Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Seven Billion People

Sometime between now and early next year the world’s population will exceed seven billion. That’s a lot of people. For some years now, forecasts have been made about the effects of over-population, and what impact an increasing number of people will have on the limited amount of resources available on planet Earth. It begins to beg the question, “How many people can our planet sustain?”

People have been suggesting an answer to this question for years. Just this week, I came across an article in the National Review Online that suggests seven billion people is no big problem. The article is worth a read, and can be found here:

As we consider the impact seven billion people will have on the earth, a bit more careful analysis is required that what Glenn Stanton offers. Consider…

  • He quotes other sources to say that all 7 billion people on the earth could live in the state of Texas, at about the same population density of New York City. I’ll take his word on the math here, but the fact is, we don’t all live in Texas. Some places (like the American Great Plains) are very sparsely populated. Other places (nations like India or Bangladesh) are quite overpopulated.

  • Stanton further says that all 7 billion of us could live within the borders of Rhode Island, with enough room for everyone to do “jumping jacks.” This point could not possibly be more irrelevant or absurd. Where would people live, find shelter, use the bathroom, etc.

  • But while we’re tossing out irrelevant statistics, let me add one more. Let’s not just put all 7 billion of the earth’s people in Rhode Island and leave everything else empty. Let’s put 7 billion people within Rhode Island’s borders and increase the rest of the global population by the same factor. That would create a world population of 49 trillion! I think you can see why there comes a point where population growth is a problem---even if all everyone did was jumping jacks.

Stanton does make a very helpful observation about halfway through the article. He says, “And while all is not well…” Indeed, it is not. I don’t intend to offer doomsday sorts of predictions, but let’s consider the fate of this 7 billionth person.

There are today two new babies among my Facebook friends. It is possible that one of these babies is the one that pushed the global population over 7 billion. And if so, how fortunate they are. Both were born into strong, Christian families in the United States. Their parents are well-grounded, secure people with good paying jobs and a home of their own. They have an extended family that will nurture them, a church family to help them learn about Jesus, a safe neighborhood and good schools to grow up in. In short, they potentially have everything they need to grow up safe, secure, happy.

But what if this 7 billionth person is born into an overcrowded fishing village in Southeast Asia? One question this child might face is, “What will I eat?” Their parents might be local fishermen, struggling to harvest enough of the oceans bounty in competition with large commercial fishing fleets whose traps, trawl nets and other fishing lines harvest so many fish that there is very little left for the locals. Stanton says that “there is still plenty of food.” Well, maybe. If there is, it is often in the wrong places. And in terms of fishing, global fishing consumption has doubled in the past generation, while global fishing harvests have decreased since 1988. Enough food or not, Stanton oversimplifies. Malnutrition is a very real possibility.

And what if this 7 billionth person is born in India? One question this child might face is “What will I drink?” India’s population of almost 1.2 billion people is putting extreme pressure on local water supplies. What water is available is harder to get at and often polluted. Many who study global water supplies say that there basically is enough water on Earth for 7 billion people to drink and bathe in. But, again, it’s often in the wrong places.

So where does the church come in? In 1 John 3:17, John says “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?” “Goods” translates the Greek “bios.” It refers simply to those things we need to live: air, food, water, shelter. We can’t solve all of the world’s problems. We need not get caught up in doomsday scenarios of the effects of overpopulation. But we can recognize the struggling of other persons for what it is, and start there.

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