7 billion and counting

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board November 02, 2011 07:21 pm

The birth of the baby that brought the human population to 7 billion made the news in a big way this week.

It may be an arbitrary milestone, but it’s certainly a thought-provoking one.

It’s not often, after all, that our species reaches another billion.

But over the past century or so we’ve been climbing to the next threshold a whole lot faster than before.

We hit 6 billion just 12 years ago, and the number is projected to increase to 9 billion by 2050.

This rapid population increase is a legitimate cause for concern. According to U.N. Population Director Haznia Zlotnik, overall population growth "is inevitable," and one result is that natural resources will likely be severely depleted in many regions.

The U.N. World Water Development Report states that feeding the world's expanding population will increase water demand 70 to 90 percent by 2050 without improved agricultural methods.

For some in Baker Valley, that's economic development.

As potato and wheat farmer Jim Blatchford noted in a story in the Harvest section in Monday's Baker City Herald, "they're not making more land. We’ve got 7 billion people now, and everybody wakes up every morning and they’re hungry.”

We might be able to grow enough food to sustain our burgeoning numbers (whether we can distribute the calories adequately is, of course, an altogether different question).

But can Earth absorb all the byproducts of 7 billion or 10 billion or 20 billion people, each of whom would like a Buick and a well-fertilized and -watered patch of lawn out back?

It’s complicated, to be sure.

But one related issue seems pretty simple by comparison. According to the Guttmacher Institute, almost 71 million married women, in 53 countries studied, are at risk of an unplanned pregnancy and not using family planning, as are 4.2 million never-married women in the 36 countries in which that category was studied.

Without access to contraceptive services and supplies, millions of these women will become pregnant each year.

Of the billions in foreign aid that the U.S. and the U.N. spend each year, a top priority for those dollars should be to provide contraception for those who want it.