According to official statistics, the world's general population will reach the 7 billion mark in October, a few days from now. The billionth person was born in the early 1800s, which means that the globe's population grew by 700 percent in less than 200 years.
While this is a momentous achievement, and a testimony to our species' ability to conquer all adverse odds, it also marks a time of contemplation, where we must take a step back and think more about the course our civilization has set itself in.
Human tendency to expand infinitely will be discussed at the upcoming Festival of Ideas, to be held at the University of Cambridge
, in the United Kingdom. Leading scientific minds in Europe and elsewhere will come together to discuss the challenges associated with reaching this population mark.
One of the primary concerns is sustainability, as in how many people can the planet support without failing. The example of an entire reindeer population dying on an island after consuming all of its natural resources and multiplying out of control immediately comes to mind.
We must avoid such a scenario from taking place at a planetary scale above all else. Population growth will only accelerate from now on, since Earth saw its 6 billionth inhabitant born in 1999, and its 7 billionth individual born in 2011. That's a period of just 12 years.
Some of the questions to be discussed at the meeting include analyses of how many people are enough on the planet. Scientists will also ponder the role of technology in boosting our planet's natural ability to support us, as well as the contributions ideas and innovation will have.
“When I was born it was only 2 billion and now it’s coming up to 7 billion” people, Forum for the Future expert Sara Parkin explains. She will be on the panel together with professor John Guillebaud, Dr. Rachel Murphy, Fred Pearce, and Sir Tony Wrigley, all top scientists.
“ And it’s a very simple equation; we’ve got a finite planet, constraining the goods and services that it can provide, while we seem to be pursuing infinite growth not just of the number of people, but a growth in what we’re consuming as well,” the expert adds.
A change in the way we perceive our so-called rights to exploit the planet should take place as soon as possible, if our species is to avoid dying off due to poor resource management and infinite growth.
However, these are thorny issues, since they sometime step the boundaries into private and social rights that are guaranteed by law. Therefore, managing to make the two get along will require a considerable amount of tact and patience. And we don't have too much time for the latter.
“We are not very good at long term planning, and it’s estimated we waste about 90% of the materials and energy that we mobilize for our way of life, so within that there’s a massive amount of opportunities for savings and efficiency and we just have to learn to do more with an awful lot less,” Parkin concludes.