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Is the world running out of space?
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Is the world running out of space – the truth about overpopulation

Sometimes it’s difficult to fathom that the world could actually become even more crowded than it is today – especially when elbowing through a teeming Delhi market or sharing breathing space with sweaty strangers crammed into a London Tube train.

An overcrowded train in London - overcrowding is a regular problem for Tube passengers, especially during peak hours

While it is impossible to precisely predict population levels for the coming decades, researchers are certain of one thing: the world is going to become an increasingly crowded place. New estimates issued by the United Nations predict that our current 7.3 billion will rise to 9.7 billion by 2050, and to a mind-boggling 11.2 billion by 2100.

Today, it’s difficult enough to get away from one another. Everywhere you go, you’ll find crowds of city-dwellers clogging trails and beaches. Even in the most seemingly isolated of places, you’ll find nomadic herders in Mongolia’s Gobi desert, Berbers in the Sahara and camps of scientists in Antarctica.

People and penguins on Snow Hill Island, Antarctica

This begs the question: as the world becomes even more crowded, will it become practically impossible to find a patch of land free from human settlement or presence? Will we eventually overtake all remaining habitable space? 

Experts predict that an increasing number of us will live in cities. Around half of the world’s population will live in smaller cities of half-a-million to three million residents. The rest will live in megacities or regions - those that harbour 10 million or more. Both cities and regions will expand geographically as well as become denser.

Mumbai, India, a megacity with more than 20 million people as of 2011

Cities, however, are not the only places that will experience future change due to growing populations. Rural and remote places that are not strictly protected will likely see a modest increase in human habitation, too. With a combination of climate change and technology, it’s not unthinkable that Antarctica might become inhabited, although it’s hard to imagine it being densely populated.

View of Shinjuku skyscrapers and Mount Fuji as seen from the Bunkyo Civic Center in Tokyo; Tokyo is one of the world’s most populous cities

None of this means that we will run out of actual space to live. Only 3% of the world’s total land supports more than half of humanity. But a growing population does mean that the number of relatively pristine places left to visit will also likely decrease, thanks to an ever-increasing demand for resources needed to support urban lives.

The Gobi Desert - a herder and his camels by the sand dunes of Khongoryn Els, Gurvansaikhan NP, Mongolia

Eventually, world population will likely level off. Growth throughout this century is actually already slowing, and is projected to continue to do so. Many decades from now, human population might even begin to decline. For the foreseeable future, however, we are headed toward an increasingly crowded Earth – although the conditions of that world are still uncertain. 

(All images - credit: Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons licence)

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