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Page added on October 22, 2011

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Can the World Handle 7 Billion People?

By October 31, the world’s 7 billionth person will be born, according tonew projections from the United Nations Population Fund. That means it will have only taken 12 years for the world to have added a billion people – in 1999, the six billion mark was passed. The numbers provided by the U.N. are disputed by some demographers who argue that it may be until next year or even later when 7 billion people populate the earth.

Regardless of when the exact milestone is reached, such huge numbers herald both immense challenges and some opportunities in the realm of infrastructure, urban planning and the environment. Already more than 300 cities around the world have more than 1 million residents – giving urban planners some headaches as they figure out just how to build adequate public transportation systems, ensure fresh water, energy and sanitation services for residents and provide jobs and housing for their urban dwellers.

A recent Associated Press article gives an overview of what to expect with such a growing global population:

“Most of that growth will be in Africa’s cities, and in those cities it will almost all be in slums where living conditions are horrible,” said John Bongaarts of the Population Council, a New York-based research organization.
Is catastrophe inevitable? Not necessarily. But experts say most of Africa — and other high-growth developing nations such as Afghanistan and Pakistan — will be hard-pressed to furnish enough food, water and jobs for their people, especially without major new family-planning initiatives.

The piece goes on to make the point that resource shortages, such as in food and water, could lead to more political instability around the developing world.

One country where a fast-growing population is already causing challenges is India, which already has at least 1.2 billion people. Why are the numbers in that nation still on the rise? According to a feature article in The Washington Post, there are a variety of reasons for the continuing uptick:

High rates of infant mortality, low educational levels and the low social status of women all contribute to higher rates of childbirth in India’s poorest states, such as Uttar Pradesh, than in the richer and better-educated south. It is only by educating its people — especially its women — that India can hope to break the vicious cycle of poverty and overpopulation.

One important question to ask is whether the globe can feed such a large number of people. As Brad Plumer writes in a Washington Post blog post:

A team of scientists in a recent issue of Nature looked at whether it was even possible to feed a fast-growing population without destroying the planet. The conclusion was yes, but barely. We’d need to stop farming in places like the rain forests, boost crop yields in places like Africa and Eastern Europe, stop wasting so much food (right now about one-third of all food grown gets spoiled or tossed) and—this is the one everyone always hates—eat less meat. It’s a daunting task. And it becomes all the harder if the world’s population grows even faster than we thought.

In an interview with Yahoo News, Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, paints a rather dire picture of the world reaching 7 billion people. “This is trouble, frankly, for the planet” is how he puts it. He says that it will place incredible stress on finding the food and energy resources to provide for everyone and puts environmental goals, such as stopping climate change, further at risk.

Cities, both in the developed world and in poorer countries, are where much of the population growth has occurred. As Scientific American notes in its article about the impending milestone:

Cities are likely to feel the brunt of the growth as humans continue their migration from rural areas to urban. [Columbia populations professor Joel] Cohen says the small city (of about 1 million) is the future of urban life, and he feels civilization needs to do better at paying attention to their design.

“We are going to need to construct a city of a million people every five days for the next 40 years,” he said.

Last January, National Geographic magazine devoted its cover story to the global population reaching seven billion people. It also created a video about the issue which we have embedded below:

9 Comments on "Can the World Handle 7 Billion People?"

  1. pike on Sat, 22nd Oct 2011 8:34 pm 

    The limits have been reached enough of this madness you main stream dogs.

  2. Kenz300 on Sat, 22nd Oct 2011 9:26 pm 

    No — the world can not handle 7 billion people. We have a food crisis, an oil crisis, a water crisis, a financial crisis, a jobs crisis, a dictator crisis, a disease crisis and a poverty crisis. Every problem is made harder to solve with the ever growing world population.

  3. Cabra1080 on Sat, 22nd Oct 2011 10:29 pm 

    The upper population limit was reached decades ago when the population crossed the 1 billion mark. The world has been in overshoot ever since. The future isn’t rosy but life will go on one way or the other, probably with some convulsions along the way as nature culls the population back to sustainable levels.

  4. MrEnergyCzar on Sun, 23rd Oct 2011 12:04 am 

    Peak Oil will curtail the population down a few billion the next few decades…


  5. DC on Sun, 23rd Oct 2011 12:42 am 

    I like how the MSM likes to try to deflect the issue by saying the ‘rich’ parts are india are not really the problem, but the ‘poor’ parts…which is like what..98% of that mess of a nation. No one is really gonna care if the birth rate is sorta lower in some of the ‘better’ neigbhorhoods in New delhi when theres 1.5 billion hindus, it really wont matter anymore, it hardly does now. One bad harvest or one more food price spike and the whole place will go ballistic.

  6. Btritt on Sun, 23rd Oct 2011 1:24 am 

    Mother Nature is lining up the lemmings to go over the cliff and depopulate the globe in the next decade or so. Wars will be more numerous and deadly. Climate shifts will cut crop outputs. Disease will become rampant. Etc. All will contribute to what happens to every population that over shoots the ability for the earth to sustain it. It doesn’t matter if it is a rodent or a human…same thing to Mother Nature.

  7. Zoli on Sun, 23rd Oct 2011 3:46 pm 


  8. DMMZ on Mon, 24th Oct 2011 4:13 am 

    The developed countries contribute as much to the problem as do the developing countries. Each individual living in western Europe or in North America consumes several times the resources and energy as does a person in a developing country.

  9. clay on Wed, 26th Oct 2011 1:56 am 

    As we run out of oil, fuel for tractors, refined fertilizers, and massive crop farming will fall. Less food will be grown, less animals raised as a result, and the population will go down. Like it or not we abused what we have had, and a change will take place global downsize of people will happen. After i am long dead it will happen, and maybe by then people will learn only to use what they need.

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