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Modeling Population Growth

March 28, 2024

In the intricate web of global dynamics, few forces wield as much influence on energy and water resources as population growth and economic expansion. The symbiotic relationship between these two factors is particularly significant because they create a complex tapestry of challenges and opportunities, reshaping landscapes and redefining priorities. Because of this, understanding the impacts that population and economic growth can have on everything from a region's natural resources to its energy production systems is paramount when navigating the path towards a future of sustainability and resilience.

Population Growth

At the heart of the energy-resource conundrum lies the inexorable march of population growth. With each passing day, the global population swells, placing unprecedented strains on finite resources. What happens as more individuals enter the fray? The demand for energy and water surges in tandem. This surge is not linear but exponential, fueled by a myriad of factors including urbanization, industrialization, and technological advancements.

Economic Growth

Parallel to the trajectory of population growth is economic expansion. As nations strive for prosperity, economic growth becomes the lodestar guiding their endeavors. However, this pursuit of affluence comes at a steep cost – one that is borne by energy and water resources. Economic prosperity, therefore, correlates directly with increased consumption patterns, wherein affluent populations exhibit a voracious appetite for energy and water-intensive lifestyles.

The Intersection of Climate Change and Policy

Amidst the backdrop of population and economic dynamics looms the specter of global climate change. The ramifications of climate change reverberate across ecosystems, amplifying the pressure on energy and water resources. Rising temperatures, erratic weather patterns, and dwindling freshwater reserves exacerbate the challenges of the energy-water nexus.

Compounding these challenges are policy choices that influence resource allocation and utilization. Policy makers are often faced with the daunting task of balancing competing interests, as they navigate the delicate balance between energy security, economic growth, and environmental sustainability. In some instances, policy decisions inadvertently exacerbate the strain on energy and water resources. For instance, policies advocating for more water-intensive energy production or more energy-intensive water treatment processes can further strain already limited resources.

Meeting the Challenge

Addressing the impacts of population and economic growth on energy resources necessitates a multifaceted approach. At the forefront of this approach lies the imperative to enhance efficiency and promote sustainable practices across sectors. Embracing renewable energy sources, implementing water-saving technologies, and fostering conservation efforts are pivotal in mitigating the strain on energy and water resources.

Additionally, fostering cross-sectoral collaboration and stakeholder engagement is essential in fostering resilience and adaptability. By fostering dialogue and partnership between government, industry, academia, and civil society, nations can chart a course towards a more sustainable and equitable future. The interplay between population growth, economic expansion, and energy resources underscores the need for holistic and proactive approaches to sustainability. By understanding the intricate dynamics at play and embracing innovation and collaboration, nations can navigate the nexus of population, economic growth, and energy resources with resilience and foresight.

Do you think you can model population growth? Check out the following Watt Watchers of Texas activity to find out? 

Activity Overview: 
The key underlying demographic trends that strain energy and water resources are population growth and economic growth. Other key trends are the impacts of global climate change and policy choices, whereby policy makers push for more water-intensive energy and more energy-intensive water.
As the population increases, more people demand more energy and water. However, because of economic growth, which happens in parallel, the demand for energy and water increases faster than the population.1 This phenomenon occurs because economically affluent populations tend to consume more energy and water per person than poorer populations.

Problem Statement:
Describe the nature of exponential growth in human populations. 

Project Deliverables:
Students should use technology to research global historical estimates and population records. They should then create a mathematical model based on the data. Many population curves exist online, but students should not copy and paste them for the purpose of this assignment. 
After creating their models, students should compare them with the widely accepted population curves to see how well they have modeled historical population trends. Historical data will not allow for the creation of predictions of the future, but many of the population curves will contain future predictions based on possible trajectories for population growth.


Exponential population growth can be represented using a simple J curve, but reality is more complex and limited, and could be represented using an S curve.

The United Nations Population Division produces official United Nations population estimates and projections. 

The United States Census Bureau has collated many different resources into a comprehensive historical estimate of world population. 

The attached table is composed of the summary values of Historical Estimates of World Population from the United States Census Bureau. The spreadsheet program automatically generated the scatterplot, which was then adapted to a logarithmic scale in order to better show the trend. Since 1900, there is a slight downturn in the rate of population growth. The exponential trendline superimposed over the scatterplot resembles the sigmoidal curve above. 
Population Growth GraphDownload
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