Population Matters

2030: Looking at the “Perfect Storm”

June 30th, 2010

Last year John Beddington, England’s chief scientific advisor, caused a minor stir when he warned that population growth, climate change, and the world’s rising demand for food, energy and water constitute a “perfect storm” that is threatening to destabilize the world by 2030 or sooner.

Today, we released a report that takes a closer look at the implications of Beddington’s “perfect storm.” It doesn’t take much imagination to conjure up an unpleasant scenario. If economic push comes to demographic shove, the demand for food, energy and water will simply exceed supply. The resulting shortages will precipitate a global crisis, one likely characterized by soaring energy prices, severe shortages of food and water, climate change effects, reource-related conflict, and widespread political instability.

While the entire world might be affected, the suffering would be greatest in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia, where the effects of climate change may be felt the hardest. Climates experts warn that drought poses a major threat to food production in Eastern Africa, while increased flooding could curtail food production in many parts of West Africa.  South Asia, on the other hand, could be severely impacted by typhoons and, to a lesser extent, rising seas.

The most vulnerable, however, may be those living on living on less than $1 or $2 a day.  When food prices soar, as they did during the 2007-8 food crisis, the impact on the urban poor can be devastating.  A doubling or tripling of rice prices has a negligible impact on American consumers, not so for the desperately poor living in Manila or Mumbai.  For them, it can mean the difference between eating and not eating.

Beddington’s concern, and it’s a valid one, is that the world is simply not prepared for what happens in 10 or 20 years when the rising demand for energy, food, and water collides with resource limitations, as now appears likely.  No one really knows how disruptive the impact could be, but it could be severe.

We are not, as Frank Fenner, a leading Australian scientist, warned last week, condemned to extinction by the end of this century. Humanity’s fate is not writ in stone.  But if we do nothing to ward off the “perfect storm” that is now brewing, some form of catastrophe is almost inevitable.  It may not be the end of Homo sapiens, but it could be the end of life as we have come to enjoy it.

Many will disagree with the scenario as we present it. They will dispute its premises and conclusions.  That’s fine, but let those who differ with it come forth with their own assessment of how we are going to reconcile our insatiable appetite for food, energy, and water with emerging resource limitations.  In the meantime, a  “perfect storm” may be approaching.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

One Response to “2030: Looking at the “Perfect Storm””

  1. Robert Says:

    FOR EVERY HUMAN, ANIMAL AND PLANT ON EARTH, A HEALTHY OCEAN IS A MUST!! Our oceans make up 99% of the living space on earth and contains about 320,000,000 cubic miles of sea water.
    Now with a growing population of over 6 billion, 60% living within 60 miles of the ocean, we know that human actions are, in fact, causing problems. The ocean is a very sensitive ecosystem and is now showing signs of imbalance from chronic overuse and abuse. We do not yet know the long and short term consequences of these actions. As the Earth is getting hotter, disasters like hurricanes, droughts and floods are getting more frequent. But it is not only about how much the Earth is warming, it is also about how fast it is warming. There have always been natural climate changes – Ice Ages and the warm intermediate times between them.

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