5 technologies that will help support our 10 billion population in 2050
Written by Medhavi Gupta
By 2050, the world’s population will be around 10 billion people. That is crazy – it’s 3 billion new people in only 30 years. That’s a lot of extra people the planet needs to accommodate in just a few short years.
This increase in population brings forth a whole host of issues – How we are going to feed everyone? How are we going to ensure everyone has safe housing? How do we make sure everyone has decent health care?
Thankfully, there are already a few technologies that scientists are working on to help with the coming population increase.
1. Clean Meat
Clean meat is meat that is lab grown from animal cells. Because it is actually grown from real animal cells, it tastes the same as meat from a dead animal and has all the same nutrients and minerals.
Clean meat has the power to feed our growing population sustainably. The problem with the traditional way of farming animals is that it takes space, time and resources. In the amount of land it takes to farm one meal of meat, you can get up to 100 times more lab meat. You also need much less water. On top of that, almost half of the food we grow is given to livestock, and doesn’t go to feeding humans. Wouldn’t it be better if all that food and space was given to all those extra people?
Right now, lab meat is more expensive than traditional meat, but it’s only a matter of time before the technology becomes cheaper. Lab grown meat is here to save the day.
2. C4 Plants that need less water and grow faster
Scientists are currently trying to turn rice, which over half of the world depends on, into a C4 plant. This will have all sorts of advantages, especially in Asia where it is predominantly eaten. As land available for farming becomes urbanised and climate change makes weather patterns less predictable, a faster growing rice will be invaluable.
Currently, much of the research being done into how to turn common crops into C4 photosynthesisers is happening at the International Rice Research Institute, and is funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. If the scientists are successful, seeds for this rice will be given freely to farmers to grow. If this project is successful, it has the potential to protect billions from starvation.
Let’s leave food behind for the moment and move to health. Let’s face it, the current model of healthcare is unlikely to be able to support an extra 3 billion people – it’s hardly able to support the world population now. In most countries today, patients need to travel to a clinic or hospital when they are unwell, and these facilities need to be equipped with enough resources and space to accommodate them.
Photo by Army Medicine
Telehealth provides a solution. Telehealth is the provision of health care over a phone, video chat or other electronic platform. Patents are able to talk to their doctor and complete basic health tests using their devices from the comfort of their home. This not only saves time and money related to transport and waiting times, it also saves healthcare facilities resources and space. Health professionals will be able to see more patients more efficiently, reserving face-to-face treatment for the most serious cases.
Of course, in order for this to be a reality everywhere, significant improvements in Internet network coverage, 24-hour electricity availability and accessibility to smartphones and tablets is required. This is something that is an issue in many developing countries. People living under the poverty line or in rural areas, especially, don’t have consistent Internet reception and electricity, and often cannot afford devices. The addressing of these challenges will take some time in order for Telehealth to extend its reach everywhere. Furthermore, for Telehealth to really be effective, it needs to be better integrated with current health systems so that it’s accessible and simple to use. Unfortunately, introducing changes to bureaucratic health systems around the world can be a slow and painstaking process.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We are already starting to see its potential. Its use in developed countries has led to significant cost savings.
4. Renewable Energy solutions
In 30 years, there will be another 3 billion people who will all need access to electricity. This means we need much more power generation. It isn’t feasible to use coal for all of this new energy – not only will it make an already bad climate change situation worse, but it requires a lot more land to mine.
So, developments in renewable energy sources are required. One of the most important requirements is the development of affordable power storage batteries. As sunlight, wind and other renewable sources of energy are often variable, it’s essential that we are able to store excess energy for use when there is less wind and sun.
Currently, small and large storage batteries are being trialled and developed around the world. The price of storage is also set to decrease by 75% by 2030. Over time, these storage batteries will become more readily available.
A range of other cool developments are in the making: Germany is trialling offshore ocean-based wind farms to power millions of homes in Germany, scientists are experimenting with ways to build solar panels cheaply with grass clippings, and Sweden is trialling electric roads where trucks connect to wiring above the road to operate. Keep your eyes peeled for these and more exciting new developments!
5. Nature-based solutions for water
There are fears that by 2050, half of the world’s population, or 5 billion people, will be living in areas that suffer from water scarcity. This is due to the lack of infrastructure available to provide continuous, safe drinking water to all these new people, and due to climate change increasing droughts and flooding and therefore making water supplies unstable.
The UN believes that human-made infrastructure will not be able to solve the problem. Instead, they propose ‘Nature-based solutions’, water solutions that use natural processes to treat and store water, rather than using man-made dams and treatment plants. For example, runoff water from a city can be passed over grassy lawns, which naturally filters the water and brings it back to the water table for later use. Another example is the redevelopment of natural wetlands to prevent flooding and store water.
However, this solution has faced criticism, as it may not work in all contexts, especially where there is little space, and may be overall harmful to the environment. Instead, a mix of solutions is probably required, including developing more efficient desalination plants that convert ocean water into drinking water and finding better ways of reusing and recycling water.
The challenges we are facing are many – as a global community, we are about to see some drastic changes to accommodate the extra 3 billion people coming. However, as complex as these problems are, we have the capabilities to solve them. We just need more funding and more political willpower to continue this development work.
This article was originally posted at https://impactinformed.net/# . Impact informed is a fantastic website that provides evidence based articles to the public so that everyday people can better understand how they can make a difference.
Here's a fun video explaining overpopulation: