"World on Edge details the vice closing around us: a quadruple squeeze of global warming and shortages in food, water and energy. Then it explains the path out—and how little time we have left to take that path. Got anything more important to read than that?" —Peter Goldmark, former head of the Port authority of New York and New Jersey, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, and CEO of the International Herald Tribune
Chapter 10. Responding to the Social Challenge: Introduction
Early in this new century, the world is facing many longstanding social challenges, including hunger, illiteracy, and disease. If developing countries add nearly 3 billion people by mid-century, as projected, population growth will continue to undermine efforts to improve the human condition. National food bubbles based on overplowing and overpumping will move toward the bursting point. The gap between the billion richest and the billion poorest will continue to widen, putting even more stress on the international political fabric.1
As a species, our failure to control our numbers is taking a frightening toll. Slowing population growth is the key to eradicating poverty and its distressing symptoms, and, conversely, eradicating poverty is the key to slowing population growth. With time running out, the urgency of moving simultaneously on both fronts seems clear.
The challenge is to create quickly the social conditions that will accelerate the shift to smaller families. Among these conditions are universal education, good nutrition, and prevention of infectious diseases. We now have the knowledge and the resources to reach these goals. In an increasingly integrated world, we also have a vested interest in doing so.
1. Population estimates and projections from United Nations, World Population Prospects: The 2002 Revision (New York: February 2003); gap between rich and poor countries and individuals discussed in World Bank, World Development Report 2000/2001 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 51.
Copyright © 2003 Earth Policy Institute