Editorial

1 Comment | December 2011

What Does 7 Billion Mean for Our Future?

The population of the world recently passed 7 billion. To put this into perspective, around 2000 years ago, the world population was 300 million. It took 1600 years for humankind to double its population to 600 million. In 1800, the world population was around 1 billion. Thus in about 200 years, the total population of the world has increased seven fold. And now the UN predicts that by 2100, there will be 10 billion humans on the planet.1 Whilst we can celebrate and reflect on how far humanity has come in its achievements and development; there are more reasons for us to be deeply concerned about the present and future of humanity. Some analysts have raised concerns that there are insufficient resources on earth to sustain our rate of resource-consumption. Such people argue that there are too many people, using too few or diminishing resources, at a rate faster than the planet’s regenerative capacity. Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, for example, warned: ‘Just apply a little grade-school math and economic common sense: Our planet’s natural resources can reasonably support about 5 billion people. That’s a fact. Another: Today we have 7 billion. That’s a problem, 2 billion too many. We’re consuming commodities and natural resources at a rate of 1.5 Earths,2.

Analysts on the other side of the argument believe that reducing the world’s population is not the answer. And that humanity’s total demand is sustainable at the current rate. According to the 2011 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics: ‘The world produces enough food to feed everyone. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day (FAO 2002, p.9).  The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.3’ 

Shanghai, the most populous city proper in the world, with over 20 million residents.

The real issue then is that the resources we do have at our disposal are unevenly distributed amongst the 7 billion people. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s 2010 report stated 925 million people as ‘hungry’ or ‘malnourished’. This means that 13.1 percent, or almost 1 in 7 people on earth are hungry or malnourished.4 There are also other factors. For example, it is estimated that 1.3 billion tons of food, or one third of the global food production, are either lost or wasted each year. Moreover the gap in resource-consumption between people in developed and developing countries is huge. Within many third-world countries, we find some living in palaces, whilst millions of others are unable to afford a square meal a day. We still have plentiful resources at our disposal, but to share them equally amongst our fellow brothers and sisters of the world is an issue that needs to be seriously addressed.

Endnotes

  1. UNFPA ‘The State of World Population 2011’, p.2
  2. http://www.footprintnetwork.org/es/index.php/GFN/blog/living_well_in_a_world_of_7_billion/
  3. http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm
  4. http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm
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  1. I agree with the view that production is not the problem but distribution. Wastage is another huge problem.

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