Earth Reaches All-Time Human High

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Yesterday, somewhere on this planet—likely India—the 7 billionth person was born. (At least so says the United Nations; the U.S. Census Bureau estimates we won’t actually hit the milestone for a few months.) Regardless of when exactly we do, it’s still pretty hard to fathom a global population of that magnitude. And if we may take some liberties, Mother Nature probably agrees.

So what exactly does that mammoth number mean for our planet and the environment?

“Today—this Day of Seven Billion—is not about one newborn, or even one generation. This is a day about our entire human family,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said during a press event yesterday. “What kind of world has baby seven billion been born into? What kind of world do we want for our children in the future?” (To see Earth’s population on your actual day of birth, try this cool calculator from The Guardian.)

It’s true, if we as a globe continue at our current rate of consumption, belching greenhouse gas and overusing to the nth degree, we’re setting up this place to be a sorry sight for the adult version of that baby. But many feel optimistic about our future prospects. And are

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

getting it down—in writing and photos and videos—for posterity.

Like 7 Billionth Person Project, an idea started at Yale that encourages people to think like global citizens rather than siloed individuals, and asks them to answer the question, what would you say to SEVEN (7 billionth baby X). “Change is upon us and the world is too, as we get more conscious about the environment,” states a caption accompanying one submission, an image of a factory in Australia. “Know your food,” states another.

The New York Times embarked on what it dubbed a visual time capsule. The paper asked a photographer in Delhi to take pictures of babies born yesterday. Now it wants submissions that reveal “what the world was like when they were newborns…. When they turn 20 years old, what will help them envision the world into which they were born?”

The UN estimates the population will peak around 10 billion by the year 2100 then start to decrease. That’s still 89 years of growth. And that means we have a long time to help this planet—or hurt it further. “The earth’s dimensions and capacity remain stable,” writes Annie Leonard, creator of the Internet film The Story of Stuff and the book by the same name. “There’s a limit to the amount of land, water, air, minerals, and other resources provided by the Earth. That’s just a fact.” Let’s hope for the sake of Baby 7 Billion and all those who come after him or her, we keep getting better at working with what we’ve got.

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