The Human Explosion

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The earth supported a mere 2.5 billion people in 1950, but by the millennium there'll be 6 billion mouths to feed. These people will also need parking spaces, copies of Microsoft Windows and vacuum cleaners. Or maybe not. Virtually all of the 86 million new human beings per year -- 98 percent of them -- are being born to mothers in the developing world, where luxuries are rare. Central Africa leads the procreation race, followed by parts of Asia and Latin America.

The explosive growth in these regions, says the Population Reference Bureau, is due not only to high birth rates but to the young age at which mothers have their children, telescoping the time between generations. Such factors mean the human explosion won't just end with industrialization. And unless education, cultural changes and family planning can radically reduce fertility rates, economists may soon need to dust off their copies of the Malthusian Doctrine.