September 2, 2011

World population will reach 7 billion

Did you know that Planet Earth will reach the demographic milestone of 7 billion humans in October 2011, only a dozen years after it surpassed 6 billion? And what about a projection of 9 billion on Earth by 2050? That is like adding two Chinas to the number of people alive today.

To put these numbers into perspective:

50,000 -- years it took for the human population to reach 1 billion, in 1800

12 -- years it took to add the latest billion, in 2011

158 -- people added to the planet every minute (births minus deaths)

227,252 -- people added to the planet every day

82,947,000 -- people added to the planet every year

5 -- number of children born to the average woman in 1950

2.5 -- number of children born to the average woman in 2011

2 -- number of children born to the average woman in the U.S.

$16.9 billion -- estimated annual cost of providing family-planning services to all women in developing countries

$20.8 billion -- amount Wall Street firms paid out in bonuses in 2010

4.5 -- percentage of world population living in the U.S.

1 -- rank of the U.S. in terms of overall global energy consumption

Concerned? 9 billion humans might not mean an apocalypse. However, will this ballooning population (an overpopulation to many) outpace our planet's ability to sustain them? Many of us won’t be around to find out, but our grandkids will.

Not surprisingly, over the next forty years, about 97 percent of the next 2.3 billion people will be born in developing countries, with nearly half of them in famine-prone Africa.

By contrast, the populations of more developed countries will remain relatively flat, but will grow older. Approximately 135 million people will be born in 2011 and 57 million will die—a net increase of 78 million people. That means fewer working-age adults to support retirees living on programs like Social Security.

Enough water? That certainly seemed true while Irene’s rain was pounding us, but a finite amount of drinking water for an increasing population may make that word “unsustainable” more real to all of us. Today’s Americans now use about 400 billion gallons of water each day, compared to 150 billion gallons by fewer Americans in 1950. Much of that is “wasted” on our lawns.

Most likely, the U.S. population will rise from today’s 311 million to 439 million by 2050 and 478 million by 2100. That’s a lot more Americans seeking not only water, but food and other resources such as electricity.

More Americans are choosing to live in rapidly expanding cities like San Antonio, Austin and Phoenix. The population in dry Phoenix grew by 33 percent since 2000.

Looking into the future — Comes with caveats. Can our planet support 10 billion people? Only time will tell. Will potential natural disasters, global pandemics, or war have any appreciable affect on population growth? AIDS, devastating as it is, has not been the demographic disaster that was once predicted.

“Sustainability” is a hot topic in many communities, but it’s a valid global issue. Will there be sufficient food and water available for the billions yet unborn?

Population growth — Is blamed for everything, from poverty and climate change to crime and conflict. But “population control” is another matter, even on a planet with finite resources.

The few environmental groups that bring up the issue of population growth, such as Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, call for women's rights and education, plus voluntary family planning, not government mandates, to curb population growth.

This posting will include neither a well-deserved condemnation of China’s coercive one-child policy nor an ad for Planned Parenthood. But China has brought down birthrates—from 2.75 children per woman on average to 1.5. However, fertility rates have fallen even further in other Asian countries where force and coercion have not been employed in recent years, including Japan (1.4 children per woman), South Korea (1.2), Hong Kong (1.1), and Taiwan (0.9).