You Are One in Seven Billion
You Are One in Seven Billion

Introduction

On October 31, 2011, the UN declared that the seven billionth person in the world had been born.  This new population milestone comes just twelve years after the birth of the 6th billionth, Adnan Nevic, on October 12, 1999 in Sarajevo, Bosnia.1   Even though some organizations, including the U.S. Census Bureau, disagree with this projection,2  the issues behind population growth still remain pervasive.

Since the 1800s, when the world’s population first reached one billion, the amount of people on the globe has been growing exponentially.  “It took 250,000 years to reach 1 billion…over a century more to reach 2 billion (in 1927); and 32 years more to reach 3 billion.”  Since then, the last two billion each came within 12 years of each other.3

The major difference between the birth of Nevic and the next billionth is the attitude towards growth around the world.  In 1999, the birth of the six billionth was hailed as a triumph of health and technology.  However, the birth of the seven billionth has mainly been met with skepticism and fear.  While some agencies have pointed to the possible positive investment aspects of increased population, the general consensus has been a pervasive fear concerning the long-term effects on food supply and the environment.  Some have gone as far as to recommend drastic action along the lines of China’s one-child policy. Many believe that the issue must be brought to the table on a global scale.

The Symbolic Seventh

Another major difference between this billionth and the last is the fact that there was no official baby named number seven billion, as was the case with Nevic.  As a result, different countries and families have been racing to take the symbolic title.  In Russia, “Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has hailed a two-day old Russian boy as the world’s seven billionth person…Pyotr Nikolayev was born on October 31, two minutes after midnight in a maternity hospital in Russia’s Western exclave of Kaliningrad.”4  

In Nigeria, one of the twin boys of Seun Dupe was claimed to be the symbolic seventh.  The mother, however, was less concerned with the title, and more so with the ability to raise them.5  The symbolically titled child in India was Nargis Kumar, born in Lucknow.  Her father, Ajay, predicts that his daughter will become a doctor when she grows up.6

The Fears of Growth

While many of these families are optimistic about the prospects for their children’s future, the mood by organizations across the globe is decidedly different.  It is becoming increasingly clear that the growth in population is having a drastic effect on food supplies and the environment.  “By 2050, the UN thinks, there will be 9.3 billion people,” and the question remains, how will all of these people be fed?7   “As the World Bank points out, global food production will have to rise by about 70% between now and 2050 to feed the 9 billion.”8

This problem is being exacerbated by the growing volatility and uncertainty in food market prices.  “In terms of food prices, volatility and uncertainty can scare away essential mid- and long-term investments in agriculture.”9  As a result, the world faces the desperate realization that more people will simply equal more starvation.  If food yields and production are unable to keep up with population growth, then the world could face a much more serious problem than simple overcrowding.

In addition to the problem of food supply, many researchers also point to the growing issue of climate change.  One of these agencies, the Center for Biological Diversity, is creating unique campaigns to bring the issue to light.  “The idea is to start about debate about how overpopulation crowds out species and hastens climate change.”10   There is no doubt that “Human activity has caused profound changes to the climate;” however, there is debate as to the actual impacts of population growth.11

In reality, “population growth in poorer countries (where it is concentrated) has had a smaller impact on the climate in recent years than the rise in the population of the United States.”12   Therefore, the issue of the environment does not solely involve the amount of people on the planet, but also the rate at which industrialized countries produce carbon emissions.  As a result, greener policies should be enacted in the developed world to combat this, while also ensuring that emerging economies, specifically China, do not further harm the environment due to less efficient carbon usage.

Combating Population Growth

The most controversial issue that has arisen as a result of the birth of the seven billionth person is the question concerning curbing population growth.  Many analysts first point to China, who since 1978 has had a strict one child policy.  According to estimates, “without China’s family planning policy, the world’s seven billionth person would have been born five years ago.”13  As a whole, demographers estimate that the country’s policy “prevented 400 million people from being added to China’s population.”14   However, this policy is also seen as a violation of human rights that has caused major demographic issues for the Chinese population, including gender imbalance and a dependent population.

Despite this fact, it is still clear that something must be done regarding population growth.  A UN report recently stated, “If we do not voluntarily stabilize population, we risk a much less humane end to growth as the ongoing destruction of the earth’s natural systems catches up with us.”15  The problem is that any effort regarding population control is seen in an immoral eugenicist light.  However, the fact remains that in the U.S. alone, “Unintended pregnancies account for roughly half of all annual births.”16  Therefore, while a drastic action such as a limit to the amount of children in a family are unnecessary, there are still actions that can be taken that retain human liberties.

Over the past 50 years, there has already been a distinct drop in fertility rates from almost 5 to 2.45 worldwide.17   However, the rates are still the highest in the poorest countries.  While coercion is out of the question, milder policy choices still remain.  For example, “200 [million] women round the world – including a quarter of African women – want contraceptives and cannot get them.”18   A simple education and supply campaign could have a dramatic effect on population growth across the world.

Conclusion

For centuries, population growth has been seen as a triumph of human will, where advancements in health and technology were overcoming age and death.  However, the earth’s resources are a finite resource, and it clearly is not able to hold an infinite amount of people.  The recent exponential growth in numbers has brought multiple issues to the forefront of many analysts’ arguments, specifically concerning food supply and the environment.  The issue regarding food supply is imminent, since efforts should be made immediately to ensure that a larger share of people is not starving in the future.  However, the environmental issue is slightly different.  It is clearly understood that growth alone cannot account for climate change, and other policy choices, including possible carbon taxes, must be implemented to take charge of this pervasive issue.

As a whole, the first step is to bring this issue to light to begin with.  Many policymakers are ignoring the effects that the expanding population is causing.  While regulations must be careful not to tread on basic human rights, there are still many efforts that can be taken to curb unnecessary growth.  The first step is education, and making sure that families are able to make family choices for themselves without the enforcement of unnecessary regulation.  Another step would be to ensure that all people have access to basic contraceptives and reproductive rights so that poorer regions, where population growth is rampant, have equal choices that other’s currently hold around the world.


1  “A Tale of Three Islands.” The Economist. October 22, 2011.
2  Roberts, Sam. “U.N. Says 7 Billion now share the World.” The New York Times. October 31, 2011. 

3  “A Tale of Three Islands.” The Economist. October 22, 2011.
4  Faulconbridge, Guy. “Putin hails Russian boy as world’s ‘7 billionth’.” Reuters. November 2, 2011.

5  Gambrell, Jon. “Asia to Africa, ‘7 billionth’ babies celebrated.” Associated Press. October, 31, 2011. 

6  Rai, Rajat. “Nargis: India’s symbolic seven billionth baby.” India Today. November 1, 2011. 

7  “A Tale of Three Islands.” The Economist. October 22, 2011.
8  “Now we are seven billion.” The Econonmist. October 22, 2011.
9  Canuto, Octaviano. “Food Prices and the Seven Billionth Baby.” EconoMonitor. November 2, 2011. 

10  Navarro, Mireya. “Breaking a Long Silence on Population Control.” The New York Times. October 31, 2011. 

11  “A Tale of Three Islands.” The Economist. October 22, 2011.
12  Ibid.
13  “China delays 7 billion for over 5 years”. China Daily. October 27, 2011. 

14  Ibid.
15  Jia, Cui; Xueqing, Jiang. “Earth prepares for 7 billion inhabitants.” China Daily. October 27, 2011. 

16  “Breaking a Long Silence on Population Control”
17  “A Tale of Three Islands.” The Economist. October 22, 2011.
18  “Now we are seven billion.” The Econonmist. October 22, 2011.

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