The world’s population hit 7 billion today. Well, give or take 56 million.
The United Nation’s Population Fund acknowledges that its projection has a 1 to 2 percent margin of error—which translates roughly into the population of Italy—and that an exact date could not be determined; they chose October 31 as the “symbolic” date for hitting 7 billion. That a specific day was designated is less about the significance of the exact number—7,000,000,000 breathing, eating, sleeping people—than the usefulness of a time peg for a necessary conversation: how on Earth are all these people going to live on Earth?
Many people have focused on the environmental issue of growing consumption of energy and natural resources caused by growing populations. As more people enjoy greater access to wealth in rapidly developing countries like China and India, demands on already strained energy sources threaten to grow even higher.
At the same as wealth is rising, so are the numbers of impoverished people living in developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where most of future population growth is projected to occur—which is, not coincidentally, where many women don’t have access to contraception, or are empowered enough to request it.
In the annual State of the World Population report, the new leader of the United Nations Population Fund, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, a Nigerian obstetrician-gynecologist, wrote: “In many parts of the developing world, where population growth is outpacing economic growth, the need for reproductive health services, especially family planning, remains great.”
The benchmark population count has catalyzed conversations not only about the 7 billion people but also the one. Inspired by work at National Geographic that analyzed population data for humanity’s most common characteristics, reporters at CBS hit the streets to find “Earth’s most typical person.” They found Mu Li, a 28-year-old male who lives in New York City and works for People’s Daily, China’s state newspaper.
According to the National Geographic profile, the world’s largest ethnic group is Han Chinese, there are more males in the world than females, and the global median age is 28. Mu Li fits the bill. He also:
— Is right-handed.
— Is Christian
— Speaks Mandarin.
— Owns a cell phone.
— Doesn’t have a car or bank account.
— Makes less than $12,000 a year.
In the face of 7 billion people, the power of one shouldn’t be forgotten. “Instead of asking questions like, ‘Are we too many?’ we should instead be asking, ‘What can I do to make our world better?’” Osotimehin wrote.