Recently, I read a prediction that by 2060 we will be consuming, on average, 80% more of everything than we are today. It was a major oil company making the prediction, but they aren’t the only ones forecasting massive increases in consumption over the next few decades.

Since the “bubble burst” in ’07-‘08 we have endured an entire financial dictionary of expert language about “slowdowns”, “recessions”, “corrections” and “recoveries”, all referring to this painful world wide economic event as little more than a speed bump on the road to endless growth. Indeed, governments were so wrapped in confidence about our eventual return to prosperity they adopted an ongoing protective policy called “quantitative easing”, QE for short, which was, in effect, printing money and using it to purchase debt from industries that needed help. Their debt then became our debt until they recover sufficiently (we hope) to begin buying it back. The program is finished but the pundits are still debating its worth.

At the same time statistics record that, on an individual level, most of us are increasing our personal debt to take advantage of “Historically Low!” interest rates and ‘’Fantastic Deals!” in consumer goods, with ads that suggest we would be fools not to participate in these “Bargains of the Century!” As both taxpayers and committed consumers we, therefore, face the double whammy of knowing that debt is being stockpiled on our behalf, from government, while we fight a battle with mounting personal debt - but not to worry, it’s the cheapest debt we will ever see in our lifetimes.

Spending creates growth by providing profits to industry and taxes to government, so leaders in both encourage this activity. Unfortunately, there appears to be limits on the prosperity either governments or individuals can purchase with debt so, in spite of our efforts, the slower growth continues while we remain patient – waiting for some unknown, but supposedly inevitable, circumstance to “jumpstart” our economy.

I understand how easy it is to be positive about the long-term outlook. Technology has brought truly unbelievable changes in a very short period of time, and there is so much more promised that imaginations are provided with few boundaries in its anticipation. We grow more food now on less land than ever in history, we can communicate from anywhere to anywhere – even tweet astronauts on a space station – and we are capable of building stronger, more complex, and more reliable goods, at prices that weren’t even conceived of in past generations. We have grown to believe that our form of creative and innovative technology will remain a permanent part of our future, capable of supplying an ever-growing marketplace with new and exciting products, all of which require manufacture, distribution, and sales infrastructure. How can we fail to continue expanding? How can human society not move forward in a never-ending linear pattern of wealth creation toward… toward whatever it is we are imagining?

Well, the flaw in that expectation rests within a surprisingly underreported event out there on the horizon. One that is forecast to impact every person on this planet, quite possibly, within the lifetimes of children now attending school.

According to the World Bank, which is not particularly prone to sensationalism, our human population is expected to peak at around ten billion individuals sometime in the second half of this century. Their figures show that at the beginning of this century our population was adding just over ninety million individuals per year, yet, in anywhere from fifty to eighty years, we are expected to hit “zero” human population growth.

Just give that a moment to sink in. Ninety million more people on this planet per year, every year and, within the lifetimes of children born today, it all comes to a screeching halt. In reality, it is entirely possible that from then on the world population will actually begin shrinking. It sounds incredible but it is backed up with detailed research and it’s not a new prediction. The World Bank has been forecasting this seminal event for more than a generation. It’s just that few people seem to be listening.

Better education, increased prosperity, and opportunities for women to participate in family planning are what turn the tide. If these three conditions are met families get smaller. Right now 71 countries are producing less than two children per couple and, in general, they are the most prosperous and democratic countries. For instance, Canada produces 1.6 children per couple, Japan 1.2, Germany 1.4, and the United States at 2.0 is still less than the 2.1 minimum. Even India, which was once a favorite example for the population explosion proponents, has gone from 3.4 to 2.7 in the last fifteen years. The worldwide average is now 2.5 children for every couple – down from 4.7 in 1970. Ultimately, we will arrive at 2.1 but that’s just a number. There is no magic in stasis and nothing keeps it from falling further as the world population will probably begin shrinking in the proceeding years.

The World Bank statistics show that our planet’s population reached two billion in 1926, three billion in 1960, four billion in 1974, five billion in 1987, six billion in 1998, and is now well over seven billion. That is an incredible surge in population – and by averaging almost ninety million more people per year for the last two generations a lot of opportunities for economic growth were created. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” as financial analysts are fond of saying. When your marketplace is expanding at a record rate it’s easy to bet on the future. But what happens when we aren’t adding anyone? When the marketplace is shrinking and there are, in fact, less people – as in fewer consumers – than the year before. Do you still believe we will be capable of experiencing the same level of growth?

This isn’t something theoretical or off in the distance; it’s beginning now, and the changes coming will be multi-leveled and far-reaching – some good and some bad. So why is there no discussion? Why do we continue to bet on endless growth and a model that may soon become painfully defunct? The human population “bubble” is now “bursting”, and the consequences include a serious revamping of how we, as a society, determine value, and even what we value. This is a huge event in the history of the world and people alive today will be responsible for dealing with it. So why do our governments ignore this reality and continue committing both our physical, and financial, resources to policies based on never-ending growth?