7 Boo-illion and Counting

Our Tuesday Trivia this week asked about a forthcoming milestone: The world is predicted to hit a population of 7 billion on Halloween.

Scary, huh?

A growing population affects the environment as every new body to feed, water, clothe and shelter requires natural resources. And those of us in the United States and other rich, First World countries consume double the resources used by the rest of the world. In fact, the UN estimates that if current population and consumption trends continue, we’ll need the equivalent of two Earths to support us by the 2030s. That’s only 20 years away.

As food for thought, here are three quotes from an article that was published in The Guardian earlier this year:

“It is precisely because our population is so large and growing so fast that we must care, ever more with each generation, how much we as individuals are out of sync with environmental sustainability. Our diets, our modes of moving, and our urge to keep interior temperatures close to 70 degrees Fahrenheit no matter what is happening outside — none of these make us awful people. It’s just that collectively, these behaviors are moving basic planetary systems into danger zones.”

“Simultaneously, we need a swift transformation of energy, water, and materials consumption through conservation, efficiency, and green technologies. We shouldn’t think of these as a sequence of efforts — dealing with consumption first, because population dynamics take time to turn around — but as simultaneous work on multiple fronts. It would be naïve to believe we will arrive at sustainability by wrestling shifting technologies and lifestyles while human population grows indefinitely and most people strive to live as comfortably as Americans do…”

“So should we be afraid on the day we gain a 7 billionth living human being, especially considering UN demographers are now projecting anywhere between 6.2 billion and 15.8 billion people at the end of the century? Fear is not a particularly productive response — courage and a determination to act in the face of risk are the answer. And in this case, there is so much to be done to heal and make sustainable a world of 7 billion breathing human beings that cowering would be not just fatalistic but stupid.”

A discussion on population can certainly take many paths, but we’ll keep this one strictly focused on the environment. Clean Wisconsin is working hard on transforming energy and water policies and issues in the state, but shifting our behaviors, individually and collectively, begins at home. We can still be comfortable turning back the thermostat a few degrees. The taste of a tomato picked fresh from a backyard vine is far superior to that of a tomato shipped thousands of miles from warmer climes … and a little fresh air and dirt does a body good. We can’t sit back idly, simply worrying about food shortages, nuclear winter or insert your other favorite apocalyptic event.

That begins today. What’s one behavior you can change in support of a healthy environment that supports clean air, drinkable water and enough natural resources for us all to enjoy?

On a side note, here’s a fun online tool from BBC to determine, roughly, how you fit in the grand scheme of 7 billion people.