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 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'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. Cherly

    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)

    October 26, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. tooltard

    sounds like we cured hunger, yay!!

    October 26, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Platypus

    Only people who can raise and educate children should have them. -Ingersoll

    October 26, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Terry

    Most of you younger folks may not know that population studies was a serious course of study in US colleges in the nineteen seventies... The UN initiative on family planning (the US funding of) came in for alot of ridicule mainly from Christian Fundementalists flexing their muscle in the 80s and 90s. China's one child policy for the masses–a desperate extreme measure to be sure–earned them much contempt and dismay among pro-lifers in the US...So here we are, at 7 billion, thanks to conservative, procreative expectations in both the poor societies, as well our inner cities and poor white population....People everywhere should at least consider their suitability for parenthood before giving in to whatever urges/pressures they likely have! This is a serious topic for the entire world.

    October 26, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Burbank

      I saw all this coming and in 1969 at the age of 18 made a conscious decision not to have children. I couldn't do anything about anyone else but I could about myself. I am 60 now and haven't regretted that decision for even 5 minutes. I have watched things become more and more crowded and the quality of life go down accordingly. This last decade has been almost like an explosion since population increase is exponential.

      October 26, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Dude

      I'm no Christan but really the christans are responsible for this??? so then why are largley non christan countries over populated China, India. You would think that Italy would have the worlds largest population by this logic.

      October 26, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. intothemoonbeam

    Vasectomies at the age of 18 should be a requirement.

    October 26, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Burbank

    I don't see why reaching a population of 7 billion is something to celebrate. It's something to be ashamed of! We are breeding out of control and consuming everything in sight like a plague of locusts. Overpopulation is the root cause of every single environmental problem we have on this planet. We are on the brink of total environmental collapes and still people keep breeding like there will be no consequences! WAKE UP PEOPLE! WAKE UP!!!!!!!

    October 26, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Weck nation

    Over populated Hispanic women face marriage discrimination during recession because they can't marry white men. They saw how much whites attack hispanics like Alabama, california,

    Whites think marrying Latina would increase DRUG CARTELS babies.

    October 26, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Burbank

      You are so full of whiney balloney! Just stop!

      October 26, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • pastafarian

      wt f are you even babbling about???

      October 26, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Deneen

    Oh please, stop with the "poor brown people must stop cranking out babies!" One American baby nas a much greater impact on the planet, with all its disposable diapers and plastic kindercrap.

    October 26, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Burbank

      Everyone needs to stop cranking out babies. Period. Stop whining yourself! If disposable diapers were outlawed it would go a long ways to make people think twice about cranking out more and more polluters.

      October 26, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Deneen

      I'm allowed to "whine," Burbank, I'm childfree.

      October 26, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Joe Geneero

    Too many 3rd-world morons cranking out kids then wondering why they're starving to death. We could cut off pretty much most of the Arab, Indian, and Asian countries from popping out kids and be FAR better off. Nuff said.

    October 26, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maude

      Your are the biggest moron this side of Rockies. Kill yourself and we will have 6,999,999,999 Oct 31.

      October 26, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Julius

      Hey retard, India might have the biggest population, but it also has a lot of land. It ranks maybe 33rd or something on the list of countries with the biggest population densities. China ranks 80th.

      Get a clue before revealing to the world what an uneducated moron you are.

      October 26, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      These "third-world morons" have so many children for the sole reason that, in their cultures, the oldest children have the responsibility of taking care of the adults as they grow older. And they know that, because of the lack of food and health care, two or three of the children will die before they reach adulthood. Now, if the rest of the world shared its resources and made sure these people were taken care of, they wouldn't have so many children. Nuff said.

      October 26, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. samto

    World bank/IMF assisted accelerated financial support for mass franchise of technology and increase investment to cover every single region of earth with rule that no nation should produce for another except export of raw materials/extremely scare commodities, also max 3 kids per female reproduction then everything will be fine. Expats should have political and economic right in any nation they chose to work to help restrict capital flight and fight money laundry/crime. Make space exploration a must for every nation with possibility of putting humans in other planet.............The universe is the home of man in eternity so only population can help us subdue the universe because humans remember the greatest and most precious creature in universal existence. Nothing in existence can be compared to the dynamic nature of man and it's high creative ability which is still under utilized. So why complain, we only need a new pragmatic, dynamic and robust master plan to guide man into the future to eternity. Thank u

    October 26, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • OneOfTheSheep


      The clock is ticking as to whether humans devote sufficient priority of current resources to get to the moon and Mars with self-sustaining colonies before our petty bickering or overbreeding turns this big blue marble into a big brown marble.

      When the epitaph of man is written, we will not be remembered for our Einsteins, Newtons, Da Vincis, Brahms or Mother Theresas but for our Caligulas, Hitlers, Saddams, etc. The universe is more affected by a race's worst than by their best!

      October 27, 2011 at 1:43 am | Report abuse |
  11. roger

    Importance is they're are so many of us any individuals it is now insignificant to the amount of sheep available to corporations. They don't pay people as much they just fire you when you get too old and hire some newb.

    October 26, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Weck nation

    Latina females saw white people putting fence in mexico..... They show white men would not marry hispanics. Whites see drug cartel babies. The Master drug importer of USA.

    That's discrimination.... Latina women should have rights. White men say no.

    October 26, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  13. gary

    "Soylent green" here we come

    October 26, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Julius

    Hey retard, India might have the biggest population, but it also has a lot of land. It ranks maybe 33rd or something on the list of countries with the biggest population densities. China ranks 80th.

    Get a clue before revealing to the world what an uneducated moron you are.

    October 26, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Dude

      We are talking about population China 1B+, India 1.2B+ and not land mass right?

      October 26, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Weck nation

      India is #1 world's population you dummy.

      China is 1 billion. Go to China. See how many building went empty. They can't stop building buildings.

      October 26, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheUndead

      Have you ever been to India? I have. It's very polluted and there are so many people it's overwhelming.

      October 26, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mr. Pillai

    Until the 7th seat in their van is filled, mormans, muslims..... do not bother to look for condoms in Walmart.

    October 26, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
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