7 challenges for 7 billion

This week the world's population ticked over to 7 billion. By 2050 that number is expected to grow to 9 billion.

From water shortages to rising sea levels, experts from the University of New South Wales and the University of Melbourne paint a grim future for life on Earth. They forecast dramatic changes unless significant steps are taken to curb population growth.
Here seven academics outline seven challenges they say a population of 7 billion must confront.
Is it all doom and gloom as they suggest, or do we have a brighter future?


“Access to fresh water in Australia, the driest inhabited continent, is incredibly difficult. We're seeing the impacts of overuse of water resources, particularly in places like the Murray-Darling Basin, and that sort of pressure is only going to increase as Australia's population increases but also obviously as the world population increases.”
Professor Richard Kingsford, University of New South Wales

“Water is probably going to be the first real threat that we bump into. Does the Murray-Darling Basin survive? That's a big question mark still that I don't think has been adequately addressed. Agriculture, which is the main consumer of water, may have to change its whole structure.”
Professor Roger Short, University of Melbourne


“We have to find less polluting sources of energy and we've also got to be much more careful in the way that we make use of the remaining non-renewable fossil fuels we've got. So rather than raping our resources to fund the immediate economic demands of India and China, if we hang on to them for a little bit, as everyone else's supplies run out, they'd get more and more valuable in time.”
Professor Roger Short, University of Melbourne

“Our sunshine alone is enough to power all the energy demands of our country as it is at the moment and well into the future. So even just with the sunshine supply, I can't imagine that we are ever going to have a problem of running our own country from our own renewable energy resources.”
Dr Richard Corkish, University of New South Wales


“Back in 1972 the Club of Rome produced an amazing report called Limits to Growth and they said the time had come when we've got to realise that all our non-renewable resources and all our fuel resources were non renewable and there were limits to growth and we better start facing up to them.”
Professor Roger Short, University of Melbourne

“A lot of people in a continent as large as ours but as dry as ours with limited resources means more people wanting to get access to these resources. A simple way to approach this is more competition law, making sure large suppliers do not put pressure on the market to let other people out. It means that price fixing, collusion, corporate governance, banking and finance and property law and the way we deal with real estate will change over time.”
Business law expert Michael Peters, University of New South Wales


“All countries in the world will face the challenge of population ageing - it's happening everywhere. In Australia though, we are fortunate because many countries are older than we are. Relative to countries like Germany, Japan or Italy, Australia is a teenager.”
Professor John Piggott, University of New South Wales

“We've got some major health problems for the future but we've never been in a stronger state with our medical services to actually attack these diseases of old age. We won't overcome all of them, but in developed countries we can certainly look after the elderly. The problem is that the population of the world is growing fastest in the world's developing countries. How can we cope with a double or a trebling of the population of some countries in Africa within the next 40 years when they're already dirt poor and only just getting enough food to live on?”
Professor Roger Short, University of Melbourne


“We need to feminise the world and look first and foremost at the interests of women because they're the ones that are going to decide our future and it is their determination to limit the size of their families which will be the saviour of the world.”
Professor Roger Short, University of Melbourne

“Take the oral contraceptive pill, you pay about $30 to $35 for a one-month supply of pills - that is over $1 a pill. The actual cost of making them, you could make one pill for a cent. So there is a hundred-fold mark up by the pharmaceutical companies on the oral contraceptive pills.”
 Professor Roger Short, University of Melbourne


“The challenge of Australia to meet the food needs of its ever-growing population is enormous. The idea to dam northern Australia to increase food production is probably not the best strategy. I think it would be far quicker and far more efficient to develop what Australian cities are already doing at very local levels, which is urban food production.”
Dr Alec Thornton, University of New South Wales

“I love the old biblical statement from Isiah - 'all flesh is grass'. That's actually a brilliant statement because it summarises the basic truth that we are only here on Earth because we can trap the energy in sunlight and turn it into something of use to us. And the best way of trapping the energy of sunlight, virtually the only way we've got, is to use chlorophyll - the green stuff in plants - to turn the solar energy into a plant which we can eat or harvest and do what we like with. So ultimately our future depends on the ability of the Earth to trap that solar energy, and for a plant to grow, it needs water.”
Professor Roger Short, University of Melbourne