Sloppy journalism time

Oh dear. From today’s Observer (for non-Brits, that’s the Sunday edition of the Guardian):

The United Nations will warn this week that the world’s population could more than double to 15 billion by the end of this century, putting a catastrophic strain on the planet’s resources unless urgent action is taken to curb growth rates, the Observer can reveal.

That figure is likely to shock many experts as it is far higher than many current estimates. A previous UN estimate had expected the world to have more than 10 billion people by 2100; currently, there are nearly 7 billion.

Yeah, yeah. Actually, the forthcoming UNFPA State of World Population report that’s cited in the article simply uses the 2010 revision of the main UN population database (which you can find here). The 2100 figure of 15bn (actually, 16 bn if you did maths GCSE and know how to round 15.8bn to the nearest billion) is the top end estimate.

The medium variant? You guessed it, 10 billion: in other words, the “previous UN estimate” referred to in the Guardian piece. Nothing that a 5 minute fact check wouldn’t immediately have revealed, but hey, let’s not let details get in the way of a good headline.

Always amazes me that a paper with such outstanding foreign affairs coverage is so bad on environment – John Vidal’s dreadful Copenhagen reporting being the example par excellence.