2011: The Year We Hit 7 Billion…Are we ready?

Coming soon to a planet near you: 7 Billion...and counting

Sometime during 2011, human numbers will add up to 7 billion.

That is 7,000,000,000 living and breathing people — all of who will need to be fed, clothed, sheltered and cared for in many other ways.

During this year, National Geographic magazine will publish a 7-part series examining specific challenges and solutions to the issues we face. The magazine introduces the series with its January cover story “7 Billion,” offering a broad overview of demographic trends that got us to today and will impact us all tomorrow. The first in-depth story will appear in the March issue, focusing on humans’ impact on the planet’s geology. Other stories will follow throughout 2011.

This clever video accompanies the coverage:

Correction added by NatGeo editors: in 2050, 70% of the population will be living in “urban areas,” not “megacities” as stated in an earlier version of this video.

A world party of 7 Billion?
In another short video on National Geographic website, Nigel Holmes imagines how much space we would need to host a world party for 7 billion people in 2011.

I don’t like the word population: it sounds cold, clinical and detached. Zoologists can talk about ant populations or elephant populations, but when demographers (and others, including journalists) refer to our the counting of species as human population, I somehow feel it’s too impersonal. Aren’t we more than mere numbers?

So in my own writing and TV scripts, I use the phrase human numbers.

Can you visualise 7 billion?
Semantics apart, our rising numbers are indeed a cause for concern. We didn’t quite see the ‘population bomb’ go off the way we were warned about – thank the secular Force – but we still face formidable challenges.

In 1987 — the year I entered journalism — human numbers passed five billion. A dozen years later, in 1999, the six billion was reached. By then, I too had added my contribution of one co-produced human being. Soon in 2011, we will be seven billion.

Our planet’s natural systems are over-stretched not only by our sheer numbers, but also by our technologies and consumption. The many signs of planetary stress include accelerated loss of species, fast spreading deserts, and declining air and water quality. To cap it all, scientists now confirm that human activity is changing our climate.

On the New York Times Dot Earth blog, science writer Andrew C. Revkin regularly examines efforts to balance human affairs with the planet’s limits.

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

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