First of all, I want to thank tom~ for referencing ol’ “6 billion.” I have had a lot to say on this subject, and didn’t want to have to search for the link. The quote from dhanson is a good bottom line. Birth rates are declining in most of the world. Even in underdeveloped countries, where birth rates are comparatively high, the rates are still generally decreasing.
But wait! you may ask. Why, then, is the population increasing? Population will still increase as long as the overall replacement rate is positive. Of course, birth rate is not the be all/end all of the discussion. The other end of the spectrum is that people are living longer; fewer are dying of disease and starvation than years past.
pkbites, I’m not sure where you hear the population doomsday scenarios, but it doesn’t surprise me that you do hear them because they are prevalent. Remember, organizations like ZPG, Greenpeace, Earth First! and similar require that a ‘doomsday’ message be disseminated. That is how they get attention, support, and funding. And science be damned. Unsuspecting people may actually believe that the groups mentioned above are apolitical or objective. They are not. They have a definite agenda.
Add to the mix the tendency for the press to be overly sensationalistic (bad news and overwrought predictions are more interesting than ‘things aren’t so bad, after all’) and it is not surprising that the average person picks up little bits here and little bits there until it seems a consensus is out there as TRUTH, when in fact it is not.
Then, the whole question becomes “How bad off will we be if the population reaches X level?” A true and complex debate, that. In my opinion, it is good to look at all the horrible predictions of mass starvation and the earth running out of food, postulated just 20-30 years ago; and compare that with what actually has happened, and you can begin to see that the story is more complex than just “our population is going to double and we’re all going to die a horrible death, gasping for air as we step over the wretched bodies, etc., etc.”