Yesterday, the United Nations declared that the Earth's population reached 7 billion people -- give or take a percentage point or two. But what does this mean for our planet? According to some environmental groups, it means more mouths to feed which expends energy and resources and can therefore be detrimental to the environment.
The New York Times reports that while many environmental groups avoid the issue of population control in relation to environmental concerns, the Center for Biological Diversity is trying to make this concept more mainstream. The Times reports that as one of the group's initiatives, it is giving away condoms that state "Wrap with care, save a polar bear" and "Wear a condom now, save a spotted owl."
The Times continues:
Kierán Suckling, executive director of the center, a membership-based nonprofit organization in Tucson, said he had an aha moment a few years ago. “All the species that we save from extinction will eventually be gobbled up if the human population keeps growing,” he said.
“Every person you add to the country makes all these tremendous demands on the environment,” said Joel E. Cohen, chief of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller University and Columbia University.
But experts are reluctant to suggest an ideal birth rate. “There isn’t any magic number,” Dr. Cohen said.
Live Science, a science news site run by the Tech Media Network, also brings up the fact that a growing population puts a strain on resources and poses these questions: How can we curb this growth? Should there be a global one-child policy, like the one enforced in China? The article doesn't seem to consider the fact that the planet could be doing just fine with its current population growth rate.
Live Science reports John Bongaarts, VP of the Population Control Council, as stating that a one-child policy would never be accepted, and that education should be increased about the effects of population growth on the planet and birth control. Live Science continues:
[...] building schools and introducing incentives to keep girls in school is key, as women with higher levels of education tend to have fewer children (although recent research suggests that having children may affect the level of education, and not the other way around). And, finally, Bongaarts suggests a delay in child bearing, which he says can limit a mother's options if it happens at too young of an age.
But population growth has already been slowing, according to the New York Times. The U.S. birth rate went from 3.6 children in the 1960s to 2.0 children in present day. A recent study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the Times reports, estimates that if the growth rate fell from 2.0 to 1.5 by 2050, it would result in a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The Times also notes that reducing birth rate would have a greater effect on greenhouse gas reductions than traditional environmentally friendly practices such as recycling and driving less.
While some seem to see population growth as detrimental for the environment, technology is already helping countries provide necessary resources to a growing population. Mother Nature Network reported a Reuters story about the technological advancements that China was working on to help provide for its population, including genetic modification for food and ways to use less land and water. It also notes that the U.S. has taken similar strides in genetic modification for food to meet consumer demand. This USGS report of U.S. water use details that even with a 30 percent increase in population, Americans are using less water than three decades ago due to more efficient technology.
Here's NPR's representation of how we've reached 7 billion people and how the population continues to grow:
As the NPR states, better medicine and care has not only helped people live longer but has also allowed for a lower infant mortality rate. This means more children growing to adulthood and having more children of their own.
All of this begs an endless stream of questions including: Is this growth really a bad thing? If, as the U.N. predicts, that our population will level off, what will cause it? Will "population control" measures be put in place? Will it be allowed to happen naturally? Is population control of humans necessary to save biodiversity of other life on Earth?