The Solution To Global Population Growth is Saving Children (video)

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Hans Rosling uses impressive displays of statistics to explain why infant mortality is at the root of population growth.

Think the global human population is growing too quickly? Then work to decrease infant mortality among the world’s poor. That’s the message that world-class health analyst and statistician Hans Rosling presented at the recent TED Talks at Cannes. Rosling is known for making dense statistical analysis easily accessible through graphic displays, and is the director of Gapminder, an organization that looks to transform important data into clear and expressive visual aides. In his TED Talk, Rosling highlights how the gap between the developing and industrial worlds is closing, but that the largest population growth is still among the poorest peoples. Helping these individuals out of poverty isn’t just a humane act, it may be an ecological necessity. Check out Rosling’s presentation in the video below. It’s a clear call to tackle two of humanity’s grand challenges: poverty and health.

Part of the general appeal of accelerating technologies is that they have the potential to address the big problems we face: poverty, hunger, energy, environment, war, and health. This potential is so great that we’ve seen entire institutions (like Singularity University) geared towards leveraging technology to solve humanity’s grand challenges. Yet the growing population of the world only serves to exacerbate most of these global problems as we need more resources and space to fit our growing communities. Finding a sustainable size for humanity is going to be critical to stabilizing and improving our world. Rosling’s presentation on global population gives us a clear hope: as we work to end global poverty we will be working towards ending unchecked population growth. Why? Healthier and wealthier babies make for smaller families.

As Rosling explains in the video, there are clear links between increased economic success and reduced family size, and between low infant mortality and reduced family size. Ending global poverty (and increasing child survival rates) is the clear path to reaching a sustainable human population. Rosling’s goal of a stable size of 9 billion people by 2050 seems rooted in a firm understanding of world health and fighting poverty. Which is fitting considering Rosling is an expert in both fields.

If you need more evidence for Rosling’s assertions about the state and history of global poverty, you are in luck. He’s given several wonderful talks at TED over the years. The following video explains how our understanding of the world is largely stuck in the outlook of the 1960s. It also highlights some of Rosling’s genius in presenting statistics in a way we can all clearly understand.


The sciences of genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and telecommunication have the capability of drastically affecting Rosling’s predictions for 2050. We’ve seen many projects aimed at improving food supplies and access to healthcare. If successful, these technologies could help us reduce infant mortality among the world’s poor much quicker than Rosling expects. Yet it is likely that public policy will still be the defining factor that determines if and how these technologies are applied. As with all of humanity’s grand challenges, the responsibility for implementing a solution falls squarely on our own shoulders. I have high hopes for stabilizing the global population, but the speed at which we approach these problems is unpredictable at best. Maybe Rosling has a graph that explains why.

[image credit: Gapminder.org]

[source: TED, Gapminder]

Discussion — 20 Responses

  • Frank Gilroy July 21, 2010 on 3:47 pm

    “Finding a sustainable size for humanity is going to be critical to stabilizing and improving our world.”

    That statement feels icky to me. I’d like to think we’ll eventually solve the problems of over-population by further space exploration and inhabitation.

    If you want to go really far out, I’d like to think we’ll eventually get to a point where our physicality isn’t important at all, that our memories, digital representations of ourselves and even our consciousness will fit on the equivalent of a thumb drive, thus reducing our footprints as humans even further.

    The when you want to get “out and about” you’ll just rent a robot to inhabit for awhile.

    • Keith Kleiner Frank Gilroy July 21, 2010 on 4:01 pm

      Frank, I really like the way you are thinking. Long term I think what you suggest is the future of mankind, but it will take several decades to get there…and during that period it seems like Rosling has some good suggestions for us and the planet.

    • Chris Andrews Frank Gilroy July 22, 2010 on 5:52 am

      Frank,
      I think you’ve been reading too much cheap science fiction. Unfortunately, reading too much cheap science fiction is dangerous for us all as it creates the impression that technology can be relied on to fix our problems, when in fact it usually replaces a problem with a new one that proves, in the long run, to be even harder to fix.

      If we look at solving the problems of over-population by space exploration, we would have start by looking at colonizing the moon. The cost of sending someone to the Moon is massive and there is no technology even distantly likely to reduce this cost any time soon, so sending our excess population to the Moon is impossibly expensive.

      Even if we decide that we can afford to do so, the amount of energy that it would take to lift hundreds of millions of people up to the Moon every year is more than we have available. Even if we decide that we can afford it, and we have the energy, we still have another problem.

      Our population currently doubles every 50 years, and is likely to continue to do so. If we decide the Earth is full now (and most people who seriously and logically assess this determine that the earth is already populated beyond its carrying capacity) we will need to put 7 billion people on the Moon in the next 50 years (the next doubling of population.)
      Even if we decide that we can afford it, and we have the energy, and (for simplicity’s sake) the Moon’s maximum population capacity is the same as the Earth’s, in another 50 years (100 years from now) we will need another new Moon for the Earths next doubling of population, and another new Moon for the original Moon’s doubling of population. Another 50 years after that (150 years from now) we will need 4 more Moons; one each for the 3 Moons’ doubling of population, and one for the Earth’s doubling of population. Another 50 years after that (200 years from now) we will need 8 more Moons, and so on! This is the result of exponential growth, so the only answer is to stop the growth of population.

      • john lennon Chris Andrews July 22, 2010 on 1:48 pm

        the ocean, we can build town in it, 70 percent of our earth is the ocean,, also we have the technology now to change sea water into drink water,, and i hope there is solution for population growth.:)

        • Chris Andrews john lennon July 22, 2010 on 9:48 pm

          Much the same arguments oppose populating the ocean as populating the moon. The energy issue isn’t quite as big, but it is still overwhelming, and we will still run out of space sooner than you think if the population continues to grow exponentially, as it will under our current growth-based economic system.

      • yay Chris Andrews July 26, 2010 on 3:38 pm

        Chris said: “Our population currently doubles every 50 years, and is likely to continue to do so.”

        This simply isn’t true. Currently virtually all developed countries have population growth below replacement levels. Global population growth has been slowing for decades. Unless something changes, worldwide growth is predicted to go negative in the next 50 years as more countries approach Western lifestyles.

        The reasons for slowing/negative growth include female emancipation, increased availability of contraception and abortion, better medical care, higher child survivorship, and dual income families. Basically, if women can control when they have kids, and have the choice of getting a job and an education, knowing that they can be economically and sexually liberated, and that when they do have kids they will be safe and their kids will almost certainly survive – in that situation, it seems the vast majority of families choose to have only 1 or 2 offspring. Moreover, they have kids late in life when they’re mature and economically stable, making a much longer generation time.

      • Frank Gilroy Chris Andrews July 28, 2010 on 2:43 am

        I think the arguments you’re making assume that the rate of technological growth is NOT exponential. For example, in terms of energy, many believe nanotech when applied to produce better sonar panels will have solved this problem within a decade or two.

        If within the next 50 years we have general AI and the ability clone a human brain inside a computer we’ll most likely be able to carry someone with the intellect of you or I around in our pockets if we choose.

        As for science fiction, yes I read and write a fair amount of it. IMHO life imitates art. The science fiction of today is often the science fact of tomorrow.

  • Frank Gilroy July 21, 2010 on 11:47 am

    “Finding a sustainable size for humanity is going to be critical to stabilizing and improving our world.”

    That statement feels icky to me. I’d like to think we’ll eventually solve the problems of over-population by further space exploration and inhabitation.

    If you want to go really far out, I’d like to think we’ll eventually get to a point where our physicality isn’t important at all, that our memories, digital representations of ourselves and even our consciousness will fit on the equivalent of a thumb drive, thus reducing our footprints as humans even further.

    The when you want to get “out and about” you’ll just rent a robot to inhabit for awhile.

    • Keith Kleiner Frank Gilroy July 21, 2010 on 12:01 pm

      Frank, I really like the way you are thinking. Long term I think what you suggest is the future of mankind, but it will take several decades to get there…and during that period it seems like Rosling has some good suggestions for us and the planet.

    • Chris Andrews Frank Gilroy July 22, 2010 on 1:52 am

      Frank,
      I think you’ve been reading too much cheap science fiction. Unfortunately, reading too much cheap science fiction is dangerous for us all as it creates the impression that technology can be relied on to fix our problems, when in fact it usually replaces a problem with a new one that proves, in the long run, to be even harder to fix.

      If we look at solving the problems of over-population by space exploration, we would have start by looking at colonizing the moon. The cost of sending someone to the Moon is massive and there is no technology even distantly likely to reduce this cost any time soon, so sending our excess population to the Moon is impossibly expensive.

      Even if we decide that we can afford to do so, the amount of energy that it would take to lift hundreds of millions of people up to the Moon every year is more than we have available. Even if we decide that we can afford it, and we have the energy, we still have another problem.

      Our population currently doubles every 50 years, and is likely to continue to do so. If we decide the Earth is full now (and most people who seriously and logically assess this determine that the earth is already populated beyond its carrying capacity) we will need to put 7 billion people on the Moon in the next 50 years (the next doubling of population.)
      Even if we decide that we can afford it, and we have the energy, and (for simplicity’s sake) the Moon’s maximum population capacity is the same as the Earth’s, in another 50 years (100 years from now) we will need another new Moon for the Earths next doubling of population, and another new Moon for the original Moon’s doubling of population. Another 50 years after that (150 years from now) we will need 4 more Moons; one each for the 3 Moons’ doubling of population, and one for the Earth’s doubling of population. Another 50 years after that (200 years from now) we will need 8 more Moons, and so on! This is the result of exponential growth, so the only answer is to stop the growth of population.

      • john lennon Chris Andrews July 22, 2010 on 9:48 am

        the ocean, we can build town in it, 70 percent of our earth is the ocean,, also we have the technology now to change sea water into drink water,, and i hope there is solution for population growth.:)

        • Chris Andrews john lennon July 22, 2010 on 5:48 pm

          Much the same arguments oppose populating the ocean as populating the moon. The energy issue isn’t quite as big, but it is still overwhelming, and we will still run out of space sooner than you think if the population continues to grow exponentially, as it will under our current growth-based economic system.

      • yay Chris Andrews July 26, 2010 on 11:38 am

        Chris said: “Our population currently doubles every 50 years, and is likely to continue to do so.”

        This simply isn’t true. Currently virtually all developed countries have population growth below replacement levels. Global population growth has been slowing for decades. Unless something changes, worldwide growth is predicted to go negative in the next 50 years as more countries approach Western lifestyles.

        The reasons for slowing/negative growth include female emancipation, increased availability of contraception and abortion, better medical care, higher child survivorship, and dual income families. Basically, if women can control when they have kids, and have the choice of getting a job and an education, knowing that they can be economically and sexually liberated, and that when they do have kids they will be safe and their kids will almost certainly survive – in that situation, it seems the vast majority of families choose to have only 1 or 2 offspring. Moreover, they have kids late in life when they’re mature and economically stable, making a much longer generation time.

      • Frank Gilroy Chris Andrews July 27, 2010 on 10:43 pm

        I think the arguments you’re making assume that the rate of technological growth is NOT exponential. For example, in terms of energy, many believe nanotech when applied to produce better sonar panels will have solved this problem within a decade or two.

        If within the next 50 years we have general AI and the ability clone a human brain inside a computer we’ll most likely be able to carry someone with the intellect of you or I around in our pockets if we choose.

        As for science fiction, yes I read and write a fair amount of it. IMHO life imitates art. The science fiction of today is often the science fact of tomorrow.

  • Trevor July 22, 2010 on 1:33 am

    Visual “aides”?

  • Trevor July 21, 2010 on 9:33 pm

    Visual “aides”?

  • dorkbot August 4, 2010 on 6:01 am

    Do you have any before and after statistics to prove your point? As in country A had birth rate X but child mortality decreased and then had birth rate Y? I think you miss out on religious and cultural reasons for birth rate that will not be affected by reducing child mortality.

  • dorkbot August 4, 2010 on 2:01 am

    Do you have any before and after statistics to prove your point? As in country A had birth rate X but child mortality decreased and then had birth rate Y? I think you miss out on religious and cultural reasons for birth rate that will not be affected by reducing child mortality.