Give or take about six months or so, the world’s population hit 7 billion people on Monday, October 31st, 2011. I don’t know whether or not the UN chose a deliberately “spooky” date, but for many, this is taken as bad news – a further sign that we are approaching disaster or collapse due to our rapidly ballooning population. I am not so sure – I happen to like humans, and the more that can safely live and enjoy this Earth, the better. The “safely live and enjoy” part is, of course, the rub – no one knows how much the world can really sustain, and exceeding that limit is what drives the overpopulation fears.
It’s always good put milestones like this into perspective, and the British press provided two extremely fun tools to look at this event. The BBC has a tool that allows you to see where you fit into that 7 billion number based on your birthday and place of birth. I’m somewhere in the late 4 billions. The billion people that live here now were preceded by 79 billion more or so. This Guardian world map allows you to look at population trends and predictions for each country.
Look at the United States’ line as compared to the so-called “BRIC” countries – all four of which are expected to peak and begin contracting in the next century. (Graph below taken from the UN source used by the Guardian)
It’s worth noting, however, just how bad experts have been at predicting what the limits on population will be and when we will hit it – the most famous of which, Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, was epically off-base when he predicted in the late 60’s:
The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…
Of course, the battle to feed humanity was all-but over – new advances in food technology, pioneered by people like Normal Borlog allowed food production to expand with population, at least so far.