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)

    This is why we should spend nothing in healthcare and let those sick people just die and make room for the rest of us. That is until we get sick. Better yet, maybe we should give all the radical religious freaks nuclear weapons so they can do a little house cleaning.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ajgorm

    They came after us first so now we can go in and get them , oil that is Texas Tea ! ..

    October 26, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |

    i assume you have already had your nuts cracked?

    October 26, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ajgorm

    They commited crimes against humanity so now we can BLOW them all up/Evil doers. Go Obama !

    October 26, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. pappakapp

    I am not religous, but I went to church when I was young. There was a story about a town that was flooding. A lady in this town said "I am not worried, Jesus will save me," when her neighbors drove by to offer to take her out of the town. Later as the waters rose to a few feet the police came by in a rowboat. Again she said "I am not worried, Jesus will save me." Then the waters rose higher and she was on the roof when the coast guard came by in a helicoptor, but she said "I am not worried Jesus will save me." Then she drowned and when she went to heaven she asked Jesus why he had not saved her. He said "I sent your neighbors, I sent the police, I even sent the Coast Guard, what were you waiting for?"
    Why am I telling this story? Well when we kill this planet from overpopulation and greenhouse gases, and we are all dead and ask Jesus why He didn't save us he will say "I inspired movies like 'an inconvenient truth' I helped your scientists see the problem, I told you all many, many times, but most of you refused to listen." Then he will open the trap door so we can all fall down to heII. Actually I don't beleive in the jewish space zombie, but maybe some of you that do will start to listen. We need to address this problem or there is no viable future for our children's children.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Weck

    Years ago. I dream have four children. As the real estate stock market crash and prices went inflation.
    I start to reduce American dream to two child. Because it's easy to walk away from uprising costs. Now, I choose two instead of four. I say no to four. GO REAL ESTATE BUST!!! GO WALL STREET BUBBLE!!!.

    Today, I live new york. I've seen lot of empty buildings.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Margret


    October 26, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |

    And those who have silly outdated names like rick.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. atinks

    Let's practice eugenics the question is from which group of individuals should we start? blacks are scared of death

    October 26, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • grumpy

      The far right. They're worth the least.

      October 26, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. tmc

    By ethnicity the fastest growing populations are Asians (no surprise), Indians (borders asia), and last but not least.. Hispanic populations throughout the globe, not just USA but europe, latin America and globally. On average, Asians live the longest from 82years in the USA to 115 in China. However, as the world becomes even more addicted to OIL for fuel/energy the average lifespan globally WILL drop about 20-25% due to contamination of the AIR, AND WATER supply – and the coming famines that will strike major populations in the 3rd world & developing world (China who has the most population has the most to lose). That number won't reach 11 billion before there is some natural or man made catastrophe that will kill several million people at one go... that's one hell of a clean-up job.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • what

      An average age of 115 in China you say? That's impressive.

      October 26, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Diddy

      indians ARE asians.....

      October 26, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      I'm not sure there's even a tiny shred of a worthwhile idea in this post

      October 26, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Weck

    Why I refuse to have many children because the threat of western world, lying banks, lying statistics, and saying the world is overpopulation?

    I saw dubai's ghost town. I live in New York City. My area can't stop constructing buildings. It's madness.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Starky158

    Oh look another one of these meme stories on CNN ... you have been placing these ALL on the front page for months now.

    I'm sick of it, if these sheltered Hipsters with their 3000Sqft mansions, 2 cars, Iphones, 500 fedoras and a daily Starbucks ACTUALLY believe this propaganda, then we kind of deserve the eugenics you guys are pushing – hopefully you start with them. "Oh we just want people to stop screwing like the useless parasites they are" ... BS. Passive eugenics A-L-W-A-Y-S leads to active eugenics.

    So how ARE you going to get rid of these useless eaters? a good ol' conventional war? plague? famine? you have such a big tool box I am sure you will figure it out. To be honest I liked the state department Syria/Iran posturing propaganda more, at least you "think of the children!!!111" then.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • pop

      you can grow about 60 times the food going vegetarian alone... If we can survive with 6 billion now, and growing vegetables and grains only destroys 60 times less the land and resources...

      you do the math, the fact is, eating meat is a major problem,

      October 26, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ajgorm

    We can respect our planet . We can plan for growth and solar energy . We can have self sustaining cities that work with a clean environment . Think GREEN not WAR !

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

      Agreed. I don't understand why more don't have more gardens either. You can honestly grow a lot of food with a little hard work.

      October 26, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ROC

    All you people stop your panic – geez – so there's lots of people – get your calculator out and you will find the 3 largest American states that will hold all of them and give each one an acre of land – stop your panic – you ain't gonna change anything by acting so stupid – times always change

    October 26, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      The entire U.S. has 2.3 billion acres of land. However, 375 million acres are in Alaska and not suitable for agricultural production. The land area of the lower 48 states is approximately 1.9 billion acres. States are already fighting over water (like Colorado river, Chattahoochee river) for cities versus agriculture. Luckily, all these folks are not depending on your math or geographic skills for food and water.

      October 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jolene

      Here we go again with the PANIC and HYSTERICS!!!!! I've stopped believing in half of what is printed mainly because is causes PANIC, look what happened with 9/11!!! the MEDIA runs rampant with crap and we are to take what they say "seriously" oh please!!!! I just take bits and pieces of it and say "ok well there has been some major natural disasters that has killed thousands of people" so that much is true and it will happen again. The end of World is not Tomorrow!!!! and if it is so what!! nothing we can do about it just grab onto something and pray that you go to meet you're maker instead of the Devil; THERE'S NOTHING ANY OF US CAN GO!!!!

      October 26, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ajgorm

    To simply preach socialism when we need change and new technologies is backward thinking. trickle down economic crap wont do it. Change we need is real change not spare change.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
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