January 20, 2011 ( – While overpopulation doomsayers continue to call for reductions, forcible if necessary, of the human population, a report by the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) has presented a more hopeful view, saying that future demographic challenges can be addressed by human ingenuity.

The report’s lead author, Dr. Tim Fox, said the conclusion is not based on speculative guesses about as-yet undeveloped technologies: “We can meet the challenge of feeding a planet of 9 billion people through the application of existing technologies.”

In answer to the widespread idea that human population growth will put unsustainable pressure on resources, the report has called for governments more broadly to disseminate engineering knowledge to help the developing world meet upcoming challenges.

The report, titled, “One Planet; Too Many People?” acknowledged that a potential human population of 9.5 billion by 2100 will present governments with “significant challenges.”

However, “the evidence shows that sustainable engineering solutions largely exist for many of the anticipated challenges.

“What is needed is political and social will, innovative financing mechanisms, and the transfer of best practice through localisation to achieve a successful outcome.”

The report examined four areas which governments need to address and which engineers in particular will play a role: food, water, urbanization and energy. In these areas, engineers have “the knowledge and skills to help meet the challenges that are projected to arise,” the report says.

“The provision of sufficient food through a doubling of global agricultural production in 40 years will be a challenge that engineers can help society meet.” Food processing and distribution, application of existing biotechnologies, improvements in mechanization and automation, masterplanning for urban production and more efficient irrigation can be employed to address any food-related challenges of the future.

“Given current techniques and capabilities there is no valid reason why there should be a shortage of water for human use,” the report noted.

The engineers recommend that governments adopt “five Engineering Development Goals” in addition to the UN’s Millenium Development Goals: “Use existing sustainable energy technologies and reduce energy waste, don’t wait for new technologies to be developed; replenish groundwater sources and improve storage of excess water and increase energy efficiencies of desalination; reduce food waste and resolve the politics of hunger; meet the challenge of slums and defending against sea-level rises; empower communities and enable implementation.”

A big part of the problem of hunger, the report said, is the lack of engineering skills in developing countries. Just as developed nations provide medical and educational aid, the Institution recommends that governments train civil, mechanical, water, agricultural and electrical engineers “to provide other governments with low-cost, practical and up-to-date engineering expertise.”

Such expertise could also answer environmental concerns by helping developing countries “leapfrog” over the “resource-hungry dirty phase” that marked the early stages of industrialization in Britain and that so marks the industries in post-Soviet states.

The report also noted that Britain’s birth rate is low and that Europe’s population as a whole is projected to decrease by 20 per cent from 0.73 billion to 0.59 billion. It also noted that with such a low birth rate, “domestic challenges will come from a greater proportion of elderly people in society with those over 65 years making up 23 per cent of the UK population by 2050.” Fewer young people will be available to support them with 34 percent under the age of 30.

“This will create challenges regarding workforce composition, economic development, healthcare, transport strategies and changing consumption patterns for food, energy and consumer goods.”

Dominic Lawson, writing in The Independent, under the headline “The population time bomb is a myth,” highlighted the report and decried the bias of the mainstream media and its refusal to give any airtime to opinions contrary to those of the population doomsayers.

The IME report went almost unnoticed by mainstream media sources, Lawson said, and the “distinct lack of column inches” is because the IME “answered its own question in the negative.

“No, there are not (and will never be) too many people for the planet to feed.”

Lawson noted that the IME’s conclusions coincide with that of a recent report on “sustainability” by French scientists with the national agricultural and development research agencies who said that a global population of 9 billion could easily have a diet consisting of 3,000 calories a day at the same time that the agriculture industry reduces the use of fossil fuels.

The IME report is also in agreement with a statement last year from the head of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation, Dr. Jacques Diouf, who told a gathering of African bishops in Rome that “food security” is possible in Africa now with existing technologies, but there needs to be the political will to achieve it.

“Transparency… the application of law by an independent justice” and peace will create an environment where food production and distribution can be increased, Diouf said.

To read the IME report click here.


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