As experts wait for the human population to reach 7 billion this week, some estimates claim even larger growth by the end of the century. One forthcoming United Nations report estimates that the number of humans on the planet may reach 15 billion — more than double current levels, according to The Observer.
Previous numbers, gathered from global demographic trends, project the world's population to reach 10 billion by 2100. So why have the predictions changed?
The answer lies in the estimates themselves. Like other UN population reports, the releases list low, medium and high estimates for population growth. It seems the updated version may list 15 billion as the high end of the new estimate for 2100. It's uncertain what the low end of the new estimate will be.
One Forbes blog author reasons that there's no need to panic after hearing the news. He also points out that the strongest predictor of lower birth rates is wealth, not contraception or family planning, necessarily. Most initiatives encourage reducing the fertility rate to 2.1, or a level where children replace their parents rather cause the population to grow exponentially.
Another New York Times opinions piece points out that Earth's short-term carrying capacity might be higher than we think. Its author, Rockefeller University professor Joel Cohen, argues that it's not always the numbers of people that restrict quality of life around the globe; rather, it's people's investment in each other and future generations that will free up access to "basic human needs" such as access to clean water and food.
In other words, we should face resource issues now instead of years down the road.
Along similar lines, a Wall Street Journal columnist likens the idea of viewing humans as minds with potential, not mouths to feed. Noting that apocalyptic Malthusian predictions didn't ring true in the past, the author suggests looking at population growth differently, valuing others' potential more.
And to prepare for the arrival of "Baby 7 billion" on Oct. 31, the UN has put together a world anthem to encourage all of Earth's citizens to improve human and environmental health. Because it's impossible to keep up with every birth and death in the world, the date reflects an estimate of reaching 7 billion rather than the exact date itself.
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