How can we reach a sustainable balance?

Francesco Stefani is a student at the third year of Bachelor in Economics, Management and Finance in Bocconi University. After attending a conference about population growth and energy resources, he decided to write about it and report what the speaker, Hans Rosling, had to say concerning this specific subject.

On October the 3rd I had the possibility to participate to the conference called “Population Growth and Energy Resources: In Search of a Sustainable Balance” offered by Bocconi University and held by Professor Hals Rosling.

Hans Rosling is a Swedish medical doctor, academic, statistician and public speaker, Professor of International Health at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm and co-founder and Chairman of the Gapminder Foundation. He is also a member of the Global Agenda Councils of World Economic Forum. Moreover he is famous for his participation to TED conferences and for his volunteering activities.

Professor Rosling was able to provide the audience different data about how the population is growing and how this is impacting the climate. However, he did not spend a word about possible solutions or recommendations to these problems; he actually acted like an “eagle eye”: he gave us an overview of the issue and left us deciding what the possible solutions could be.

Hans-Rosling-1

We could summarize his ideas with these words:

There are no longer two types of countries in the world: the old division into industrialized and developing countries has been replaced by 192 countries on a continuum of socio-economic development. Many Asian countries are now improving twice as fast as Europe ever did. A new gap may form between the 5 billion people moving towards healthy lives with education, cell phones, electricity, washing machines and health service, and the more than 1 billion people stuck in the vicious circle of absolute poverty and disease. So far all progress towards health and wealth has been achieved at the price of increased CO2 emission that drives the imminent climate crisis. There are reasons for optimism regarding the future of the world because the world is so poorly governed at present. Hence we have enormous opportunities to improve the life of all humans by turning our already converging world into an equal, secure, sustainable and democratic place in which to live.

So now let’s start from the beginning.

From 1800 until 1950 we lived in a “divergent world”: western countries, due to Industrial Revolution, started to grow, leaving African and Asian world behind. This growth did not only affect the economy but also the level of education and the political and health system. This “divergent world” is nowadays over; starting from the 1950 the countries which were left behind started to grow at an unprecedented level while the western ones decreased their speed. The lasts are catching up the firsts.

If we take a look to global population, we notice a continuous growth since 1800 until today; however, starting from 1970 the birth rate dropped. How can be possible that the population is growing if at the same time the birth rate is shrinking? There are different factors:

First of all, the increasing level of health and wealth allows more and more people to live a longer life. Today the average life expectancy is 70 years old. This could be achievable by the widespread of vaccinations, new medicines and new techniques of agriculture.

Secondly, thanks to the increase in health and safety (related to a consolidation of Political System), men and women decide to have a child only if they can guarantee him/her a good standard of living. There is not anymore the necessity, contrary to what happened few decades ago in Asia and Africa, to have a lot of children, since diseases and wars would kill most of them. Luckily the mortality rate in childhood dropped from 50% to 25% during the last century.

Moreover, thanks to the progress in the level of education, women have more power to decide whether to have a child or not. This is strictly correlated to the development of right about gender equality.

Finally, the widespread of the contraceptive helps to limit the number of births.

Needless to say, all these elements are strongly influence by the political commitment of each nation.

However the growth in population creates different complications.

On one hand, since more and more people are exiting the poverty line and entering in the middle class one, they have more needs. They want to have a car, a mobile phone, a washing machine. These are all goods that require resources and energy. Our environment is already injured; will it be able to sustain another blow? To resist another increase in pollution and deforestation?

On the other hand, until today the world age pyramid (which divides people by their age) is still keeping its shape: we have more children than youngsters, and more youngsters than elders. But the situation is rapidly changing; in 2100 the ratio will be 1:1:1. We will have to dramatically raise world expenditure on health, taking into consideration that active work force will shrink compared to the whole population.

Will it be the end? Of course not, Mr Rosling claimed he strongly believes in humankind and in its force to overcome problems. Did he give us any solutions to these problems? No, he just presented us some date letting us drawing our conclusion.

Before ending this article, I would like to ask directly what Mr Rosling asked us indirectly with its presentation: “We all know what is necessary to save the environment and have a sustainable growth. We all know what is necessary to live on this planet in a healthy and longer way; so, what are we waiting for?”

 

For those who are interested, you can find at this link his presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8yG3UXwWuE

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