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. Lara Gourdman

    One-child policy in the US!

    October 26, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jean

      You are right on, Lara.

      November 1, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
  2. outawork

    Which two countries are the cause of this? India and China. China tried to fix their problem, but it backfired and several ways. India is doing nothing but breeding like rabbits.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • pastmorm

      Oh please! I can't go to a single restaurant in America without seeing at least one freakish family of 5 or more hogging the establishment! Don't blame other countries when the problem is right here in this greedy, selfish country!

      October 26, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Toast

      in the US, blame the Mormons. it's bad and only getting worse. total disregard for their impact on resources. sickens me

      October 26, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeopardy

      You got that right, both countries need to implement some serious family planning programs.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • D261

      You can blame the Catholic Church high on this list.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • knowtheworld

      For your information the current child bearing generation in India at the most have two children. Even 3 is becoming a rarity. Most of the couples are stopping with two children though they have both girls even in a culture where boys are preferred. (Of course there are isolated pockets that defy the norm of gender preference). India has been promoting family planning programs for atleast 2 decades in democratic terms and people have taken to it.

      Please worry about the dramatic increase of Mexican immigrant family size in the united states. US seriously need to start working on democratic family planning to groups that are seeing rapid population increases that would tilt the quality of life index statistics for this country.

      October 26, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • dox

      Really? The USA? With maybe 5% of the total world population?

      October 26, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • aksdad

      I'm gonna just keep saying it until it sinks in. Here are the facts: Populations in developed countries are already declining. Only populations in underdeveloped countries continue to grow. As they become wealthy too, sometime mid-century, their populations will decline too. The U.S. population is barely growing, mostly due to immigration, as our birthrate is hovering at "replacement level" and has been declining for decades. The generally-accepted prediction is that world population will peak sometime in the next hundred years (it's already slowing) and decline.

      October 26, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • dox

      ... And how many people will there be on earth when we finally level off? Way too many? And what will be the "mix" of ethnicities at that time?

      October 26, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sara Bean

    Maybe the US should have a one-child policy like China...or two child for now and we'll see how it goes.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Andrew

      Why when the discussion of population problems comes up the US or 'The West' is always somehow to blame?? Currently the US population is only expanding by virtue of immigration(legal) and not by birth rate. Italy is actually declining population and other European countries are close to points of decline.

      The regions that are responsible for the population increases are India, Africa and the mid-east. In Saudi Arabia alone there is an average of 6 live births per woman.

      Before you start calling for mandatory sterilization of Americans, consider this, is a child in Liberia more likely to get a Phd in microbiology than a child born in the US?

      October 26, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scophi

      @Sara_Bean-

      The US isn't the problem. Nor is most of Northern America or Europe. Our birthrates are actually quite low (around 2 – which is below the world average of 2.5). Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are the main culprits, with birthrates upwards of 6-7.

      @Miranda-
      Isreal's birthrate is only 3...higher than US, but not high by global standards, only slightly above average.

      @inaspin-
      Mexico's birthrate is only slightly above the US (2.09 vs 2.05), still well below global average. However, you are correct about Somalia. They are up at 6.35, the fifth highest in the world.

      In case anyone is interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_and_dependent_territories_by_fertility_rate

      October 26, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • zipvip

      On this one, US and the west is not the problem, although it is everyone's favorute past time to blame everything on US. I am Indian, from India, and frankly my brothers and sisters need to stop breeding like rabbits and Mormons in US. I think the arranged marriges and joint families are some of the reasons for this. First one does not allow the evolutionary struggle to find your mate and the second one takes away the responsibility to bringing up the child so my folks just breed on on on, without having to worry much about raising their kids.

      October 27, 2011 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
  4. CWil

    People wont be complaining about how many people are on earth and in thier countries in 20-50 years. all evidence shows that the population will actually start to decline and already is in most developed countries.... Just a thought

    October 26, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ed

      Don't confuse rate of growth with total population. The US hit the 300 million mark not too long ago..we're still growing, just not as fast as we were in the past.

      October 26, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul C

      No need to worry; nature has a way of taking care of things it's called extention!

      Chear up watch "Earth 2100" produced by ABC News!

      October 26, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • dox

      ... And how many people will there be on earth when we finally level off? Way too many? And what will be the "mix" of ethnicities at that time?

      October 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  5. MAKO 10

    This is sad birth or death among us as people that should not be celebrated by anyone, other then the babies family or person that didn't die. That all said, how do we know who the 7 billionth person is? Moreover, this is just a sad fact for the world, world hunger is bad enough without families having 5 or more kids, when they can't afford 2!

    October 26, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. 2012 4 realz?

    We keep fighting against all of nature's tools to keep our population in check, diseases, infertility, birth defects. It's great for our loved ones in the short term, but long term it will overwhelm the planet.

    Seems like everyone is revolting for one thing or another now-a-days, and a lot of the world governments are going bankrupt quicker than anyone thought (which leads to high tensions, possibly even another world war?).

    I hate to say it but the nut jobs may be on to something about 2012 and the end of the world as we know it. I don't see us making it to 10 billion+, something major feels like it is coming over the next decade that will cause major loss of life. Some superbug from nature or we kill ourselves because of money, power and greed...

    October 26, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ralph Siegler

      Analysis shows the world's population will peak at about 8.5 billion in 2075 or so, so no worries.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Donna

      I totally agree with you.

      October 27, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Tarik Hisir

    The world population at the end of October 2011 will hit the 7 billion mark.So...How big is the number 7 billion?
    ...If 7 billion people were to line up back to back along the equator They would have Covered the equator 70 times.

    I also wonder... How many people lived since the beginning of the human race? If you know can you let me know?
    Thanks

    http://www.copperreflections.com/

    October 26, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • basketcase

      7 billion people can't line up back to back. You'll run out of backs after 2 people.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • JT

      That's something I've wondered as well Tarik. I always like to walk in the woods and wonder how man people have set foot on the same seemingly virgin soil. I'm sure somewhere there's a rock that's never been touched by humans but it probably isn't anywhere near me.

      October 26, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fred92822

      Lining people up back to back would not go around the Equator 70 times. I've read in National Geographic that all 7 billion would fit in the state of Rhode Island if each person had a few feet of room from someone else. There's no way that the distance/area of 70 times around the equator equals that of the area of Rhode Island.

      October 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Nick!

    I agree to Joe! I felt the same way who care about 7 to 10 billion peoples, One day the sun will burn out and the earth will be no more, and this life we live is all about "TALKING NO COMMON SENSE" Everyone want to be rich and better than anybody's else and careless, nor to other and a cold-heart and everybody's think they own the planet on thier own soil LOL LOL LOL LOL not gonna happen and as long they got money to fill up thier belly and goes to bathroom and when time come we be gone and once these day something gonna hit the planet real good we all be gone and the world will be ending sooner!

    October 26, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • jeff

      good grammar, I almost understood what you were trying to say

      October 26, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. pastmorm

    Mandatory sterilization for every other man and woman. I'm sick of the selfish breeders that think they need more than two children per family. Catholics and Mormons need to have some tubes tied once and for all...among many others.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Thizz

      Do you have any reasoning behind that? If the family wants 5 children let them. Does it really affect your life, that some people have 5+ kids?

      October 26, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • EThan

      please start with yourself

      October 26, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Devi

    To have kids in the current state the world is in is selfishness, irresponsibility, or ignorance on behalf of the parents.
    Schools are over-crowded, parent(s) are too busy working or playing with their cell phones & tablets to give their offspring the attention they need. They end up throwing computers, video games, and money at them hoping they won't cause them grief after a stressful day at work. Then they wonder why the kid's got issues.
    Amirite? I won't even go into the environmental aspect.
    Here's a dose of planned parenthood. No glove, no love for the good of the earth and humanity. Real simple.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • bill

      You should want me to breed because my wife and I have above average intelligence. We produced 1 child that has above average intelligence. I pay my fair share of taxes to support her education.

      The problem is the wrong people are not having children or limiting their offspring. We should want the smartest and brightest to procreate not the dumbest. Unfortunately, the dumbest in society are populating more dumb people into society.

      October 26, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dill

    uggh, people stop breeding!!! The only thing worse than having a lot of children is having a lot of children at the taxpayers expense which more and more people are doing as jobs are becoming more scarce.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. jeff

    If we lived forever: if 2000 years ago two people had 5 kids, and every 50 years those offspring had 5 kids, today that would add up to 5 to the power of 40. And get this that is @ 37 with 26 zeros!

    October 26, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • What is your point?

      What in the world is your point? The global average is not close to 5 children per woman. Also, your numbers assume that no one has died in the last 2000 years, which is rediculous.

      October 26, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jim

    We go through this problem every few years. We preach to those who can read, write, and hold jobs, while the problem is elsewhere. The fact is that this desire to control the world is founded in racist colonialism. So until you can get the poor nations to stop birthing so many babies, please stop lecturing me.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. basketcase

    Yeah, lets blame everything on the Jews. I'm sure that hasn't been done before by any sick perverted group of individuals.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • GrimWolf

      Lies. Damned Lies. And statistics.

      The globalist agenda presses on. Can we stop these evil suckers?

      October 26, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike P

      7 Billion is nothing to celebrate. It means more children are starving and dying. Jimmie Carter will make sure they are vaccinated so they are healthy when they die. Poor, uneducated people continue to reproduce, as that is all they know. How sad. Earth can only take so much of mankind, it is about to break.

      October 26, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guinn

      It's not just the uneducated people that are procreating beyond what they really need. Even educated are having more than two – three children. Not only does it leave a footprint, you also get families with 5 or 6 kids, and rarely do those families give all 6 children the attention they may need. Why is 3 kids not enough for people?

      October 26, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      1970s called. They want their unfounded panic about overpopulation back. Seriously. That kind of worry about the earth falling apart because of overpopulation hasn't been talked about by demographers for at least 30 years.

      October 26, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      I really hate it when people try to use population growth in the developing world as an excuse to blame these countries for their own poverty. I shouldn't be surprised however. People do the same thing in the United States to poor people. Panic about overpopulation hasn't been a serious worry since it was debunked in the 1980s. But I suppose, without overpopulation to blame, we in the developed countries might be obliged to try to improve the quality of life for those in the less developed countries. And we certainly wouldn't want that, would we?

      October 26, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Weck nation

      This is why you have banks to control humans.

      October 26, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • JFWilder

      Lies? Statistics? Well..statistics, yes...likes....7Billion sounds about right to me...and getting worse every day. People breeding like rabbits, idiots banning birth control options, and people in general living longer. No lies there.

      October 26, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Knucklehead

      Not without violence...

      October 26, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Slad Van Handbock

      WAKE UP PEOPLE. population control 101. Don't let them guilt you into thinking we shouldn't be making babies. If we want our economy back on track we need to increase that birth rate, there are too many damn old people in this country.

      October 27, 2011 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
    • LetsGetReal

      Let's stop paranoid idiots first.

      October 27, 2011 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • j

      and Bush

      October 26, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bills Cat

      Nah, too simple - people blamed the Jews for everything from the plague to the last solar eclipse. Lets blame the Republicans.

      October 29, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ThatGuy

    verse 1)
    I want to be the very best,
    Like no one ever was.
    To catch them is my real test,
    To train them is my cause.

    I will travel across the land,
    Searching far and wide.
    Each Pokemon to understand
    The power that's inside

    (Gotta catch 'em all)

    It's you and me
    I know it's my destiny

    Pokemon!

    You're my best friend
    In a world we must defend
    Pokemon

    (Gotta catch 'em all)

    A heart so true
    Our courage will pull us through
    You teach me and I'll teach you
    Pokemon

    (Gotta catch 'em all)

    yeah

    (verse 2)
    every challenge along the way
    with courage i will face
    i will battle everyday
    to claim my rightful place

    come with me the time is right
    theres no better team
    arm and arm well win the fight
    its always been our dream

    Pokemon

    Chorus
    (Gotta catach 'em all)

    its you and me
    i know its my destiny

    Pokemon

    Oh, your my best friend
    in a world we must defend

    Pokemon!

    A heart so true
    our courage will pull us through
    you teach me and ill teach you
    Pokemon

    (Gatta catach 'em all)x4

    Yeah!

    Pokemon!

    October 26, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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