Implications of 7 Billion People

Some girls grow up their whole lives wanting to be mothers. They carry dolls, babysit for the neighbors, and squeal as soon as a newborn arrives for family gatherings in a decidedly adorable wintertime outfit. While I never put myself in this category the prospect of a family and children in the distant future was definitely appealing. It seems only natural to want children, little bundles of our own genetic makeup who will grow into unique individuals. The essence of ourselves lodged securely in tissue, muscle and identity of another.

And apparently I’m not alone in this sentiment. According to BBC, Huffington Post, and National Geographic, the current world population has reached seven billion peopleCNN has tried to quantify this number in terms that we can wrap our minds around:

  • If you took 7 billion steps along the Earth’s equator — at 2 feet per step — you could walk around the world at least 106 times.
  • Seven billion ants, at an average size of 3 milligrams each, would weigh at least 23 tons (46,297 pounds).
  • Suppose an average thimble holds 2 milliliters of water. Seven billion of those thimbles would fill at least five Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Some scientists report that the UN prediction is premature and the population will not reach the seven billion part until 2012 or 2013. The evidence that this number will be reached however, is fairly absolute.  In the last 21 years the world population have increased by almost two billion people and the number is not expected to decrease any time soon.

Frances Lappé in World Hunger examines the myths associated with global hunger. She argues that overpopulation is not directly correlated with hunger and instead attributes perceived food shortage to prevalence of inequality in resource distribution and land use. Much of the population growth occurs in economically developing countries where large families are investments in labor and productivity as a means to survive.

So what does that mean for my ten or twenty year plan? Will I feel the effects of 7,000,000 people eating, breathing, building, consuming around me? Do I have an obligation to the prosperity of future generations not to have children? 

Arguably, the world population estimates should not determine whether or not I decide to have a child and start a family. But it raises the larger questions dealing with the relationship between individual contribution and the global community. As an America, my ecological footprint is significantly higher than many people in Africa and South East Asia. I wonder how the birth of one child in a developed country compares to a child born in Ethiopia or Bangladesh. The world population statistics are still broken up into population by country, by socioeconomic class, by gender and by race. Our global society will not curtail this exponential population increase until all groups of people are viewed as a collective body of human beings. Seven billion people is still nothing more than a series of ones. One species. One planet. One hope. 

For more facts and information, check out:

BBC World News has a special segment on the upcoming seven billion population deadline. According to the What’s Your Number? survey, I was the 5,289,349,311th person to be born on earth.

Grist posted a Science video titled “7 billion in 7 minutes.” Click here.