By Robert Hickson 30/03/2016

Hans Rosling, of Gapminder fame, and perhaps the world’s most enthusiastic statistician, has an hour long video making the case that increasing global population levels aren’t fundamentally a prelude to disaster. (You can read a synopsis here).

You can also save time by looking at these shorter videos showing the key trends of population growth and the average numbers of babies per woman over time. Eleven billion people may be alive by the end of the century, barring any substantial global catastrophes, or rampant procreation.

Sure that’s a lot of people to feed, keep healthy, housed, and ensure that they get out of extreme poverty. Hans’ message is “Don’t panic!” It isn’t insurmountable, and many communities are already moving up economically.

One of the stories he tells illustrates how significant “Low tech” (i.e. a bicycle) can be to a family’s prospects. Something that we often overlook.

Still, adding 4 billion more to the planet over the coming decades while trying to manage the environmental, social, economic and political implications won’t benefit from complacency.

Social vs technological change

What struck me most, though, was the reminder that while we often focus on the apparently rapid pace of technological change (or argue over whether it is rapid), and the future implications of that, the real “mega” trends over the last few decades have been social.

Two oft-illustrated technological trends are the pace of (selected) technological adoptions:




And the exponential growth in computational power:

moores law

But over the last 80 years the world population has increased by 5 billion people:

Source: Gapminder
Source: Gapminder

The number of people living in urban centres has gone from 30% to 54% over the last 64 years, and there have been other substantial social and cultural changes just in the last two decades.

As Hans notes in another presentation, people in affluent countries are often ignorant of the real changes going on elsewhere, and that this ignorance has consequences.

I’ve written previously about making sweeping generalisations of social factors. Good futures thinking needs to avoid both ignorance and generalities.

Source for Header image: Benjamin D. Hennig – – CC BY-NC-ND 3.0