The United Nations recognized a milestone in November 2011: the world’s population has reached seven billion people. The occasion was marked with celebrations of several symbolic “seven billionth” babies, but also with a lot of reflection. Seven billion is a huge number and the sad reality is that many seven billionth babies will not have access to proper nutrition, adequate clean drinking water or even basic medical care.
It’s estimated that the world’s population has more than doubled over the last half century. And United Nations’ projections show the population hitting eight billion by 2025 -- and 10 billion by the end of this century. Providing basics like food, water and shelter for a few billion more people is a pretty serious concern.
The ecological impact on our environment is equally important since increasing numbers of people counting on the world’s natural resources for sustenance and livelihoods means additional stresses on those resources. Many countries are already battling water scarcity issues. Farmland has decreased as urban development increases. Essential natural resources, including oil, natural gas and phosphorus are being rapidly depleted.
While this seems pretty dire, there is opportunity for positive change now that can help shape a more sustainable future. New studies show that if we make some major adjustments to our agricultural and lifestyle practices, we can not only sustain our growing numbers but also maintain a healthy environment. Some of the steps experts suggest are to stop farming in tropical rainforests; improve crop yields in parts of the world where farmland isn’t being used efficiently; improve the management of water, nutrients and chemicals on farmland; encourage meatless diets; and stop wasting food.
And Americans have a big role to play in making long term sustainability possible. We top the list of our planet’s mega consumers, using a full 25 percent of the world’s energy even though we make up only five percent of the global population. Combined with other major industrialized nations, we waste 222 tons of food per year! This level of consumption just isn’t sustainable.
According to Jonathan Foley of EarthShare member charity The Nature Conservancy, changing our strategy isn’t just an option, it’s a necessity. Foley thinks the problem of feeding the world and not wrecking the planet is a huge challenge that’s going to shape much of the 21st century. “Solving it will require huge cooperation, innovation, and hard work.”
So in a world of seven billion people, what can you do you to help ensure a healthy and sustainable planet for the future billions to come? A great first step is to learn about the issues:
Connect for Conservation with EarthShare member Conservation International. Let the world know that you need nature and believe in protecting it by finding solutions now. Put your name on the map!
Read EarthShare member the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Environment and Population series to learn how population impacts forests, water supplies, climate change and biodiversity.
Find out why World Resources Institute thinks the problem is not so much the ever expanding population, but high-consumption lifestyles. Then listen to Janet Ranganathan’s interview on NPR’s Living on Earth as she discusses Feeding a Growing Population.
Check out 7 Billion Action’s website and blog to find out how people around the world are addressing the challenges of a growing population. Then find out how the world’s population reaching 7 billion affects you with their interactive portal.
Be a part of the solution every day by consuming less energy, wasting less everything, and by living a sustainable lifestyle in general. Try some of our green tips to help you get started!