The world’s seemingly relentless march toward overpopulation achieved a notable milestone in 2012: Somewhere on the planet, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the 7 billionth living person came into existence.
Lucky No. 7,000,000,000 probably celebrated his or her birthday sometime in March and added to a population that’s already stressing the planet’s limited supplies of food, energy, and clean water. Should this trend continue, as the Los Angeles Times noted in a five-part series marking the occasion, by midcentury, “living conditions are likely to be bleak for much of humanity.”
A somewhat more arcane milestone, meanwhile, generated no media coverage at all: It took humankind 13 years to add its 7 billionth. That’s longer than the 12 years it took to add the 6 billionth—the first time in human history that interval had grown. (The 2 billionth, 3 billionth, 4 billionth, and 5 billionth took 123, 33, 14, and 13 years, respectively.) In other words, the rate of global population growth has slowed. And it’s expected to keep slowing. Indeed, according to experts’ best estimates, the total population of Earth will stop growing within the lifespan of people alive today.
And then it will fall.
First, I dispute that a rising population necessarily stresses resources beyond what they can provide. While it certainly happens in some places (the poorer parts of Africa, for example), wealthier, more politically stable countries and regions have managed to handle population increases with no adverse side effects. America’s water and air are cleaner today than they were when our population was a hundred million smaller.
The piece goes on to speculate what the world will look like in 100-200 years’ time. But in Japan, China, Russia, and other countries that have done away with procreation, we won’t have to wait that long. I have two children, but I think it was unpatriotic not to have had six. (On that, and that alone, I side with the Kennedys.)