Earth's population may explode to more than 12 billion this century

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Earth's population may explode to more than 12 billion this century
This chart shows how populations in Africa are expected explode as the rest of the world slows. (Adrian Raftery/Science)
Africa, as seen from space, is where the researchers expect the bulk of the world's population growth this century
Lagos is the largest city in Nigeria, but also in Africa, with 11.4 million people. Some estimates having it become one of the five largest cities in the world by 2100.
Many people in Africa live in the poverty shown in these Lagos slums. The challenge, many say, is to adequately feed them as they rise from the ranks of the impoverished.
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By RYAN GORMAN

Earth could be teeming with more than 12 billion humans by the end of the century, a new study has revealed.

The world's human population currently stands at about 7.5 billion. A population of 12.3 billion, if this new estimate holds true, would be two billion more than most previous estimates.

The joint United Nations – University of Washington study was conducted from data provided by the U.N. and was done to illustrate potential hurdles brought on by such a population explosion.

"A rapidly growing population will bring challenges, statistician and sociologist Adrian Raftery, of the University of Washington, told Wired magazine. "But I think these challenges can be met."

Raftery and his team of 13 scientists made their findings by evaluating fertility, mortality, migration and age pattern records, according to the results of the study published in Science.

"There is an 80 percent probability that world population, now 7.2 billion, will increase to between 9.6 and 12.3 billion in 2100," researchers found.

The team believes that population growth will remain level in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean and North America, slow in Asia (perhaps even decrease), but explode in Africa.

This assertion was made based on fertility rates not showing any signs of slowing down as they have in the rest of the developed world due to use of contraceptives and education.

University of Michigan demographer David Lam mostly agreed with the findings in comments to Wired, but said the one wild card is sub-Saharan Africa.

"No amount of statistical sophistication is going to solve the fact that we just don't know what is going to happen to fertility in Africa," Lam argued.

No matter what happens in Africa, most everyone agrees there will be at least a few billion more people milling about the planet in the coming decades, and feeding them is going to become a challenge.

Despite the world producing enough grain for about 11 billion people, according to the New York Times, humans have not found a way to effectively use the food supply.

"The world is physically capable of feeding, sheltering and enriching many more people in the short term," wrote columnist Joel Cohen.

This will need to change or else mass famines will be commonplace. But food is not the only problem, climate change and water shortages are also a concern.

"Rapid population growth can exacerbate the challenges that African countries will have in the future: poverty, environmental problems, health problems and resource depletion," argued Raftery. "In an increasingly globalized world, the problems in one part can impact the rest."

But Raftery wrote in the study that he does see light at the end of the tunnel.

"There are challenges and we should be concerned, but I wouldn't subscribe to the idea that they can't be solved."

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