The fate of the world very considerably rests upon the next 100 million car owners of China. If the next 100 million are similar to the existing 110 million Chinese car owners then they are also going to eat a more nutritious diet containing plenty of meat and fish. Unlike the present car owners, however, the next tranche will be a part-cause of the starvation of anything between 700 million and 1 billion of the present world’s poor.
We shouldn’t blame the Chinese alone, of course, because many others in Brazil, Indonesia, India, etc—even, to a lesser extent, in Muslim countries and in Africa —will also be buying more cars and also be able to put more protein on the table. But the Chinese growth can be the main plank in the argument because the evidence of the last 30 years much more clearly points to the likelihood of at least another 100 million car owners in the next 20-30 years than not.
The basic mathematics is very simple. It takes about ten times more agricultural acreage to grow grain to feed cattle (and farmed fish) than it does to feed grain directly to humans eating a vegetarian diet. It is true, of course, that Western people (and 110 million Chinese) don’t eat an all-protein diet so we can shade the 10 ratio down to about 2 or 3. But I think we can also assume that the next 100 million car owners of China will also be accompanied by at least 300 or 400 million new car owners elsewhere. The net result of economic growth (discounting that of the West, which is now problematical) is roughly the same—the deaths by disease-weakening or starvation of somewhere around 800 million or more of the present poor.
I’ve made three underlying assumptions: (a) Due to limitations of fresh water we are now already close to the limits of grain production; (b) The oceans are now at the limits of huntable fish so, from now onwards, more fish production will have to be farmed (and fed with grain); (c) The present “peak” of fossil fuel production will, in fact, be extended for at least another 50 years due to increased extraction efficiency (and new methods such as fracking), and there being no other alternative energy technology in sight that can be scaled up to anywhere near present energy requirements in the next 50 years.
Never mind if even the most extreme scenarios of man-made global warmists are correct and temperatures rise another degree or two, gradually inundating many cities with rising sea levels, consumer-led economic growth in the non-Western world will prevail. Also in the next 100 years, it is inconceivable that non-Western governments, being dependent on taxation from economic growth, will want anything different either. It is even more inconceivable that oceanic bacteria will change its habits of many millions of years by not extracting more CO2 than is produced by land vegetation or fuel burning. Once bacteria have adjusted to the present, slight, made-made hump then the secular decline in atmospheric CO2 will continue for many more millions of years.
Demographers who have been projecting vast world populations have had to revise their forecasts very significantly in the last few years because they hadn’t previously taken into account the vast migration of the rural poor into the slum areas of the major cities where previous cultural pressures are shrugged off and where family sizes drop significantly. If anything, less than replacement fertility is now increasing due to another fact which demographers have not yet adjusted to. This is the accelerating purchase of prime agricultural land by investment consortia and sovereign wealth funds. Nor have demographers begun to allow for the market requirements for protein of hundreds of millions of Chinese, Brazilians, Indians, Indonesians and so on in next few decades.
In short, if we are really, really realistic about world over-population—taking a comprehensive view into account—then we are probably within 10-15 years of world peak population. And then, if we are really, really realistic, world population in the next 50-100 years will probably drop to at least a half and probably to a third of the present world population. Demographers need to be economists, economists need to be agriculturalists and all of them need to be anthropologists and evolutionary biologists in order to really understand the status (consumerist) needs of ordinary people which follow closely, and almost as powerfully, behind those of food and sex.