Sustaining the 7 Billion

Sustaining the 7 Billion

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Something to celebrate?

According to the UN, the world population reached 7 billion people on Monday, October 31. In the wake of this population milestone, the question on everyone’s minds is how can we sustain a world of 7 billion people (and counting!)?

The Earth is composed of finite resources, and there is much controversy over how those resources are allocated. Although the world produces enough food to feed every human on the planet, there are still about a billion people who are hungry because we are not distributing our resources properly. Joel Cohen, head of the Laboratory of Populations at Columbia and Rockefeller Universities, discussed the implications of population growth last week on WNYC Radio and brought up a fascinating point regarding human production and consumption of agriculture and livestock. He remarked that we could feed 9 to 11 billion people if we simply changed our diet; too much of our grain production is used to feed livestock (instead of people) to meet the growing demand for meat. Consumption is a bigger threat to sustainability than population growth itself. If we intend on sustaining this population level, we need to change our consumption habits.

A recent article in The Guardian stated if we do not change our current production practices, there will be irreversible damage to our climate within the next five years. This is a staggering idea in light of the recent population milestone. We need to focus on reducing our carbon footprint by eliminating practices that “lock-in” carbon production, such as fossil-fueled power stations and inefficient industrial practices. Ultimately, we have 7 billion mouths to feed and the only way to do so is to behave in a more responsible way– ethically and environmentally.

Photo by UNDP Jamaica/Carol Narcisse