Seven Billion People

Will Seven Billion People be Overpopulation?

Tokyo, Japan
Nikada/ Vetta/ Getty Images

Many watched a National Geographic YouTube video that circulated around the web about the world's population passing the seven billion mark in 2011. The video cleverly lays out simple statistics on the state of human population, the earth, human consumption, and the probable future of these three elements.

The National Geographic video states:

  • By the end of 2011, the population of humans will reach and begin to exceed seven billion people. In 1800, only one billion people lived on the earth.
  • For every one second that passes in time, about five people are born and only two people die.
  • Our average life expectancy is longer. In 1960, the average life lasted 53 years. In 2010, the average life lasted 69 years.
  • In 2008 and for the first time in human history, more people live in urban areas than rural areas. By 2050 more than 70 percent of the world's human population will live in urban areas.
  • In 1975, three megacities existed. Now there are 21 cities categorized as a megacity (with more than ten million people).
  • All seven billion people could reportedly stand shoulder to shoulder in an area the size of Los Angeles.

I used to ignore people talking about overpopulation, because I assumed they were referring only to available area. Everyone knows we have enough land in the world to support seven billion or more people. What we may have to reevaluate are the resources that we would consume if the population is to increase - or even if it stays the same.

Thomas Malthus, an 18th century demographer and author of An Essay on the Principle of Population, predicted that human population would outgrow our food supply. He encouraged measures to slow population growth, such as abstinence and late marriage. In the 21st century, Malthusians who follow the demographer's thinking are mostly rejected because of both contrary research and failed predictions. With every calculation about population outgrowing resources - technology has been kicked up a notch and thus drastic population loss has been averted.

That being said, even though there has not been a recent population catastrophe, as with the Black Plague or a world war, there are still today over one billion people going without food and overpopulation is still a valid concern among countries with high population densities, such as China, India, and much of the rest of Southeast Asia. These countries have developed solutions, as many of us know, involving incentives and even forced sterilization on the lower classes.

Robert Kunzig, author of "Population 7 Billion" in National Geographic, explains the hold up on developing valid solutions for overpopulation. He wrote, "Right now on Earth, water tables are falling, soil is eroding, glaciers are melting, and fish stocks are vanishing... Decades from now, there will likely be two billion more mouths to feed, mostly in poor countries... If they follow the path blazed by wealthy countries-clearing forests, burning coal and oil, freely scattering fertilizers and pesticides-they too will be stepping hard on the planet's natural resources." His simple analysis of consumption, economy, and natural resources depicts the tricky situation that poor countries are in. In order to fight hunger they need to strengthen their economies, but unfortunately, even if economic success ensued they (as well as the rest of the world) would hurt themselves in the long run.

Thus, populations are not necessarily growing beyond the means of food production, as Malthus predicted, but they are growing beyond the capabilities of systems that haven't developed adequate solutions for energy addictions, resource misuse, and issues within individual governments and nations. We have to solve problems such as alternate sources of energy, water use, land use, economy, and political turbulence before we can expect the growing population to not be a concern.

These developments will have to happen on a large scale and a small scale. Nations will have to tackle issues such as water restrictions, more cost-effective water purification, cheap and safe energy, cutting down on fuel emissions, providing education to the public on things like energy, resource use, and health, and possibly the largest of all - reaching agreements within individual governments on how to best care its people in the present and in the future.

On a small scale, individuals will have to make strides to ensure their well-being throughout population growth and the concerns that come with it. Build up your finances to ensure that you have enough to take care of necessities, but work to grow your savings in the case of an economic struggle. Also building up a supply of food, household, and emergency items is a smart move in the case of an economic, natural, or national disaster. Focusing on you or your family's reputable education will help to ensure that they receive jobs in a stable sector of a country's economy. These are all things that an individual can do to help secure the future, while waiting for governments to solve bigger issues.

Most people are in agreement that the earth is capable in size and resources to sustain seven billion people and growing. What will be the determining factor is how soon we solve issues with resources, economy, government, and individual over-consumption.