Is 10 Billion Mankind's Limit?

What's the Big Idea?

At TEDxSummit 2012, Hans Rosling predicted that mankind’s population threshold will be 10 Billion people. His talk was entitled Religion and Babies, as his goal was to find the correlation between the two, which in fact, is non existent. He reasons that it is not religion that affects how many children a woman has, but the economic climate of her country. He shows a timeline of these variables proving his point: as a country diminishes its level of poverty, birth rates follow.

With this in mind, he forecasts that birth rates can only decrease in developing worlds, and gravitate towards the numbers we see in developed worlds. Extrapolating on this, he concludes with a simple demonstration, illustrating how he envisions the world’s population to behave: with the old dying out and making way for the new, in a repetitive cycle that hovers around 10 billion people worldwide.

Watch the video here:

What’s the Significance?

Based on his data, Sir Hans makes a very sound argument (and his GapMinder software and wry humor always make for an entertaining talk). However, he is missing a crucial aspect to the equation: the unpredictability of the future.

The information available us today is merely a small piece to the puzzle. Sure we can forecast some expectations based on the data we currently have, but this being the case, one of our expectations should surely include an increase in human longevity. Chief Science Officer at the SENS Foundation (an anti-aging science lab and think tank), Aubrey De Grey firmly believes we will have found the cure to aging by 2020. The feasibility of fighting death has been echoed by many others in the field of biotechnology and the anti-aging communities, and would surely impact Rosling’s prediction.

Watch the video here:

While this might sound like science-fiction to many, look at how dramatically different the world is only 10 years back. We could not have imagined some of the things that are currently mainstays of our lives today. To say anything 10 years from now is ridiculous would be a ridiculous claim in and of itself. Not only does De Grey’s work potentially conflict with Rosling’s argument, but Elon Musk has made his intentions for Space X clear: he wants to make life multi-planetary, and Space X has the wheels in motion to put a man on Mars in the next 10 years (see video below). Crazy to some and inspiring to others, these are paradigm shifts that totally preclude us from talking about the future with any type of certainty. These both may be radical ideas, but we are living in radical times. 

This article is not intending to bash on Rosling’s prediction as, first and foremost, it is more than rational to expect a decrease in child rates, with global poverty ceasing in the coming years thanks to technology and innovation. However, forecasts always need to be taken with a grain of salt. The future of our world is filled with black swans, which by their by their very nature will profoundly alter life as we know it. Creating visions for our future is how we progress, improve, and evolve, but If we can be certain of anything it is that we know very little about the possibilities of tomorrow.

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