bit of reading on the subject and get some peoples opinions - let me know if you have any thoughts!

Normally when I ask questions, especially ones like this, I get some rather strange looks and asked why excatly do I want to know the answer or why can't I just accept things and not think to much. So, I didn't really get that far on my quest to find out what people think. However, Millie is often more than willing to entertain my inquisitive nature and consequent questions, so what did she think about future African development.......

"My personal opinion is that they will need to find a way that takes the lessons from previous efforts at development and personalises it to the unique challenges of Africa. I feel that we need to take into account that the world has changed since we developed, and since the Asian Tiger Policy, and that currently lessons could be learnt from the preferential trade taking place in South America which has seen 8% growth for the last 5 years, and that this could be more easily replicated in Africa. The problem will be the complicating factor of peace, in that the cultural differences that are now inherent in many African nations have not been seen to such a degree in other developing countries, and of course the environment is unique to Africa, and we cannot attempt to understand what all this means for the development process without lengthy consultation, and some fairly significant independence for African nations to identify their best option."

Do you agree? I think that I am inclined to agree with some of the things Millie said but perhaps not all and to be honest the more I think about it, the more questions I have!

I read this the other day; 'Africa looks to learn from east Asia's development experiences'; and it presents quite an interesting idea. Although it doesn't touch on South American development as a model for Africa, it explains why countries like Kenya and Ethiopia have started to look at how countries like China have developed/developing and are trying to find ways to adapt that policy to conditions in Africa as a way of developing. It is debateable whether this is as a direct result of the forever increasing Chinese investment across Africa due to the availabilty and oppurtunity to exploit and utilise the abundant raw materials in this money-poor resource-rich continent but there is no right or wrong way to develop.

So, what do I think....... well for a while now I have been struggling to get my head around the idea of a world existing where development is equal amongst all countries and in reflection I think that the main reason for this is because I have taken a 'one-size fits all' approach and attitude to development - an attitude than I immediately, without thinking, presumed would also apply to future African development. With regards to this idea, I felt that perhaps we could never live in a world with equal development as, probably a bit skeptically, I viewed exploitation of a resource (whether that be people, environment, markets etc) as intrinsic to the way in which we developed and that in the present day, exploitation of the same amplitude, especially of people, was incredibly unlikely to happen. I have started to realise that the 'one-size fits all' approach to development is not suitable, appropriate or indeed helpful when trying to determine the future of this continual process and thus is a dangerous trap to fall into - one that I am guilty of tumbling into. Also, remembering that development is in fact a continual process means that, as time passes and the world changes, development will accorrdingly evole with regards to how it occurs, timescales and possibly even how we view it. Instead, I now understand the importance of locality-specific solutions to the development problem as no two locations are the same and, for example, no matter how long you try you could not get any African nation to fit the Rostow Model of Development perfectly. Therefore I agree with Millie when she said that instead of trying to determine which model of development Africa could mirror, it should be about learning lessons from the differing journeys taken in the past. The world is a changed place and previous paths are no longer applicable in the contemporary world that faces numerous different challenges, challenges that are not evenly distributed around the globe. No one can dispute that Africa is a troubled continent and whilst, idealistically, preferential trade like that used in South America could work, at present I am struggling to see how it would perform in reality due to the inherent cultural differences and absence of lasting peace. Peace is arguably the largest complicating factor that is preventing development (although by no means the only obstacle just perhaps the most prevalent in the present day that could be remedied), a factor sadly linked to European colonialism, and this needs to be achieved before Africa is ready to develop. I think this is in actual fact the biggest question with reference to development in Africa..... Are they actually ready to develop? And, if not, when will they be? The conditions in Africa are unique and not found anywhere else on the globe and the shear number of interconnected, complicated, entangled issues preventing and stunting development are making it so difficult to solve - not aided by the fact that, like Millie said, we cannot even start to pretend to understand African development without lengthy consultation. Thus I believe that it is potentially detrimental for African nations to look at models of development with more than the purpose of  trying to learn from the mistakes and successes made by countries who have embarked on the journey of development. Thus, independence is key...... forcing a country to develop in a certain way is not going work or be sustainable and neither is allowing them to build development upon the foundations of dependency, whether that be on one resource, another country or a certain model of development. It is going to be a huge step for African nations to take full independence and be focused and stable enough to identify their best option, without being influenced by extrinsic factors. Whilst this independence is key, so will be the guidance and support of other countries to allow them to do this and offering a supporting hand on the way. Development for African nations is not going to be easy, they have their history, the present and the future stacked up against them but development is going to be a necessity if they hope to be able to adapt to and mitigate the appending impacts of global climate change which, as the science suggests, they will experience the full force of.

Let me know what you think - remember there is no right or wrong way for Africa to develop........