Population Explosion: Can the Planet Cope?

January 12th, 2011 by Institution of Mechanical Engineers

(click image to download PDF file of report)

A groundbreaking Population report (Wed 12 January) by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has revealed the world is hurtling towards population overload placing billions at risk of hunger, thirst and slum conditions.

Population: One planet, too many people? is the first report of its kind by the engineering profession. Unless the engineering solutions highlighted in the report are urgently implemented then the projected 2.5 billion more people on earth by the end of this Century (currently there is 6.9 billion) will crush the earth’s resources.

Urbanisation will soar. ‘Mega-cities’ of more than 10 million people will rise to 29 by 2025 and the urban population will increase from 3.3billion (2007) to 6.4 billion (2050). Food will also become an increasingly precious commodity and developed areas such as the UK will be forced to stamp out its ‘throwaway’ lifestyle. Water consumption will increase by 30% by 2030 and there is projected to be a 50% hike in water extraction for industrial use in Asia. This, the report states, could create civil unrest and land battles for resources as climate change looms.

Unless the engineering solutions recommended throughout the report are brought in now, there could be devastating consequences not only for developing nations – but right on our own doorstep. “The challenge is how to apply engineering knowledge, expertise and skills around the world to build a new sustainable future.” (p16)

“To have the public knowledgeable about it (the report) is crucial. Political actors in every country should bring this to the attention of their government. Societal infrastructure cannot keep up, in fact it is crumbling,” said Dr John Bongaarts, Vice President of the Population Council in New York. He worked along with Dr Fox and a 70-strong delegation of engineers around the world to compile the research.

Energy, food, water, urbanisation and finance are the five areas which will be significantly affected by the effects of population growth. These are dubbed Engineering Development Goals (EDG) and should be the next step for the UN’s Millennium Goals (MDG), the report says.

Lead Author, Dr Tim Fox, Head of Energy, Environment and Climate Change at IMechE, said: “In less than four years, the MDGs will expire and to date there is nothing, except the recommendations in our report, to replace them. (pic left is an aquifer. One of the engineering solutions in the report to respond to the projected water consumption rise.)

(click image to expand)

“Population increase will be the defining challenge of 21st Century, a global issue that will affect us all no matter where we live.  Britain is in a currently in a prime position where it has, at its fingertips, some of the most groundbreaking engineering solutions in the world – and the brightest and most educated engineers. We need to work right now with the Department For International Development to set up a knowledge ‘swap-shop’ of engineering skills with other countries. This is not altruism. This is self defence.

“Up to 1 billion people could be displaced by climate change over the next 40 years and we are likely to see an increase in unrest as resource shortages become clear.  The term Nimbyism will become obsolete.  No-one’s back yard will be immune from these effects. “

NB: The findings of this report will be put before a group of MPs at a briefing at IMechE, Birdcage Walk.  This report responds to issues raised by the International Development Select Committee in their report of December 2010.

1 Response to “Population Explosion: Can the Planet Cope?”

  1. Jo

    At present, with a population of pushing 7 billion, we already produce over twice the amount of food that the world needs. So the problem is clearly not one of production or population (despite what GM companies would have you believe).

    The problem is one of waste, greed and distribution. It is a social problem not a technological one and therefore does not need a technological fix.

    Take water in third world countries for example. The problems often arise when greedy first world / ex-colonial countries pollute the water courses in the extraction of minerals and pursuit of operations banned in their own countries. Western corporations then come in with all kinds of magical promises and privatise the water supply so that local people cannot afford it anyway.

    So we don’t need this fancy development goal or that fancy report – we need honesty and basic human compassion.

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