Intended for healthcare professionals


People and planet: from vicious cycle to virtuous circle

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 31 May 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3774
  1. David Pencheon, director
  1. 1NHS Sustainable Development Unit, Cambridge CB21 5XB, UK
  1. david.pencheon{at}

Overpopulation, poverty, and environmental degradation share common solutions

An expanding population with increasing per capita consumption levels presents a perfect storm for human health and wellbeing. The Royal Society’s recent report People and Planet1 summarises the effects that population size, human consumption, and poverty are having on the global systems that support life and make life worth living. The purpose of the report is to stimulate constructive debate and collaborative action while there is still time.

The world’s population reached 7 billion in 2011. Developing countries will be building the equivalent of a city of a million people every five days from now until 2050.1 The impact of a growing population is determined by a combination of its size, its structure, its movement, and its behaviour. The global population is bigger, more urban, and consumes more—especially of natural non-renewable resources—than ever before. The waste from this consumption is equally threatening; although we know much about the burning of fossil fuel—“the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”2—we know little about the health effects of the countless new chemicals we synthesise.

The Royal …

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