The United Nations Population Division on May 3rd released its 2010 world population projections. The study is the best available collection of current world demographic data, but the projections, as usual, are something of a parlor game. They involve questionable and highly optimistic assumptions about fertility and mortality. They ignore other studies that identify external forces that will shape population growth. They assume political and social stability, and they slight the role of migration and the profound changes that it is generating. The projections are probably dismissed by observers who recognize that long term numerical projections of complex phenomena are usually unreliable. Among the media, however, they are taken at face value and frequently used to buttress earlier preconceptions.
I would suggest a new approach: Use the present projection as the “no surprises” scenario, and then work with other UN scientific bodies to develop scenarios reflecting the connections between demography and anticipated changes in energy, food supplies, climate, resources, and human health and well-being.
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