Thứ Tư, Tháng Sáu 19, 2024
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8 billion and counting

[Reading level: B2 – Upper Intermediate]

We never know precisely how many of us are alive at any one time, but today (Nov 15th, 2022) is the United Nations’ best estimate on when we’ll reach 8 billion human beings.


Eight billion. It’s a number too big to imagine but think of it this way: In the time it takes you to read this paragraph, the world’s population grew by around 20 people.


While the Earth’s population is growing quickly, the growth rate is starting to slow down. Eventually, it will start falling and our societies will shrink.


Humanity is changing day by day in ways we can’t perceive over short periods, but in ways that will reshape our world over the coming century.


“This is a fundamental transformation of what a society looks like,” Elin Charles-Edwards from the University of Queensland says.


“We’ve gone through a pretty extraordinary period in the 20th century into the 21st century, where we’ve gone from demographic regimes in which there are lots of children and people were dying younger to a period of really rapid growth.”


We now need to grapple with the consequences – and the opportunities.


But to understand what it all means we need to start at the beginning.


We’ve come a long way, fast 

Homo sapiens have roamed the Earth for roughly 300,000 years, give or take (no one left a diary back then).


We evolved to have big brains and long legs, but our population grew relatively slowly at first.


There were perhaps 230 million of us on Earth at around the time of Cleopatra’s death, as the ancient Egyptian civilisation came to an end.


The population had more than doubled by the Renaissance in 1500 and doubled again by 1805 when the ancient Egyptian civilisation was being rediscovered.


These are all pretty rough estimates — we didn’t have comprehensive censuses in the Middle Ages – but the human population has been on a slow burn, until recent centuries, when it has boomed.


The 2 billion mark was reached just before the Great Depression in 1925, and it took just 35 years from there to get to the third billion.


Since then, the population has been rising by another billion every 10 to 15 years.


Where are we going?

The world is likely to have a couple more billion mouths to feed in just a few decades.


The UN’s latest projections, released earlier this year, suggest the world will house about 9.7 billion humans in 2050.


“Demographic projections are highly accurate, and it has to do with the fact that most of the people who will be alive in 30 years have already been born,” the UN’s population division director, John Willmoth, says.


“But when you start getting 70, 80 years down the road, there’s much more uncertainty.”


But the range of reasonable possibilities in 2100 is considerably wider, between 8.9 and 12.4 billion.


There’s another international model of population growth, published by the health data research group the IHME, which forecasts an earlier population peak and a faster decline.


“The major reason that we forecast a different global population in the last third of the century comes from how we are modelling fertility,” senior research manager Amanda Smith says.


“Our model suggests that we expect fertility to continue to decline through the end of the century in many countries, and that’s contributing to a larger and a faster global population decline than the United Nations projections.”


The magic “replacement number” is 2.1: If women on average have more children than that each, the population of the world grows. If fertility rates are lower, the population shrinks. And that’s where we’re heading.


Fertility peaked in the 1950s when women were, on average, having five children each. That number varied dramatically between regions of the world.


But since then, fertility rates have reliably fallen. In fact, in some parts of the world, including Australia, Europe, North America, and some parts of Asia, fertility rates are already below that replacement number.


Shrinking countries

The nations of Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia and Serbia are all at least 1 per cent smaller this year than they were last year, according to the UN’s figures.


Ukraine shrunk by considerably more — a consequence of emigration sparked by the ongoing war.


They’re the countries with low fertility rates and immigration levels that are not high enough to make up the difference.


Because fertility rates are falling everywhere, as the decades continue, more and more countries on that map will get coloured in. And gradually, the world will get older.


The countries growing fast

Some parts of the world, however, are facing a different problem.


In the map we saw earlier, you might have noticed there were no nations in Africa on the population decline. In fact, Africa is one of the fastest-growing places on Earth right now.


Just eight countries are projected to be responsible for more than half the world’s population increase by 2050.


One of them is India, which is set to overtake China as the most populous country in the world next year.


Pakistan and the Philippines are also on the list, and the remaining five are all in Africa: Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Egypt.


Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, is growing fast.


It is projected to contain about a third of the world’s population at the end of the century, although there is a lot of uncertainty.




precisely /prɪˈsaɪ [B2] (adv) chính xác

shrink /ʃrɪŋk/ [B2] (v): thu hẹp

perceive /pəˈsiːv/ [C1] (v): nhận thức

fundamental /ˌfʌn.dəˈmen.təl/ [C2] (adj): cơ bản

transformation /ˌtræns.fəˈmeɪ.ʃən/ [C1] (n): sự chuyển đổi

extraordinary /ɪkˈstrɔː.dɪn.ər.i/ [B1] (adj): phi thường

demographic /ˌdem.əˈɡræf.ɪk/ (adj): nhân khẩu học

regime /reɪˈʒiːm/ [C2] (n): chế độ

grapple with sth /ˈɡræp.əl/ (v): vật lộn với cái gì

roam /rəʊm/ (v): đi lang thang

give or take (idiom): có thể là vậy

(the) Renaissance /rəˈneɪ.səns/ (n): thời Phục hưng

rough /rʌf/ [B1] (adj): thô

census /ˈsen.səs/ (n): cuộc điều tra dân số

on a slow burn (idiom): tăng chậm                  

boom /buːm/ (v): bùng nổ

the Great Depression (n): cuộc Đại suy thoái

projection /prəˈdʒek.ʃən/ [C1] (n): dự báo

down the road (idiom): trong tương lai

uncertainty /ʌnˈsɜː.tən.ti/ [C1] (n): sự không chắc chắn

vary /ˈveə.ri/ [B2](v): khác biệt

emigration /ˌem.ɪˈɡreɪ.ʃən/ (n): di cư

immigration /ˌɪm.ɪˈɡreɪ.ʃən/ [B2] (n): nhập cư levels

spark /spɑːk/ (v): gây ra

ongoing /ˈɒŋˌɡəʊ.ɪŋ/ (adj): đang diễn ra

overtake /ˌəʊ.vəˈteɪk/ [C1] (v): vượt qua

populous /ˈpɒp.jə.ləs/ (adj -formal): đông dân


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