by Joanna Zelman
The world population is expected to soon surpass seven billion. That is more than double the number of people living on Earth just 50 years ago. Monday is "World Population Day," a yearly event created by the United Nations to highlight the significance of population trends. But just what is that significance?
Every day, one billion people go hungry. One billion people don't have access to clean water. According to CBC News, part of the message of World Population Day is that despite declines in fertility rates around the world, 215 million women in developing countries don't have access to effective family planning methods. A goal of the U.N.'s 7 Billion Actions campaign is to "break the cycle of poverty and inequality to help slow population growth."
Although an unpopular subject, the world's growing population has become a topic of concern for some who fear that as the world's population grows, the state of our environment will decline.
Thomas L. Friedman, author of "The World Is Flat," writes in his book "Hot, Flat, And Crowded":
It is getting hot, flat, and crowded. That is, global warming, the stunning rise of middle classes all over the world, and rapid population growth have converged in a way that could make our planet dangerously unstable. In particular, the convergence of hot, flat, and crowded is tightening energy supplies, intensifying the extinction of plants and animals, deepening energy poverty, strengthening petrodictatorship, and accelerating climate change.
Some argue that there are two underlying issues with population growth and the environment. The first is that simply by the world population increasing, resources will become more limited. The second is that the world's population is continuing to use these resources in inefficient ways. As Arthur H. Westing wrote in an op-ed to The New York Times, "Population is a double-barreled environmental problem -- not only is population increasing; so are emissions per capita. In 1970, when worldwide greenhouse gas emissions had just begun to transgress the sustainable capacity of the atmosphere, the world population was about 3.7 billion; today it's about 6.9 billion -- an increase of 86 percent. In that same period, worldwide emissions from fossil fuels rose from about 14 billion tons to an estimated 29 billion tons -- an increase of 107 percent."
Westing concludes that since the connection between overpopulation and global warming is still considered a taboo subject, there should at least be an increased focus on combating global warming through emission-control measures.
Friedman proposes a solution in his book, and though he questions whether the U.S. is ready to take charge, he believes positive change could happen with "Code Green":
Code Green means making America the World's leader in innovating clean power and energy-efficiency systems and inspiring an ethic of conservation toward the natural world, which is increasingly imperiled. We're going to need both massive breakthroughs in clean power and a deeper respect for the world's forests, oceans, and biodiversity hot spots if we're going to thrive in this new age.
As the U.N. Population Fund writes, "Whether we can live together equitably on a healthy planet will depend on the choices and decisions we make now."