We joyfully announce the birth of the 7 billionth world citizen! Joyfully? The world is much too crowded now, say the prophets of doom. Are they right in seeing this milestone as a millstone around our collective necks?
At two minutes to midnight on the 30 October, Danica May Camacho was born in the Philippine capital Manila and the UN designated her as the 7 billionth resident of planet Earth. People in Manila thought that was a reason to celebrate and threw her a party, but others see no reason to celebrate her birth, in much the same way that they saw no reason to celebrate in 1987 when citizen 5 billion was born or 12 years later when citizen 6 billion appeared on the planet. The latest UN predictions say the global population will climb to 9,000,000,000 by 2050 and level out afterwards.
As each milestone approached and then passed, experts and pundits gathered and repeated their chorus of doom, disaster and dire prophesies: we'll run out of water, we'll run out of food, we'll run out of oil, the earth, the seas and skies are all polluted and everything will die!
The doom and disaster choir has been singing for quite some time; one of the first major reports on the challenges of an ever-growing global population was the 1972 Limits to Growth report by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The report, presented to the Club of Rome made a huge impact at the time.
The average number of children per woman has been falling for some time now: in 1950, the average was five children, it is now 2.5. Women in Africa have on average seven children, in the Netherlands the average is 1.8.
In 1960, the average life expectancy was 53, by 2010, it had risen to 69.
The average age of the global population is 28.
Since 2008, more people live in cities than in rural areas. By 2050, 70% of the global population will live in urban areas. In 1975, there were just three mega-cities (cities with more than 10 million residents: New York City, Tokyo and Mexico City), now there are 21 mega-cities.
Five % population use 23% of the world's energy. Thirteen% of the global population do not have clean drinking water and 38% do not have adequate sanitary facilities.
Is citizen 7 billion a wanted child? Trend watcher Adjiedj Bakas says no:
"There are far too many people on the planet now. I have frequently called for the entire globe to adopt China's one child policy. There is simply not enough work for everybody. Just think about all the people who've been made redundant by computers. How on earth are we supposed to create jobs for 7 billion people?"
According to publicist Marco Visscher, the more the merrier: "I can understand that some people say the global population is growing too fast but it’s misplaced anxiety. It's really good that there are so many people, we're all living much longer and fewer children are dying. That's surely something to celebrate."
Marita Rutjes of Oxfam Novib says it's the wrong question:
"The question shouldn't be whether population growth is a problem; the real question we need to answer is how we deal with it. How do we feed all those people, how do we distribute the world's resources in an equitable manner? Here in the West we throw 30 percent of our food away; that's the total food production for the entire African continent. The scale of the imbalance is just enormous."
A least one billion people already suffering from hunger now and Rutjes says we have to make major changes now to ensure that everybody has enough to eat in the future:
"If you invest in small women-run farms - women are usually responsible for feeding their families and the wider community - then you can increase their production by 25 percent. Concrete steps to tackle climate change and the global increase in the price of food have to be taken now as well. Why can't we manage that? We're still looking for short-term solutions to the planet's major problems and issues."
One child policy
Marco Visscher sees nothing wrong with limiting the birth rate but is opposed to any form of coercion:
"It's a disgrace that people praise China's one child policy; it's created so much misery, it's just not possible to be in favour of it. Coercion is the wrong way to go about it. Information and access to birth control is the way to go."
Rutjes agrees with him:
"You cannot force people not to have children. You can limit population growth by helping people to develop themselves; better education is the place to start. The poorest people in the world have the most children and we need to focus on them. Higher standards of living go hand-in-hand with fewer children."
Visscher says he believes in human creativity and refuses to sing in the doom and disaster choir:
"Space isn't a problem; there is enough room in Italy and France for 15 billion people to live in their own house with a bit of land around it. Food for everyone will be a challenge but we'll find a solution. People are already looking for new ways to feed a growing global population; growing crops without water for example or pigs in high-rise sties, vertical farms that use very little ground. Energy isn't actually a problem; we could just use the heat of the sun to create clean energy."
"Human beings are creative animals," acknowledges Bakas adding, "I wouldn't be surprised if we soon discover a planet that we can colonise and then we can ship a couple of billion people off-world. I believe they've discovered about eight earth-like planets in recent years, so, why not?"