7 Billion this Year

Without question we are conducting a massive experimentin population dynamics and it will be interesting to observe how it all playsout over the next two generations.  Afterthat, we will have a lot of interesting answers to today’s questions.

I now think that Earth’s population can readily reachthirty billion and with a number of significant improvements in agriculturalpotential we have already discussed, it could go up to one hundred billion,while sustaining a vibrant wild.

For now we can take seven billion.

2011: The yearwe’ll hit 7 billion 

31 DEC 2010

Sometime in the latter half of this year, the world population will hita new milestone: 7 billion people. Already? Didn't we just hit 6 billion? Yep,a mere dozen years ago -- and that's probably the last time you heard muchabout population. It takes a big, round number with lots of zeroes to get MSMattention.

So in 2011, expect to hear the P word a lot more than you did in 2010,and a lot more than you will in 2012. National Geographic is kicking off the action with a cover story and photo essay.

It's projected to take us slightly longer to get to the next big, round number with lotsof zeroes -- 14 years instead of 12. While the total number of people on theplanet is still growing fast, the nature and speed of that growth has beenchanging dramatically. This Economist videogives you great visual overview of the trends. (Is it just me or does thatgraphic look like a packet of birth-control pills?)

Even as we're adding people, we're also dramatically changing thedemographic composition of entire societies, and creating different kinds ofproblems along the way -- like the challenge of aging populationsin many developedcountries. Bryan Walsh of Time suggests that immigration could be onesolution:

[H]ere's the planet we could have in 2050: an overpopulated,overstressed developing world and an aging, economically stagnant developedworld, with inequality even larger than it is today. Is there any way to escapethat fate? While development and education will be incredibly important(especially for women -- literacy is one of the best ways to reduce fertility),the answer may end up being immigration. Think about it -- in the future thedeveloped world will lack young workers, and the developing world will have anexcess of that resource. Immigration could be a way to balance demographics andeconomics -- alleviating population pressure in the poorer parts of the worldwhile jump starting aging developed nations. The U.S. already does this --immigration will providemost of American population growth. It wouldbe a radical solution, given the political resistance to increased immigrationin much of the rich world. (If you think it's a hot topic in the U.S., try Japan, which steadfastly resists assimilating foreigners,despite the dire threat posed by an aging population.) But it might be the onlyway to save our overpopulated planet.

So much juicy stuff to talk about this year.
UPDATE: I had included here a biggraphic about population growth, but a reader pointedout that at least some of the info in the graphic was incorrect, so I'veremoved it. Here instead is a NationalGeographicvideo that accompanies the magazine's cover story on population:

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