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. nasher ben faxas

    If we would become one we ll be able to survive til the SUN run out fuel

    October 26, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • New Rocks Sought

      If we become a space-faring race, we can survive the death of the sun too. As Hawking notes, that is the only long-term suvival plan.

      October 26, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Logic

    INDIA,CHINA,PAKISTAN>BANGLADESH ACCOUNT FOR 3 BILLION. STOP THIS MADDNESS.STOP BREEDING.

    SPECIALLY INDIA AND PAKISTAN NEED 1 CHILD POLICY.

    October 26, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pdiddy

      they have 3 billion people and yet consume less resources than the 300 million who live here. so who's the problem?

      October 26, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • jimbo

      Pdiddy – you are correct. The majority here in the USA hate to look in the mirror. Those 3 billion likely want everything America has enjoyed for the last 50 years and they have every right to those luxuries but nature may just cut the party short.

      October 26, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. popcorn

    Can anyone explain why WHITE PEOPLE CAN'T HAVE MORE AND MORE KIDS? Why not?!?!

    October 26, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ajgorm

    Even if we solve our problems here it does not matter. Third world countries will go through what we have and destroy the environment even further. It is just a matter of time.

    October 26, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. allenwoll

    ANOTHER FRAUD : Seven billion is nowhere even near the ultimate human population carrying capacity of the earth wiuth a good standard of living for ALL. . It only appears that way because our politicians, business people and ourselves are stupid and UN-imaginative - and even worse - inexcusably greedy for money and power for themselves. . The old industrial and commercial methods lead only toward ruin - We have most of us failed to read and understand the industrial and commercial history of the past 250 years or so. . Best you all get busy and sweep those cobwebs out of your heads. . Our brains are intended for a higher use than filling the yawning cavity inside our skulls ! ! ! . Go THINK on that history ! ! !

    October 26, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • ajgorm

      Exponentially speking the more people their are the faster the population grows till we consume itself. Our population will be at 8 billion in 9 years 10 billion in fifteen. We have grown by 1.5 billion people in twelve years . Do the MATH !

      October 26, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. popcorn

    GENERATION-X'R blame UNMARRIED BABYBOOMERS for stealing young women.

    October 26, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. NudeTruth

    As the 21st century began, human evolution was at a turning point. Natural selection, the process by which the strongest, the smartest, the fastest, reproduced in greater numbers than the rest, a process which had once favored the noblest traits of man, now began to favor different traits.

    Most science fiction of the day predicted a future that was more civilized and more intelligent. But as time went on, things seemed to be heading in the opposite direction. A dumbing down.

    How did this happen? Evolution does not necessarily reward intelligence. With no natural predators to thin the herd, it began to simply reward those who reproduced the most, and left the intelligent to become an endangered species.

    October 26, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Cherly

    To: inaspin, basketcase, JP and any other dumn ass, closed minded people:

    Wow! Really? Mexican, Jews and Somalis are the "ONLY" people that reproduce like bunnies? LMAO! Well I got news for ya haters, what are you going to say or do when ALL THESE "Mexican, Jews and Somalis" become the majority of the world's population? All I'm saying is choose your words carefully you illiterate, ignorante, narcissist people.

    Yes, I am Hispanic (LATIN AMERICAN) Puerto rican & Colombian, born and raised in the U.S. I have a Master degree; I work and pay may taxes just like evey other AMERICAN! n for those who say we have to leave? FYI: Do some reasearch before you point fingers bc don't forget this has been a COUNTRY OF IMMIGRANTS since the begining!!!!! So now let me ask you, where did you come from? lol! & No, I have no kids and I am 26, so I guess we dont reproduce like "bunnies" after all, huh? With that said, I rest my case and your asses have been SERVED! (freedom of speech)

    Have a nice day everyone. (:

    October 26, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • elementary teacher

      From observation, I've seen young 18 year old illegal mothers with 4 children outside my classroom door. The 3rd and 4th grader standing by their mother, one big baby in a stroller, one infant in her arms, all of them waiting for their sister to get her backpack. Five is the magic number for the best exploitation of benefits, from the California educational system. It is also a financial burden upon California as to health care. I am retired now. I don't have to be politically correct anymore. Wake up California and balance your checkbook. You and I have to each month. I am not a racist, just a realist.

      October 26, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Hashim

    For more on this read novel – king of Bat'ha

    October 26, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ajgorm

    Reality would have it that one race will inherit the earth. Genocide is not the answer !

    October 26, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Myles

      never fear. the earth will solve this problem for us.

      October 26, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ajgorm

    If Hitler would have conquered earth then what ...

    October 26, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. snowdogg

    "The United Nations' upcoming celebration" ??? Are you kidding ? This is bad news, not good !!!

    October 26, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. The Dude

    Ha, the libs on here say make a law to limit people to one or two children... heres another suggestion, quit rewarding people by give them government handouts (WIC, Foodstamps, Welfare) you know that stuff you lazy libs are protesting for, when they have more children!!!

    October 26, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. NudeTruth

    The years passed, mankind became stupider at a frightening rate. Some had high hopes the genetic engineering would correct this trend in evolution, but sadly the greatest minds and resources where focused on conquering hair loss and prolonging erections.

    October 26, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Weck nation

    Whites don't want to marry overpopulated hispanic women. This is huge discrimination. They brought DORA the explorer. illegal mexican to do farm work. They pay taxes. Why not accepting and not marry latina?

    Why do whites don't want to marry latina females? Why? Illegal immigrants?

    October 26, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
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