Population Growth, Climate Change, and An Uncertain Future

With the planet's population growth expected to reach 10 billion by the end of the century, our children and grandchildren must find innovative approaches to climate change and food security.

| October 2013

  • Interviewee Mike Davis raises an optimistic point: our salvation may come from the brainpower of the 3 billion new lives we can expect by the end of the century.
    Photo By Fotolia/Philip Sobral
  • "22 Ideas to Fix the World" addresses such pressing concerns as climate change, the approaching population crisis, food security, and others as the world faces the still-new 21st century.
    Cover Courtesy New York University Press

22 Ideas to Fix the World (Social Science Research Council and New York University Press, 2013) is a forward-facing collection of interviews with today's foremost thinkers. Editors Piotr Dutkiewicz and Richard Sakwa survey issues relevant to the U.S., Eurasia, Africa, and the Middle East as the world still reals from the 2008 financial crisis. In this excerpt from Chapter 7, interviewee Mike Davis, editor of New Left Review, looks the challenges we face in the next seventy years, as the population crisis and concerns over food security come to our attention.

Population Growth, Climate Change, and an Uncertain Future

Mike Davis is a distinguished professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside, and an editor of the New Left Review. He received a MacArthur Fellowship Award in 1998.

A stalwart of the American left, Mike Davis is not known for pulling punches, and he does not hold back in a wide-ranging discussion that covers population growth, urban decay, the end of U.S. hegemony, and the need for utopian thinking. In connecting the proverbial dots between many of the existential problems facing the world, he argues that they create synergies among themselves. Throughout, Davis’s contention is that many of the ideas, models, and even technologies needed to address our various crises already exist but have often been forgotten, marginalized, or co-opted in the interests of profit and power. Davis suggests that the world’s potential population crisis, for instance, is not about population numbers in and of themselves but rather about the spatial, political, and economic constraints placed on people and the means of feeding and employing them. An expert on cities and urban spaces, Davis discusses issues as diverse as transnational migrant communities, the failures and opportunities of city renewal, and the (often racial) dynamics of crisis and American suburbia. Finally, he turns his attention to the role of the United States in the world and paints a picture of an aging empire, one increasingly illiberal domestically and decreasingly influential globally, and clinging to global dominance more due to the inertia of globalization than to sound policymaking. This interview aims to call the reader to think of and work toward a better tomorrow.

Q: How would you rank the major threats facing humanity at present?
Threats obviously cannot be weighed in isolation; rather we must focus on their convergence. The future, to say the least, will be overdetermined by some very vicious circles. Let me start with probable synergies between population growth, climate change, and food security, then briefly explore their connection to cities and unemployment.

Our children, it is almost certain, will participate in the biological climacteric of our species, sometime between 2060 and 2090, when global population peaks around 10 billion. To feed this future humanity, food production must almost double. But for the first time in history it is doubtful whether global arable area can be significantly increased in the face of rampant urbanization and conversion of high-quality agricultural land. The technological and scientific intensification of agriculture, meanwhile, must contend with chaotic changes in crop geography and soil productivity as a result both of global warming and groundwater depletion.

Climate models consistently predict that a vast belt of the northern subtropics from Mexico to the Indus Valley will face epic drought as a new weather normal, while the great megadelta regions of Asia simultaneously fight life-and-death battles against rising sea levels and super-cyclones. In addition, the continued mining of groundwater in South and East Asia (made possible by the millions of tube wells drilled since the 1960s) portends agricultural decline or even collapse in some of the most productive irrigated food belts. In several recent white papers, Columbia University water researchers have pointed to the cases of the Punjab and Gujarat, where the abandonment of farmland due to groundwater depletion is already happening on an alarming scale.

10/31/2013 12:40:01 PM

Science has refused for 30 years to agree on anything beyond "could be" a climate crisis so why are you news editors saying it WILL be a crisis when science has not? Do as science does; NEVER say it WILL, only COULD.

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