Though the birth rate in the U.S. has dropped for a third year in the row, and many European countries report rock-bottom fertility rates, Malthusians and others concerned about the impact humans have on the planet aren’t rejoicing.
Population experts predict that this fall, the global population will hit yet another milestone: 7 billion people. Seven billion!
Only 24 years ago, people were wringing their hands about the world population hitting 5 billion.
A fascinating National Geographic article works readers through the history of world population studies, which began when a 17th Century cloth merchant and amateur scientist (who, incidentally, invented the microscope) estimated that the earth could only hold a maximum of 13.385 billion people. At that time, experts estimate the world population was only half a billion. At the rate we’re going, despite negative population growth in many industrialized countries, by the time our kids are having kids, world population will hit 9 billion.
That could make for some really crowded living conditions, though space isn’t the biggest concern when it comes to population growth. It’s density, as Robert Kunzig writes. It’s how the space will be used. From National Geographic:
… There are now 21 cities with populations larger than ten million, and by 2050 there will be many more. Delhi adds hundreds of thousands of migrants each year, and those people arrive to find that “no plans have been made for water, sewage, or habitation,” says Shailaja Chandra. Dhaka in Bangladesh and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are 40 times larger today than they were in 1950. Their slums are filled with desperately poor people who have fled worse poverty in the countryside.
Demographers also predict an explosion in the world’s middle class and the pollution and use of natural resources that comes along with it.
I’ve got three kids and I’m quite aware that, with three, my husband and I have abandoned the any kind of Zero Population Growth moral high-ground we may have occupied when we only had two — or even back when we just had the one. As a trade-off, I try to look at how we live, what we drive, our habits as consumers, etc. In the end, will my youngest be the person that pushes the globe past the tipping point? No. Or, at least, it won’t be just him. That said, I’m counting a lot on global ingenuity to figure out ways to have transportation without lung-clogging carbon emissions. And how to heat and cool homes without blowing bigger holes in the ozone.
Maybe my kids, who will be career-seeking adults before I know it, will be part of the solution. Who knows.
What about you, parents of more than two. Any guilt for more than replacing yourselves? Or is world population more of an abstract concern?
Photo: James Cridland via flickr