On Monday, the world welcomed its 7 billionth person. The implications of population growth are similarly staggering in number, but here are five of the more important things to know about the growing world community.
There might not be 7 billion of us. Yet.
The October 31st date was chosen by the United Nations Population Fund, and it’s somewhat symbolic. "There is a window of uncertainty of at least six months before and six months after the 31 October date for the world population to reach seven billion," UN population estimates chief Gerhard Heilig told the BBC. However, the crux of the matter—the ever-increasing world population and the problems that come with it—stands.
Human being No. 7,000,000,000 is probably poor—and it's likely the parents didn't plan the pregnancy.
The developing world acted as the engine for most of the last decade's population growth. It’s home to the world’s seven fastest-growing cities, according to Foreign Policy. As such, it’s attracting the attention of policymakers and crystal-ball-gazers alike. Many, like the Worldwatch Institute’s Robert Engelman, propose extending access to contraceptives and encouraging smaller family size to curb population-related problems, though a recent Economist article says that this would only have a modest effect in the face of scarce world resources.
Sure, resource scarcity is a problem, but maybe it doesn’t have to be.
Not all commentators are equally pessimistic about continuing population growth. Some of the most basic problems, like access to food and water, might really be problems of efficiency rather than scarcity. Global Envision contributor Ben Osborn recently wrote about a study by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research that showed that given proper integration and storage of water resources, no one would have to go thirsty. On the food front, a scientific study published in Nature showed that proper agricultural reforms “could increase global food availability by 100–180%,” more than enough to meet the needs of our growing population.
The antidote to population could be migration.
Ensuring good quality of life for the earth’s inhabitants goes beyond just food and water. The UN’s State of the World Population 2011 report identifies migration as a trend that can be used to help aid in economic development. Wealthy countries with declining fertility rates could provide job opportunities for workers disenfranchised in their overpopulated home countries. At the same time, migration is a hot-button issue for developed nations that may not be so keen to open their borders. The report also cites increased access to education as a key factor in reducing population growth and providing better opportunities for youth in developing nations.
Maybe we should all just learn to stop worrying and love the population bomb.
Many fear rapid population growth in a world with limited resources, but given the proper policies it might not have to be so scary. Since there’s no “undo” button for world population, perhaps the best question to ask in light of the 7 billion marker is “How can we make the best of it?”
Want to know where you fit into the 7 billion? Check out The BBC’s “What’s Your Number” tool.
Margo Conner is a senior at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, majoring in international affairs. Read her other contributions to Global Envision.