The human race is set to ring in the new year with a milestone: at midnight on January 1st, 2024, the world’s population will officially surpass 8 billion. This staggering number marks a gain of over 75 million people in just one year. It is expected to reach 9 billion in late 2040 and pass 10 billion around 2060.
But this rapid growth is putting pressure on the planet. “The world’s population is now growing so fast that it is putting enormous strains on the earth’s resources,” wrote The Guardian newspaper’s former environment editor John Vidal in an editorial earlier this month. He writes that increasing numbers of humans mean more pollution, more food, and more space needed to house them. But the biggest worry should not be about the world’s population reaching eight billion, but rather its effect on our climate. “The hard fact is that in an age of climate breakdown, population does matter,” he writes. “Human numbers, and the corresponding consumption levels, will determine our environmental impact.”
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While the world’s population has proliferated, its overall rate of increase has slowed slightly compared to previous years. The latest figures show that the global population is still rising at a steady rate of 4.3 births and two deaths every second. The U.S. is the fastest-growing nation globally, adding over 1.7 million people in the past year alone. Its total New Year’s Day population will be 334 million, up from nearly 300 million last year.
Middle-income countries accounted for most of the growth, with India leading the pack. However, the population of low-income nations in sub-Saharan Africa is booming even faster. Nigeria, for example, will be the world’s third most populous country by 2027.
However, the aging of baby boomers means that the world’s population will slow down significantly. The median age is already 40, and it is projected to reach 41 by 2050. This will mean fewer workers to support the growing number of retirees. It will also push health care costs and make it harder to afford education and other necessities. In the long run, these problems are likely to exacerbate global inequality. In the meantime, researchers are developing ways to slow down population growth. One potential solution is using contraceptives that don’t require blood tests, allowing women in certain developing nations to use them more freely. This method has been shown to have success in some regions, but it’s not yet widely available in countries with a high number of unintended pregnancies.