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The Next Billion

Next BillionPlanet Earth yet again established a new threshold for its global populace with the addition of the seven billionth human being on October 31. With the forthcoming of this new addendum, a question must be asked. Are our socioeconomic and natural resources truly capable of sustaining yet another billion people, when, according to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), more than half the world lives on less than two dollars a day?

A recent report in The Economist analyzed human population growth in the billions of people. For the human population to reach the first billion, it took roughly 250 million years. More than a century passed before the second billion could be reached. The third billion took only half as long as the second. The following two billions took 13 and 12 years, respectively. And the most recent billion took only another 12 years.

Therefore, before the twentieth century, no person had lived through a “doubling period” of the human population. However, today, there are people that are alive who have seen the world population actually triple.

As the global population grows by about 77 million each year, it becomes a formidable task to remain calm. From common observation, soil is eroding, desertification is looming, glaciers are melting, the fish supply is lessening and millions of people are starving-every single day. Fifty years from now, according to the PRB, there will be two billion more mouths to feed, a great majority of whom will reside in developing countries.

Should the next generation “follow the path blazed by wealthy countries by clearing forests, burning coal and oil, freely scattering fertilizers and pesticides? They too will be stepping hard on the planet’s natural resources. How exactly is this going to work?” asked Robert Kuznig from National Geographic.

Despite the new conflagrations of alarm aroused by these sentiments, a fair amount of hope resides in the accumulation of education and new knowledge over the past few decades. For starters, the actual rate of population growth (as such was the case in the time before national censuses). Over time, this has led to the establishment of many statutes, such as China’s “One Child Policy,” which is aimed at controlling the population crisis which poses among the most significant hurdles for the next few generations.

Joe Ghanem, a sophomore business major, said “The world’s population hitting seven billion overshadows the ecological issue of the world’s population outgrowing the readily available supplies to feed the ever growing human civilization.”

The theoretical consequences of the exponential population growth we have experienced over the past few decades have yet to be realized. Elaine Murphy from the PRB cited that following the “population explosion” after World War II, three interrelated trends had appeared in many developing countries.

First, fertility had overall dropped further and faster than had been predicted 25 years earlier. Second, contraceptive acceptance and use had increased markedly. And third, the average marriage age was rising. Consequentially, the demographic transition (a forecast of economic development on population growth) had been compressed, according to Murphy, from an entire century to a single generation in some developing states.

The life expectancy of the average American has, according to The World Bank, risen from 69.8 years in 1960 to 79.8 in 2011. This shift can be attributed to a consortium of advances in medicine, living standards, and sanitation. However, the primary contributor of this upward shift remains as the aging population of the baby boomers.

With vaccinations spanning myriad sorts of ailments (influenza, chicken pox, measles, mumps, HPV, smallpox, Polio, and Hepatitis A and B, among others), it is no wonder that the aging population is not sustaining, but attenuating the number of antagonists to their health, ultimately resulting in even longer projected lifespans than that of its predecessors.

Professor Vincent Joyce, geography professor, sees the acclimation of the seven billion humans now cohabiting Earth as “both a little scary and also exciting because another billion people have been added in such a short amount of time. It might reach 9.6 billion in the course of my life as every 20 years, another billion is added. It provides a real challenge. However, if we educate more and better control the birth rate, there is hope for the future. Each new person could be the next Einstein. It is also something we have to watch as this finite amount of space could eventually lead to a clash over diminishing resources.”

From a superficial glance, 7,000,000,000 does look like a lot of people. However, if all seven billion stood shoulder to shoulder, they would only occupy an area the size of Los Angeles. The notion that “habitable space is extremely limited” has been denounced by skeptics time and again that roughly seven billion people could comfortably live in an area the size of Texas.

Dividing the landmass of Texas (7,494,271,488,000 sq ft) by 7,000,000,000 people gives 1070.61 sq ft/person – an approximate of a 33 x 33 plot of land for every person on the planet which is enough for a medium sized house for every human being. Even though the cohabitation of the world’s populace in such a contained area is mathematically “possible,” the nature of humanity far transcends such spatial borders.

PHOTO COURTESY of nationalgeographic.com