The buzz behind 7 billion people: A milestone and a warning
October 26th, 2011
12:46 PM ET

The buzz behind 7 billion people: A milestone and a warning

Trying to assess the importance of the United Nations' upcoming celebration of the global population reaching 7 billion is sort of like trying to assess the meaning of life.

As the countdown clock to the date keeps ticking, and people keep buzzing about the number, many are trying to figure out the real importance of hitting that marker.

The Wall Street Journal proposed the question: "How Do You Get to 7 Billion People?" The article raised the question: Exactly how do you know that we are reaching this symbolic number on a date set by the United Nations, given that some countries don't have full census data?

"The world's population will hit seven billion on Oct. 31. Or maybe not until next year. Or maybe it has already happened.

"No one knows for sure. But that hasn't stopped the United Nations from picking the last day of the month as the symbolic date, christening it as 7 Billion Day."

Perhaps the occasion will allow us to realize that we need to pay more attention to better tracking our growth and impact - our literal footprint on Earth. For some, there will be the typical celebrations: a baby wrapped in a blanket declared the 7 billionth person to enter this world as hospitals debate which baby was actually the one that hit the marker, similar to what has happened with milestones in the past.  (If you're curious where you fall in the mix, Population Action International has a handy "What's your number?" interactive based on your birth date.)

But it seems like this time around, if social media and traditional media are any indication, this milestone is about a little more than just balloons and fanfare. The Wall Street Journal wrote:

"While seven billion is a nice round number, knowing the identity of the lucky baby or the exact moment the threshold is crossed isn't really any more important than pulling over to the side of the road to bask in your car's 100,000th mile. But the building blocks for world population estimates — national demographic statistics and characteristics — are used by governments, businesses and aid groups to plan spending and spot potential trouble spots."

In a growing and ever-changing economic and technological world, this may be the time to look at where we've been, what we're going through now and what challenges lie ahead for such a massive population.

iReport: What does 7 billion look like

And with movements like Occupy Wall Street spreading across the globe to share growing discontent about government institutions' ability to deal with our problems and growing debt, the 7 billion mark poses questions about whether those concerns will be passed on to future generations.

"The milestone of 7 billion is marked by achievements, setbacks and paradoxes," a United Nations Population Fund report begins. (Read the report in PDF form)

The U.N. says it believes the world can thrive as it reaches the milestone, but the report also looks at the ways that countries are growing and changing, as well as how they can tackle critical challenges and prepare for the arrival of billions more people this century. Those challenges include empowering young people with economic opportunities; planning for the growth of cities; developing programs to share and sustain the Earth's resources; and improving education, including sexual education.

The U.N. has teamed up with the company SAP to help make those decisions easier by creating a widget on the site 7billionactions.org that allows you to assess the world's population by age, socioeconomic status and education levels, and to compare trends from country to country. The goal is to help governments assess their needs for the future.

After all, with more people comes the need for more resources.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, the director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, writing for CNN, says the occasion marks a huge task for us.

"The arrival of the 7 billionth person is cause for profound global concern. It carries a challenge: What will it take to maintain a planet in which each person has a chance for a full, productive and prosperous life, and in which the planet's resources are sustained for future generations?

"How, in short, can we enjoy 'sustainable development' on a very crowded planet?"

That crowded planet may cause some global issues. Those include the health concerns caused by the waste that 7 billion people create, according to a LiveScience report on MSNBC.com.

MSNBC's photo blog takes a visual look at the effect that we have on the world each day and how we tax the environment: through deforestation, pollution from developing countries and traffic jams, as well as the struggle to cultivate all of the food and crops necessary to feed our growing population. That imprint will only grow as more of us inhabit the planet, the accompanying article says.

And Roger Martin's article in the UK's Guardian newspaper says the growing population could cost us the planet we live on in the way we now know it.

"Every additional person needs food, water and energy, and produces more waste and pollution, so ratchets up our total impact on the planet, and ratchets down everyone else's share – the rich far more than the poor. By definition, total impact and consumption are worked out by measuring the average per person multiplied by the number of people. Thus all environmental (and many economic and social) problems are easier to solve with fewer people, and ultimately impossible with ever more."

"On a finite planet, the optimum population providing the best quality of life for all, is clearly much smaller than the maximum, permitting bare survival. The more we are, the less for each; fewer people mean better lives.

TV One in New Zealand took a look at the meaning of the number, but from the perspective of the tax burden it may bring on a growing population of aging people.

"Richard Bedford, an expert on population changes from Waikato University, told TV ONE's Breakfast, that young taxpayers' ability to cope is 'the big $64,000 question.'

"By 2030, more than a third of the population in a number of Western countries will be aged over 65."

For some, the projection has come with gloom and doom and questions of "are we prepared?" for the population growth ahead.

A National Geographic cover story from January, titled "Population 7 Billion," examined the history behind the global moment and fascination with how well and how long our civilization can continue to coexist with our surroundings.

"For centuries population pessimists have hurled apocalyptic warnings at the congenital optimists, who believe in their bones that humanity will find ways to cope and even improve its lot. History, on the whole, has so far favored the optimists, but history is no certain guide to the future. Neither is science," Robert Kunzig wrote. "It cannot predict the outcome of People v. Planet, because all the facts of the case — how many of us there will be and how we will live — depend on choices we have yet to make and ideas we have yet to have."

soundoff (778 Responses)
  1. s kel

    Give CHAIRMAN A EBOLI SMEARED SUIT TO WEAR!!!

    October 26, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Anonymous

    Why would anyone want to celebrate the extortion of the planet we're killing? We've already exceeded the maximum number of people this planet can support, and it's barely able to cope with all that we've done to it.

    October 26, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. s kel

    Save our planet....... Kill the Chariman?

    October 26, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Chuck

    Eugenics mongers rejoice. Party at Ted's house. Only 3 billion invited and only 2 of his 5 kids.

    October 26, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. gung hoe

    Have any of you people ever seen when you put 5 rats to live in a box and they live just fine well after some time them 5 have reproduced to 100 and fighting begins then 500 and diseases.Well them rats are the same as humans

    October 26, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Tommie T

    The USA needs to Open Borders asap. We are a rich country. This is our Land. But it is the World's Land too. Since we stole it from the Indians and from Mexico. Hundreds upon hundreds of millions of New Americans will then have the courtesy of living in the Land of the Free. Including free dental care along with their free medical care. Plus, since we are a multi-cultural country they can bring their laws and other social customs too.

    October 26, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • No bama

      Found another uniformed liberal american. Your the ones killing america. Land of the free doesn't mean getting free handouts it means working hard in life and succeding.

      October 26, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • pastmorm

      hey "no bama" learn how to spell...your is you're. Your bad spelling shows what an idiot you are.

      October 26, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. John Kons

    Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Russia and US needs to open up borders for others.

    October 26, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Think

    Yawn.....In 1968, we were told in the Population Bomb that 4 billion was going to be the end of the world...

    October 26, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Turtleguy

      So how many is too many? Ask the father in Rwanda trying to feed his wife and five kids off a half-acre or less, and see if he thinks things are getting too crowded. "Oh", you say, "he's a dope for having too many kids". Look around yourself. Anyone who has more than two unadopted kids has too many.

      October 26, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Robot

    Danger Mr. Robinson, Danger!!! the population is reaching levels far above human understanding. We must reset, reset, push the reset button!!!! exterminate the species to a proper level. Danger Mr. Robinson, Danger!!!!

    October 26, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Chaiah

    It's time for Mother Earth to break out in a good old fashioned plague.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. SurRy

    China has it right – one child. Too many people on the planet. Children are a big drain on society with a lousy ROI. Little Junior isn't going to grow up to cure cancer.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pest

      One is one too many.

      October 26, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nasus

      You're certainly right about that. I say let's have every country adopt the one child policy.

      October 26, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • OneOfTheSheep

      Run for office! You've got my vote!

      October 27, 2011 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
    • WOW

      Your an idiot, a true idiot

      October 27, 2011 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
    • ayala88

      True the 1-child policy does help limit the population. BUT, it unfortunately leads to infanticide, where countless baby girls are aborted or left to die soon after birth, by families who want a son.

      I say that the government offer subsidized costs for tubal ligations/vasectomies and tax cuts (or some other form of persuasion) for those who undergo the procedure after X-number of children. :D

      FYI, at the moment, Europe has a very low birth rate, where they are not even making replacement rate. Developing countries have the opposite problem though– too many babies, not enough food, water, or money.

      October 27, 2011 at 1:11 am | Report abuse |
  12. Goy

    Thanks a lot you braindead Christian missionaries. More Africans is just what the world needs.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Combat88

      You got that right. Liberalism is a mental disease just like Judaism and Christinsanity. Fortunately, when the crunch comes, these people won't be able to feed themselves and in a few weeks they'll disappear. Parasites need a host. The white man won't be feeding them anymore. Let's start today by not co operating with our treasonous Western governments any longer.

      October 26, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • roger

      One can recall a mother fleeing an african country to a refugee camp outside of Kenya. She lost four of her kids along the way and only 2 survived the trek. It is not uncommon for such women there to have as many as 10 -12 kids when they can't feed even one. That is also happening here in the USA but on a smaller scale. Nature will take care of it ir wars don't.

      October 26, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pest

      Nature won't take its course if we send them aid. We shouldn't be in the business of fighting natural selection.

      October 26, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr.K.

      Okay, Pest, if you want to stop "fighting natural selection" (which is actually a non-sequitur if you actually understand natural selection), then how about leading the way. Stop using glasses or contacts, quit taking your blood pressure, cholesterol, antibiotics, or any other medications...stop wearing clothes for that matter (you should be able to survive exposure rather than being coddled with all that unnatural insulation), and of course steadfastly refuse any help from any family, friend, or neighbor...anyway, I hope you get my point.

      Cooperative behavior is probably one of the essential adaptations that makes humans so successful. How about not fighting it.

      October 27, 2011 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
  13. ThinkLessDoMore

    Georgia Guide Stones <-- look them up

    October 26, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. vivian

    Despite these numbers, amazingly, Republicans still think the world is NOT over populated. (Based on comments on WSJ from previous articles on the topic)

    October 26, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Robert

      So what a couple of people said on an article on CNN speaks for the entire Republican party? Shut up stupid.

      October 26, 2011 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • vivian

      Not a couple of people on CNN. Hundreds of comments all agreeing on WSJ. Small sample size, but still a random sample from across the country! You shut up stupid.

      October 26, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • E.

      Have you ever been to Wyoming?

      October 26, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • vivian

      E – Just because Wyoming has no one in it, that proves the WORLD is not over populated??? Interesting "logic".

      October 26, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pest

      There are plenty of people of all political parties crapping out babies. You are a partisan hack.

      October 26, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • vivian

      Pest – You said "There are plenty of people of all political parties crapping out babies." Did I say anything about one party having more kids than the other? NO. This is off topic. I was talking about being misinformed about the problem of over population.

      October 26, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Moms-care

      @ vivian – I assume you're a Democrat since you appear unable to accept antone else's opinion! Don't worry, you've got plenty of extra space in America According to your president you've got 57 States. You can put your excess population in the empty states you didn't know you had!!!!!!

      October 27, 2011 at 12:19 am | Report abuse |
  15. Andrez

    It's as simple as this: if we don't create/find a new reliable and clean source of energy that can replace the exact forms of energy that we use today that destroy our environment then humanity is destined to extinction in the possible near future. Another option would be to find and populate some other life-supporting planet that of course is yet to be discovered. These are basically the only options we have left to help our future generations and humanity alike. No one will die in favor of decreasing our population because life IS as dear to anyone else as it is to you.

    October 26, 2011 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pest

      Any incremental gain in efficiency will be quickly negated by uncontrolled population growth. We are the problem, and the earth will solve it eventually.

      October 26, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • engimaticb

      There is probably enough clean energy(hydro, solar, and wind) to support 500,000 million. Soon, the NWO will depopulate the world. look up "Georgia guide stones"

      October 26, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
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