In 2018, there are now approximately 7 and a half billion people in the world. The UN estimates that the current pace of population growth is adding 78 million more people to the planet every year, and that the population may have exceeded 10 billion by the end of the 21st century. (It reached 1 billion in 1804 and 2 billion in 1927.) This National Geographic video clip helps make those huge numbers a little easier to grasp. [embed]https://youtu.be/sc4HxPxNrZ0[/embed]
Teaching about population issues
Population growth can be an emotive, controversial issue, as it raises questions and concerns about "too many people for the planet to support" and "something needing be done". It might look straightforward and clear cut, but it's actually very complex, and brings lots of other global issues into play. The UN's 7 billion actions campaign aimed to raise awareness of the opportunities and challenges presented by global population growth, and focused on the following issues:
- Reducing poverty and inequality - this also slows down population growth (see the Hans Rosling video mentioned below).
- Empowering women and girls - this leads to progress on all fronts (see our article Fight Poverty: Educate Girls and the Send My Friend to School campaign).
- Reproductive health and rights - if every child is wanted, and every childbirth safe, you get smaller and stronger families. (It might seem paradoxical, but improved child survival can ultimately lead to lower population growth as overall birth rates decrease.)
- Young people - more interconnected than ever before, young people are transforming global politics and culture.
- Ageing populations - this is a new global challenge resulting from lower fertility and longer lives.
- Environment - healthy planet = healthy people - we all depend on the health of our planet.
- Urbanization - the next two billion people will live in cities, so we need to plan for that now.You can find further information on the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) website.
This 'infographic' aims to show, in a simple way, percentages of the world's population by gender, age, language, nutrition, etc. This is also explored in the book If the World Were a Village (a great resource for younger pupils).
Resources and background information
There are many different perspectives on population, ranging from "overpopulation is a myth" on the one hand, to "people should just stop having children before we destroy the planet" on the other. We have tried to include a selection below, whilst striving for balanced viewpoints. It would be worth teachers and students taking time to explore different perspectives to inform their own views and actions on how we can ultimately all live together on a healthy planet. Most of these are suitable for secondary students, although some may suit upper primary. Please tell us about any further resources you come across and we'll add them to the list; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Useful teaching resources and other sources of information on population issues
Gapminder / Hans Rosling Population growth explained with IKEA boxes A really clear video clip explaining how ending poverty is crucial to slowing population growth What stops population growth? An earlier clip with Hans Rosling doing yet more 'debunking' of population myths Both clips are about 10 minutes long - good discussion starters.
Population Connection World of 7 billion - teacher resources and lesson plans Created for US educators; includes ideas for teaching about population issues at middle and high school levels
INED (France) All about_population These pages (in English) from the French Institut National d'Etudes Démographiques include animations, documents and fact sheets about population issues.
BBC Learning Zone class clips Recording data on global population at the UN 5-minute clip: Sir David Attenborough discusses global population growth and how it's measured.
National Geographic 7 billion special series Lots of in-depth articles, film clips and a beautiful photo gallery around the theme of 7 billion.
Contrasting views on population issues Overpopulation is a myth - A series of short video clips, supplemented by web pages explaining the science behind them. These are produced by the US-based Population Research Institute - Read their mission statement which outlines their perspective. Population Matters is a UK charity campaigning on population and sustainability issues. They have a useful 'School Materials' page with both their own resources and links to other useful materials. Their site also includes a video of a David Attenborough speech - 20-minute lecture to RSA "There is no major problem facing our planet that would not be easier to solve if there were fewer people and no problem that does not become harder — and ultimately impossible to solve — with ever more."
News websites BBC News - The world at seven billion - short video clips of BBC News reporters speaking to seven people from around the world to hear their stories. BBC News- Overpopulation: Will we run out of space?- a 10 minute clip from 2015 exploring different viewpoints on population growth. Could also work as an introduction to the discussion over population. BBC also has a What's your number? interactive counter - put in your date of birth and find out where you fit in the world's 7 billion people. Guardian - Child six billion hopes for peace - interview with Adnan Nevic, the world's "6th billionth child", who is now 12 - useful starter stimulus. Guardian also has an interactive tool: How big was the world's population when you were born?
Worldmapper Worldmapper shows maps of the world where territories are re-sized depending on the subject of interest. So for example you could compare population maps with life expectancy or education to find correlations. They have also produced an updated World Population map using the latest population estimates.
Population Pyramids Population Pyramids of the world 1950-2100 Illustrating populations by age across the world and in different countries. A useful tool to explore how prosperity and life expectancy affect birth rates.