Summary of the Presentation on
The Coming Global Demographic Imbalance:
National Security Implications of the
Rapidly Changing Global Population Dynamic
By Peter J. Webster
In a most fascinating and timely presentation, Peter J. Webster outlined the demographic trends that are reshaping the global environment and have major implications for U.S. national security concerns in the near future. Webster’s key point is that the “doubling time” of the world’s population is now about 60 years, which was not a significant factor when the earth’s total population was in the hundreds of thousands. But today there are over 7.3 billion human beings on earth, and that number will reach 10-11 billion by the year 2100! This raises important questions regarding the capacity of the planet to sustain that many people, as well as the impact rapid population growth will have on the global environment, international political maneuvering, internal racial and religious conflicts, and wars over access to arable land and resources.
Webster speculated that we may be on the brink of “a new extinction”, with habitats being destroyed, migration routes closing, and increasing numbers of species unable to adapt to new population and climate norms.
Webster pointed out that “It is not just a matter of how many, it is a question of who and where”. In the less developed countries (LDCs), where per capita income is less than $11,905, population growth is rapid, with the poorest countries where income is less than $5,000 showing the fastest growth. The major developed countries of the world, including the U.S., will likely experience slow (U.S) or even negative growth (Europe, Russia), and whereas the less developed countries (LDCs) will likely continue to have rapid population expansion. That also means that the wealthier countries will have no or negative population increases, but the LDCs will grow rapidly. Webster also noted that many countries that already have large populations are those that will have the most significant population growth. And many of these rapidly growing nations have markedly different social, religious, and political norms than ours.
Webster noted that in many LDCs with rapidly increasing populations, large sectors of the population live on less than $2 a day. In these environments it is easy to understand how the young are radicalized, especially when jihadist entities like ISIS will pay recruits $50 a month.
Today, while mature Western nations (largely Christian) are experiencing slow or even decreasing birth rates, most of Africa and the Middle East are rapidly expanding in population. The higher the level of education of a nation’s population, the lower the growth rate; the higher the level of economic achievement, the lower the growth will be. Lower birth rates are also driven by increasing female literacy!
Webster also pointed out that population trends are uneven with respect to major religious groups. While Buddhist countries will experience negative growth, and Christian and Hindus modest growth, the Muslim populations are expected to grow much faster, at double the rate of the Christian and Hindu nations. This means that American interest in reigning in global population growth is now motivated by not just by environmental issues, but by concerns about the rapid population expansion of nations that advocate policies hostile to our interests.
In the discussion that followed, Webster responded to questions regarding the impact diseases have had in the past (Black Plague, Spanish Influenza, SARS, AIDS) and might have in the future. He said that our increased ability to control and counter the impact of communicable diseases means that this historic factor in limiting population growth will be absent. He also responded to questions on the morality of abortion as a population control instrument, why supporting UN and other educational programs to encourage smaller families is needed, the impact a world of robotics may have, and how advanced developed countries can assist and encourage the LDCs to adopt birth control measures. Webster said that aid for family planning “needs to be politically blind”.
Peter J. Webster, Chief Scientist and Founder of Climate Forecast Applications Network (CFAN) and Professor Emeritus at Georgia Tech brings a wealth of experience in this area. He holds a PhD in meteorology from MIT, and has held faculty positions in the Universities of Washington, Colorado, and Penn State.
This was a fascinating presentation and discussion. We encourage you all to closely study Peter Webster’s comprehensive PowerPoint, which is attached.
- Tyrus W. Cobb and Patty Evans