The world population is about to hit 7 billion people. That’s significantly less than what Antoni van Leeuwenhoek predicted back in the 17th century when he estimated there were about 13.4 billion people on Earth. A number we now believe was closer to half a billion at the time.
Human population is always going up, although some events like the Black Plague have lead to minor declines, and that rate has increased exponentially in the decades since Leeuwenhoek first contemplated the number of people milling about on the planet. In the early 1900’s we reached 2 billion, and less than a century later we’re hitting 7 billion. That means for the first time ever there are humans who have lived through not just a doubling of human population, but some even witness a tripling.
National Geographic has an in-depth look at what the population explosion means to the planet. The year long study on human population includes a detailed analysis of the history of human accounting, and a look at how the planet may or may not be able to handle the 9.1 billion that’s expected to exist by 2045.
What it all comes down to is that the planet can handle any number of us humans; it’s how much we consume that is the issue. People living longer lives, a central issue in the fantastic Albert Brooks novel 2030, is just one of the ways mankind is sticking around using up more resources. We can’t expect to stop that, but there are only so many fossil fuels to be used.
The NatGeo piece is a fascinating read, with a look at many sides to the issue. It even brings to mind the many dystopian sci-fi stories where population control is a real problem. Could we be facing our own dystopian future, or will human ingenuity win out?
You can get more information using the new iPad app 7 billion from National Geographic.