7 Billion

January 5, 2011

Sometime in 2011 there will be 7 billion human beings on the planet. Sometime in the 2040s there will be 9 billion.

We will have added 2 Chinas to the globe’s population.

National Geographic will be looking at the issue all year long – the video above is a 3 minute primer on this awesome demographic reality.


10 Responses to “7 Billion”

  1. bluecloud9 Says:

    I am deeply sceptical that this planet will ever reach 9 billion.

    Population growth has followed energy consumption and if peak fossil fuels is really upon us I’d expect a population decline of a similar scale, or worse:


  2. Daniel LaLiberte Says:

    It is important to acknowledge, whenever talking about population issues, that while we can’t ignore population issues, we also can’t expect to resolve our problems by trying to limit population. The problem is analogous to global warming itself – both have enormous momentum. But whereas the growth rate in the human population has in fact been declining since around 1980 and the total population is expected to peak around 2050 at 9.2 billion, we haven’t put the brakes on increasing CO2 emissions and the consequent increase in global temperatures, and we simply must reverse course as soon as possible.

    Here is a report on research showing that the growth rate of emissions CO2 has doubled since the end of the 1990s. http://news.mongabay.com/2006/1127-co2.html ‘”From 2000 to 2005, the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions was more than 2.5 per cent per year, whereas in the 1990s it was less than one per cent per year,” noted Raupach.’

    As the NatGeo video says, the problem with population is not about space, but it is about balance, and even with a smaller population, we could be just as imbalanced. The countries with the most population are actually doing the best, per person anyway.

    • BlueRock Says:

      What Daniel said.


      * Overpopulation worries are a potentially racist distraction. Overpopulation is the wrong issue, overconsumption is the right one. 40 years ago, women were having 5 or 6 children each. Now the average is 2.6 – very close to replacement level fertility rate of 2.3. Fertility rates continue to fall. http://www.theecologist.org/Interviews/409152/fred_pearce_overpopulation_worries_are_a_potentially_racist_distraction.html

      * Population explosion is over, it masks complex causes of poverty and inequality, hunger is not the result of too many mouths, population growth is not the driving force behind environmental degradation, population controls have a negative effect on basic health care, population alarmism encourages apocalyptic thinking that legitimizes human rights abuse, threatening images of overpopulation reinforce racial and ethnic stereotypes and scapegoat immigrants and other vulnerable communities, overpopulation views stand in the way of greater global understanding and solidarity. http://popdev.hampshire.edu/sites/popdev/files/uploads/dt/DifferenTakes_40.pdf

      Or, my simple explanation:

      * the problem = number of people x consumption

      We can’t make any significant changes to number of people (short of nuclear Armageddon / massively fatal pandemic), population is already stabilising, consumption + pollution *can* be addressed.

      ‘Overpopulation’ is the perfect excuse for those who consume the most – it attempts to shift the blame from those with two SUVs parked outside the McMansion to the poorest people for having children.

  3. NevenA Says:

    I agree that overconsumption is a bigger threat than overpopulation. This problem of overconsumption/consumerism cannot be tackled unless we change the way we look at our economic system. The concept that is at the core of Western economies (and by extension cultures) is a concept in which it is maintained that economic growth can and must be infinite. But nothing can be infinite in a finite system, such as our planet. Nevertheless, this economic concept has been dominant for many decades and generations now, and we have just begun to experience what happens when such an inflexible system starts to bump into limits.

    I have written a guest blog over on the climate blog Only In It For the Gold called Infinite Growth and the Crisis Cocktail that further explores this problem that is at the root of all the other ones.

    There are many different global problems, but none of them can be solved conclusively of this economic concept of infinite growth isn’t replaced by something more sane and rational. It’s an absolute prerequisite.

  4. Bart Says:

    Population may not be the driving force behind many of the global world problems, but it’s certainly important: Basically, it is a multiplication factor for the environmental impact of certain actions (see e.g. the Kaya identity).

    Pointing fingers solely to, or firmly away from population, both misses the mark imho. reality is not black and white.


    I think it’s good that the issue of population enters the debate.

    • BlueRock Says:

      How are you going to change population to any significant degree in the time necessary to mitigate global warming?

      We’re already on a trajectory to stabilisation – ~9 billion by ~2050. What realistic, practical mechanism could be used to enforce global population controls? Note: some societies require large families in order to survive – both compensation for high infant mortality rate and to help people without a social safety net to survive in to old age.

      ‘Overpopulation’ is the problem without a solution and therefore a distraction from the part of the equation which can be fixed: over-consumption. Also, ‘overpopulation’ is ‘fixing’ itself as more people are pulled out of poverty – the only mechanism that is fair and works. Once people have secure supplies of food, shelter, healthcare then they stop having large families.

      So, we’re still left with unsustainable consumption – and that comes primarily from the wealthiest nations. It’s another inconvenient truth: the wealthiest few hundred million on the planet need to make some fundamental changes to how much they consume – because there is no moral justification for telling poor people to stop having children or wanting the same gluttonous lifestyle that they see other people indulging in.

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