Population Matters

BBC’s “Perfect Storm 2030”

August 27th, 2009

The BBC news service is running a series of reports entitled “Perfect Storm 2030.”  The series is based upon a dire forecast made earlier this year by John Beddington, the United Kingdom’s chief science advisor.  Between 2008 and 2030, Beddington foresees population rising by 33 percent, demand for food and energy by 50 percent, and demand for fresh water by 30 percent.

Beddington, who emphasizes that the problems of food, water and energy are all closely related, told the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission in March of 2009 that, “There’s not going to be a complete collapse, but things will start getting really worrying if we don’t tackle these problems.”

The BBC series, which looks at both problems and solutions, examines a range of important factors, including population, urbanization, changing diets, climate change and biofuels.

In developing the series, the BBC interviewed other scientists to get their views on Beddington’s forecast.

Here are some of their comments:

Professor Dave Pink, Warwick University:

It’s definitely one scenario, though it’s the worst possible scenario. In general terms, he is right. All these things are coming together. There is some argument over population growth but the bottom line is that it’s going up and food supply is going to be more of a problem. The developing world is growing, and its people are getting richer. There will be more demand for foods we have automatically assumed we will have access to. We are not going to be able to buy in everything we need and the price of food will go up.”

Professor Jules Petty, Essex University:

The general premise, that we have a number of critical drivers coming together, is correct. The date 2030 is rhetorical. We don’t know whether things will become critical in 2027 or 2047, no-one has any idea, but within the next generation these things are going to come to pass unless we start doing things differently. That is the urgency of this set of ideas. When governments talk about reducing emissions by X% by 2050, I despair. We need to do it by next week. Humankind has not faced this set of combined challenges ever before.”

Antony Frogatt, Senior Research Fellow, Chatham House:

“It’s true that all these things, and more, are interconnected. I study the connection between climate change and security of energy supply. For example, if you switch from coal to gas to slow the pace of climate change, the energy supply crunch comes more quickly. John Beddington is right to underline the dependence of agriculture on energy – I’ve heard it said that one in four people in the world is fed on fossil fuel, because gas is fundamental to the production of fertilisers.”

As reflected by this BBC series and the work of the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission, the issue of sustainability is gaining greater attention in the British Isles.  It deserves more attention here in the U.S.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

Leave a Reply