Thursday, November 10, 2011

We're now 7 billion, and it's getting more crowded

When I was born in the 1980's, the world population was at some 4,8 billion. Since then the amount of us humans has been increasing rapidly. Last week we exceeded the 7 billion limit. And the growth is nowhere near to stop: depending on the projection, in the year 2100 we will be 10-16 billion. Currently, we increase by 227,000 people per day!

Not everyone agrees that the population growth is such a big problem. It's however a fact that the growth of the population makes escaping poverty and hunger more difficult and increases the pressure on the ecosystems. Nevertheless, what is even more troublesome than the population growth, is the growing consumption.

For that, it's mostly us in the rich countries of the Global North that are responsible. The carbon footprint of a child born in the USA today would be 55 times that of an Indian child or 86 times a Nigerian child. Using the natural resources in a more efficient way and distributing them more equally would increase the carrying capacity of the planet greatly.

Luckily, we know what to do to slow down the population growth. The most important thing would be to improve womens' rights. Besides being the poorest, the most vulnerable areas, the areas where the population is growing the fastest are also those where girls are less likely to go to school or where women are lack basic rights.

There are some 200 million women who lack the opportunity to decide if or not to bear children, meaning modern contraceptives. For a more sustainable future, all people should have the possibility to family planning - the potential benefits are way bigger than the costs. But how to achieve a more equal way of distribution and consumption of resources?

Kirsi-Marja Lonkila
Picture: A crowded swimming pool in China. Used under the Creative Commons Licence.
More information: UNFPA report and the Grist article series on population.

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