Seven Billion People and Counting

The planet will reach 7 billion people by the end of this October.

That’s the most recent calculation from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Yesterday, as with every July 11th since 1987—when the number of world inhabitants reached 5 billion—we celebrated World Population Day, “an occasion to mark the significance of population trends and related issues,” according to UNFPA. It’s a huge milestone, but what does it mean for the environment?

Figuring that out is one of the goals of UNFPA’s “7 Billion Actions Campaign” launched yesterday. “Demands for water, trees, food, and fossil fuels will only increase as world population grows,” states the campaign. “Human activity has altered every aspect of our planet, including its climate. Shortages of clean water and arable land are already a problem, while species loss continues. The resilience of ecosystems—from fisheries to forests—is threatened.”

In fact, 17,000 plant and animal species risk extinction by habitat loss, invasive species, high consumption, and climate change, reports the UN Department of Public Information. That’s hardly likely to decrease, especially when you consider these numbers from the UK-based Population Matters:
- The world population increases annually by about 80 million people
- That equals about 1.5 million weekly
- That’s also approximately 10,000 people every hour of every day

The point of “7 Billion Actions” isn’t to scare or threaten people, but rather to motivate people to action and to promote open dialogue about the implications of having so many bodies on the planet. Some environmental groups suggest as a solution better contraception; others say we need to better use the resources we have. Naturalist Sir David Attenborough says the first step is removing the taboo of the topic.

“The sooner we stabilize our numbers, the sooner we stop running up the down escalator,” he said in a March 2011 lecture for the Royal Society of Arts. He closed the talk with this thought: “Every one of these global problems, social as well as environmental, becomes more difficult and ultimately impossible to solve with ever more people.”

What solution do you think will make a difference?

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