Wall Street Journal

Snooze the Climate Alarms

Ravenel B. Curry III Distinguished Fellow in Strategy and Statesmanship
A doctor performs an ultrasound on a pregnant woman in Sukadana, Indonesia, Aug. 3, 2016.
A doctor performs an ultrasound on a pregnant woman in Sukadana, Indonesia, Aug. 3, 2016.

You won’t hear this from the professional climate alarmists, but an important study on global demographics has good news for the future of greenhouse emissions. For some time, demographers have been scaling back forecasts of future population growth, but they may not have gone far enough. A new University of Washington study published in the Lancet argues that conventional population statistics don’t account for ongoing and projected future improvements in health care and education for women around the world. More literacy and better access to information about contraception are, along with urbanization, associated with declining fertility rates as women gain better control of their reproductive lives.

Looking at the impact of these forces, the study predicts some startling changes over the course of the century. Instead of the global population reaching between 9.4 billion and 12.7 billion by 2100 (as estimated in the 2019 United Nations World Population Prospects report), the new study suggests it will peak at 9.7 billion in 2064 and then decrease to about 8.8 billion by 2100. If the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals for education and contraceptive use are met in full, the researchers estimate that population could be as low as 6.29 billion in 2100. That would be 33% lower than the lowest current U.N. projection, and around 1.5 billion fewer than the Earth’s population today.

Even under the less aggressive scenario, the consequences would be far-reaching. China, where the University of Washington study expects population to decline by 48% to 732 million, would fall to third place, behind India and Nigeria, in the world population ranking. Population in 23 countries and territories, including Japan, South Korea, Italy, Portugal and Spain, would fall by 50% or more from their peaks. America, where continuing immigration is expected to offset declining fertility, would slip from third to fourth place with 336 million, barely more than today.

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