People Galore

January 12th, 2012
by George S. Crimmin

[private] v10-1-Speaking OutRecently several newspaper headlines caught my attention: “United Nations marks seven billionth baby” was one; another read “Connection seven billion dots.” Yet another put it this way, “The world hit 7 billion people today.” That’s right folks. They basically all said the same thing: the world’s population meter rolled over to seven billion. The next time someone tells you “you’re one in a million,” they’re just a bit off. You’re actually one in seven billion.

According to the United Nations, the human population crossed this milestone on October 31, 2011-the day chosen was arbitrary using data imprecise with so many people being born and dying all the time. Still it is safe to say that, give or take a few million, there are now seven billion of us elbowing each other on Earth. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said the day was “not about one newborn or even one generation, but about our entire human family.”

At a news conference in New York Ki-Moon noted, “A world of contradictions–famine in the Horn of Africa, fighting in Syria and elsewhere, widespread protests against economic inequality. Seven billion population is a challenge,” he said, and “at the same time, an opportunity, depending upon how the international community prepares for that challenge.” I think he got that right. Demographers say it took until 1804 for the world to reach its first billion people, and more than a hundred years later until it hit 2 billion in 1927. That’s actually 123 years later.

After that the numbers began to cascade: three billion in 1959 (32 years later), four billion in 1974 (15 years later), five billion in 1987 (13 years later) and six billion in 1998 (just 12 years later). Now, this is where I think it gets a bit tricky. The United Nations estimates the world population will reach eight billion by 2025 and 10 billion by 2083.

I believe these numbers could vary widely depending on life expectancy, access to birth control, infant mortality rates and other factors. Interestingly, as you have probably noticed, the projected numbers indicate a slowdown in the rate of population increase. This is precisely where I have my doubts.

Previously, each new billion came quicker and quicker, not surprising since there were more people around to make more people, as well as various improvements enhancing life expectancy. Numerous factors contribute to these figures and projections, but the population seems to grow as if it has a life of its own, and our systems struggle to keep up. Frankly, these projections seem overly optimistic in my view.

The bottom line is that the planet’s resources are finite. However gently and smartly we use it, there is only so much room, and only so many resources. As we are finding out here in the Bay Islands, a gallon bottle can only hold a gallon and no more. With this latest population uptick, it’s worth taking a moment to ponder where we are.

On one hand, humans are thriving, building, discovering and communicating on a massive scale. But seven billion is a voracious number to feed, clothe, educate, and protect. In short, there’s bad news and good. As we all know, many people throughout the world suffer, sorely lacking in even the basics. Still human ingenuity and energy are powerful, adaptable forces that can never be discounted. There are seven billion of us straining Mother Earth, but also striving.

We are all here because for thousands of years the human race has had a vast record of success. We can only hope and pray that this success continues. I, for one, am betting that it will. [/private]

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