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Can Earth survive another billion people? An interview with Robert Walker

Just twelve years after we hit the 6 billion mark in 1999, it's going to a be a lot harder to look after the new arrivals. The extra billion people will find an unstable climate, declining energy and resources, and a host of other challenges.

To help us sort out what it means, and what can be done, we are joined by Robert Walker, Executive Vice President of the Population Institute in Washington. He's the author of a new report "From 6 Billion to 7 Billion: How Population Growth is Changing and Challenging Our World."

Robert Walker has been on every major television network - yet I get the feeling the average Western citizen thinks population growth is just a problem on the other side of the world. Are we bored with the population challenge? Why should we care?

Aside from report chapters on solutions, some of the most interesting pages in this report compare the global prospects in 1999 - the six billion person world - with the outlook in 2011.

We start with something at the top of most people's minds these days - the economy. The American economy looked great in 1999. Real estate expanded as banks were able to unload mortgages, resold as securities to other banks and investors all over the world. It was the beginning of the great Ponzi scheme which collapsed in 2008.

The Glass-Steagall Act, which limited such transactions between a bank holding company and security dealing - was repealed in November 1999.

From the Radio Ecoshock interview, Robert Walker:

"Oil prices shot from $10 a barrel in 1999 to an average of over $100 a barrel today.

The prices of grains, and other essential food stuffs, have more than doubled. Hunger and severe poverty have a substantial come-back.

The fight against climate change has been nearly abandoned.

The global economy has been battered by two Recessions since 1999.

... Water scarcity and resource limitations have grown more acute. And the transition to a Green economy has not been swift as many people hoped.

So we are facing a much different world today, including the economy, but not limited to the economy."

Alex Smith: "In 1999, Peak Oil was something for a few pundits relegated to the fringe. Now the International Energy Agency and the military say we've passed the Peak. Our civilization is based on cheap fossil fuels, so how are we going to support an extra billion people?"

Robert Walker: "That's the critical question. If we are having trouble today feeding 7 billion people - and as you indicated earlier, there are about 1 billion people on the planet today who go to bed hungry at night. And there is plenty of reason to believe it's going to get more difficult, not easier."

Walker goes on to discuss the threat of climate change, loss of topsoil, water tables being pumped out, and more.

For example,food production in developing countries will have to double, to meet the expected population of 8 billion as early as 2023.

Meanwhile, the cost of basics, like bread, have doubled for the world's poorest people. Fifty to nintey percent of their income is spent on food for the day.

Walker also points out that just like Climate deniers, there are population deniers. Perhaps those who saw world population go from 1 and a half billion in 1900 to 6 billion by 1999 think this expansion can just go on forever.

Some believe a technical fix will save the planet from population overload. Walker says we have now reached the limits of growth.

The report "From 6 Billion to 7 Billion" finds the only solution is to empower women to make choices about family size. That means education for women, and less male dominance about birth control.

It also helps to delay marriage age. Some girls in the fastest growing population, in places like Yemen, are married off at age ten. They may start having babies at age 12 or 13, when they are not really biologically prepared. Large families result, even though neither the local economy nor the regional environment can support more people.

Where women stay in school instead, and marry later, the population levels off, or even goes down a bit.

When asked about the Obama administration response, Walker said significant improvements were made in funding for family planning in the first two years, but now the new Republican dominated Congress wants to cut such aid.

Even in the United States, there are politicians demanding that all funding for family planning be slashed. Walker warns that will bring the population problem to the United States in a big way, in the years to come.

Walker: "And that would have catastrophic impacts. Both at the personal level for women, but also at the global level for world resources and the environment."

Unbelievable but true: Walker's research for the Population Institute found real family planning could be implemented world-wide for only $3.5 billion a year. That is practically the charge-card limit for some of the world's billionaires. It is a tiny amount in the trillion dollars spent by the United States every year, not to mention Germany or China.

This is Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith. In my opinion, it's way past time for solutions. Everybody who cares about the economy, climate change, energy, and just plain human decency, needs to learn the basics of how to stop the next billion people from arriving.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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