A milestone we should be proud of

As Danica Camacho takes her first glances at the world, she is blissfully unaware that the world is gazing back at her. The arrival of the symbolic ‘seven billionth baby’ has triggered a string of celebrations, starting in her home country of the Philippines and swiftly spreading across the globe. Yet the celebrations proved merely ephemeral, and soon evaporated as the debate about overpopulation was reborn.

Dr Eric Tayag of the Philippines Department of Health, delivered a message of concern stating that “seven billion is a number we should think about deeply” and warning that the “population explosion” is spiralling out of control.

It is feared that rapid population growth will imminently lead to the exhaustion of the world’s resources, making it impossible to sustain ordinary human life.

If you believe media hyperbole, you’d think we’re hurtling towards the apocalypse. The reality is rather more sedate.To suggest that the world is currently overpopulated is an overreaction. Statistics from the Energy Information Commission reveal that the countries with the fastest growing populations place the least strain on the planet’s resources and tend to emit lower levels of carbon emissions per person. For instance, India has a high population growth rate of 1.4 percent, yet its average citizen emits only 1.38 tonnes per person. Whereas Gibraltar has a low population growth rate of 0.29 percent but each individual emits a whopping 152 tonnes on average.

Demographic studies also show that fertility rates are in decline across 80 percent of the world, widely attributed to the trend towards urbanisation. Over half of the world’s population now lives in cities, where the economic benefit of having children is trifling. China’s one child policy, however disagreeable, has also contributed to the low fertility pattern. As a result, the United Nations Population Division predicts that the number of infants will begin to contract significantly in the next decade.

American demographer Phillip Longman infers that all “subsequent population growth will be due to increases in the numbers who survive to older ages.” By 2070, a significant proportion of the estimated 9 billion people in the world will be “greying souls” and soon afterwards the population will “start to contract with compounding force.”

George Leeson, demographer at the Oxford Institute of Population Aging, forecasts that this population decline could persist for a lengthy period, “once you’ve turned off the tap it can be difficult to get it running again” he said. By the end of the century we could be losing up to 1 billion people every 20 years.

Rapid population growth is not evidence, per se, that we are becoming overpopulated. Even if the total population doubled over the next 10 years, overpopulation could be circumvented by improving the allocation of the world’s resources.  With falling population growth rates, and a rising population putting less strain on the earth’s resources, our ‘overpopulation’ problem looks unlikely.

Should overpopulation materialise in the future, the problem could be controlled by discouraging over-consumption, improving technology and increasing awareness of family planning.

So let’s recommence the celebrations and entertain the thought that if and by the time overpopulation eventuates, the earth’s occupants, in all their futuristic glory, will be well equipped to resolve the problem by rocketing off to begin space colonisation.

-Iman Sana Teemul