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. basketcase

    ***NEWS FLASH****
    I just figured out the meaning of reaching a population of 7 billion. It means there are now 7 billion people in the world!

    October 26, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Anya

    Tell the Duggard family to just stop! Those morons should read this.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. c bradley street

    we need to cull the heard....nothing like a good old zombie apocalypse!!!

    October 26, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. victoriafalls

    people in the 3rd world should curb their birth rates. India, Africa... note: if you live in a country who wipes your butt and dig at the MUSHY FECES with your bare hand and have NO SEWER system... you're lagging in civilization. stop breeding. or at least slow down. you don't even have enuff food to eat why bring more children into the messy world. be a realist, please.

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

      And to think that those third world country inhabitants are the ones that have the least bad impact in our planet. Meanwhile you are sitting in your modern house, where most likely there is a water leak, wasting precious drinking water, where half your untreated sewer seeps into the earth, wasting precious power by leaving lights on and all your unused electric alliances plugged in. Driving a gas eating machine that you used to go pick up groceries 3 blocks away...I could continue, but you get the point.
      The planet can hold 7 billion people and double that, if we all share its resources.

      October 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • zb

      The article is moronic as are most of the comments. The real debt bomb is not in money but in what we have taken out of our environment and the ability of the planet to sustain life as we know it. 6, 7, 8 billion or whatever population is meaningless. What matters is that we have already passed the tipping point when we have set in motion the forces that will make life unsustainable on earth. It is no longer enough to slow down our impacts to save ourselves but we must now find ways to reverse the impacts we have already set in motion.

      Needless to say that isn't happening. As the rest of the world rushes to consume as much as we do in a shop till you drop mentality the likelihood that we can avoid the kinds of environmental disaster that is consuming China is unlikely.

      We may have shipped our pollution to China and India along with our jobs but the time is near when even the ignorant Republican/Tparty will not be able to ignore there is no place to run and no place to hide.

      October 26, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • OneOfTheSheep

      Hey Willi,

      I like what is mine and I'm NOT going to share it. Try to take some and you're dead meat!

      October 27, 2011 at 2:27 am | Report abuse |
  5. Pleading for no Breeding

    We need to have a "Stop Squirting Inside Her" Day. There are far too many mouths to feed, people driving in traffic, and people stealing my oxygen.

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

      What if I just pick a differnt hole?

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


      October 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JP Boulder CO

    The longer that we humans breed like rats, the sooner we can expect to live like them. Many of the world's populations already do and have for some time.

    Just look at places like Africa where starvation and regional wars are rampant.

    I've never understood why people can't control their reproduction rate in these days and times. Instead of sending food and other goods, send them birth control pills instead.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Randall

    According to the United Nations Population Division, population growth will continue to slow down over the next few decades. In fact, if current trends persist, our growth will halt right around 8 billion by 2045. After that, our numbers will start to fall off, slowly at first, and then faster.

    So relax!

    October 26, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jim Hatch

    To house the entire world population of 7 million in one metropolitan area with the density say of Los Angeles would require an area the size of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona combined. In fact they could fit quite comfortably into Mexico alone. That would leave the rest of the world available for growing crops to feed them and find oil to fuel them. Then of course you would have to move a few million out of Mexico to do the farming etc.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. CindyF

    Hopefully Jesus comes soon.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  10. marcia

    Guess it's time the Rothchilds, the Rockefellers and the rest of the Illuminati to start killing us off!

    October 26, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. vince

    I think the biggest problem is the impact on the other creatures on the planet – we can continue to expand intelligently but we must make an absolute committment to persere what little "wild" and pristine places we have left and create and expand wildlife parks and reservations. Years ago I recall a scientifc american journal about cities of the future that include concentrated living in cities surround by agricultural areas, in turn surrounded by vast open spaces to allow wildlife diversity to continue to flourish - I think we need to move to that model in a hurry. Already we see people abandoning country living for the cities, but we need to make sure those country areas remain wild habitat and not just giant commerical farms - give the animals a chance to repopulate and continue diversifying.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. S1N

    That is true for third-world nations in general. On average, third world nations have 5+ children per family. Most industrialized nations have between 1 and 2.5 (2-5 kids for every 2 families)

    October 26, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • 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 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Geneero

      Evolution is a load of hooey. LOL If you believe that's an infallible scientific theory, you're badly mistaken. DERP!

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

      Glad you can recite the words from the movie Idiocracy. But this is so true!!!!!!!!!!!!

      October 26, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Burbank

      If that's true, then why do I see middle class families of 3-6 kids swarming every restaurant in town?

      October 26, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • jon

      Any word from the Pope yet – that jerk-off.

      October 26, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • franticsky

      i know of families in the first world having 7 -10 kids so get off your high chair , take your bib off and get off the feeding bottle and wake up to the facts like an adult

      October 26, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Margret WAKE UP AMERICA..

      October 26, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • fez

      Except for the fact that each one of us costs the planet at least 3 times as much. You need to think a little deeper into the problem, it's not only sheer population growth, but how much impact each person has.

      October 29, 2011 at 3:22 am | Report abuse |
  13. Aerin

    throw out the regressive GOP with it's big government anti-abortionists.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cherries

      I don't think it'll make a difference with the HUGE ammounts of babies being conceived.

      October 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. c bradley street

    good work miranda!!! you sound like a good little nazi.... even though there are only about 14 million jews in the world.. you keep it up and iam sure you will get that fox anchor job!!

    October 26, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Dude

      You just don't pay attention, Fox is PRO Israel it's generally libs that hate Israel and the jews.

      October 26, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. JP

    Ya got that right! Like a bunch of little bunnies.

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