Global population climbs beyond sustainability

What might one of the many children born on Oct. 31, 2011 say 10 years later when people congratulate them on increasing the world population to seven billion?

Fortunately, we will never know who the actual seven billionth child was on that fateful Monday, but in 10 years’ time we will certainly realize the consequences of living the way we do when seven billion people share the same planet.

Since the United Nation’s announcement of seven billion people, magazines such as National Geographic have worked to make iPhone applications and films about population available to everyone, including K-12 classrooms. The event has also lead to new campaigns, such as “7 Billion Actions,” in order to create new humanitarian goals along with new personal goals for every person’s way of living. In other words, this event has become something of a New Year’s resolution for people around the world, a “fresh start.”

But oh, my friends, we are far from a starting anew.

The fact that seven billion (and counting) people share one Earth has a lot of implications.  The first and arguably most important consideration is the environment.

According to USA Today, in the 1950’s only 28.8 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas, compared to over 50 percent of world population today. The UN projects that roughly 68 percent will live in an urban area by 2050. Optimistically, these statistics may not indicate a hindrance to the human race, but can instead motivate large corporations, such as the Siemens Industry, to apply the latest green technologies into new buildings and infrastructure in urban areas.

However, as great as aspirations are for industries such as Siemens’, they don’t come cheap. The current global economy would definitely be apprehensive about massive amounts of cash spent on eco-friendly infrastructure when their priorities have been, as of late, placed elsewhere.

There are some who assert that this population growth is something to bite our nails over.  For instance, media sources have constantly posited that even though the population has been adding more people in shorter amounts of time than ever before, the birth rate has dropped nearly an entire percentile since the 1960s.

Though somewhat comforting, it doesn’t make our grave situation any less worrisome.

More food will have to be produced. What will that mean for the people that grow the food, manufacture it and compete to pay for it? Or for the people that won’t be able to receive it at all? The same can be asked regarding the clothes we wear, the leisure goods we buy and, most importantly, water. Water depletion is accelerating at a troubling rate, something that was acknowledged long before the seven billionth mark.

But what about the buzzing of seven billion computers? Billions of lights constantly shining even when the lit space is of no use? The exhalation of gaseous fumes at every stoplight?

No one wants the destruction of the Earth, obviously. Nor does anyone want to run out of clothes, food and water. But then how do we go about stopping this? No campaign called something along the lines of, “Stop having so many f—ing kids” will grant legitimacy to the issue.

Biologist Paul R. Ehrlich suggests that, to overcome overpopulation, every sexually active human being should be given access to birth control medication, and that the government should promote policies that literally say, “Patriotic citizens stop at two children.” Ehrlich also suggests that programs similar to those implemented when the U.S. was on the brink of World War II must halt the overconsumption of wealth.

Granted, Ehrlich’s suggestions may sound drastic.  However, he has a good theme to his suggestions and I’m not entirely opposed to most of them.

To stop overpopulation, we will need to take extreme measures rather than immeasurable baby steps. Unfortunately, with the cultural, religious, economic and political boundaries that we face as a society, it seems that the spontaneous reforms necessary for our Earth will not be coming soon.

A baby is born every second of every day. The numbers will rise and fall but overall continue to grow as our Earth becomes more indebted to its own problems. Having a child, once a joyous occasion, is now a moment of fear and another tally on the population counter.

So where do we go from here? That story is to be continued. For now, all we can do is be a bit more aware of what we’re doing to this Earth, because after all, we are now part of a claustrophobic, seven billion-person party.