Sometime late this year a baby will emerge from the womb of its mother, draw its first breath, and announce its arrival into the world with a tiny cry. Thus will Baby Seven Billion be born.
Everyone agrees that Baby Seven Billion’s birthday—the day that our planet becomes home to seven billion human beings—marks an important milestone. But is it a milestone on humanity’s upward path that we should celebrate, or a warning sign of impending catastrophe?
The prophets of doom and gloom, of population bombs and the baby booms, would have preferred that Baby Seven Billion had never been born.
We at PRI have a different take on the matter. We believe that the birth of Baby Seven Billion is cause for celebration. He or she has been born into a world that is more prosperous than our forebears could have imagined.
As our numbers have climbed so has our well-being. In 1800, when there were only 1 billion people, per capita income was a mere $100. By 1900, as the population was closing in on 2 billion, it reached $500. Currently, with 7 billion people, per capita income has soared to over $5,000. In 2100, when the population is projected to be between 7 and 8 billion (and falling), it will be $30,000 in current dollars.
Driving the so-called “population explosion” has been a real explosion in health and longevity. As late as the 19th century, four out of every 10 children died before reaching age five. Today under-five mortality is under 7 percent. Two hundred years ago, human life expectancy was under 30 years. Today it is closer to 70 years.
As people live longer, naturally there are more of us around at any given time. This is cause to celebrate, not to despair.
By nearly every measure of well-being, from infant mortality and life expectancy to educational level and caloric intake, life in Africa, Asia, and Latin America has been getting dramatically better. According to the World Bank, the average income in the developing world has more than doubled since 1960.
Enough grain is produced for every person on earth to consume 3,500 calories daily. There is no need for anyone to starve in the midst of this plenty.
Population has doubled since 1960, but world food and resource production has never been higher. Economies continue to expand, productivity is up, and pollution is declining. Life spans are lengthening, poverty is down, and political freedom is growing. Even the intractable Middle East, thought to be forever the playground of dictators and ayatollahs, is astir. The human race has never been so well off.
In fact, underpopulation, not overpopulation, is the biggest threat facing the world today. Over eighty countries representing well over half the world’s population will have below replacement fertility—defined as 2.1 children per woman.
The populations of the developed nations today are static or declining. The UN predicts that, by 2050, Russia’s population will have declined by 25 million people, Japan’s by 21 million, Italy’s by 16 million, and Germany’s and Spain’s by 9 million each. Europe and Japan will lose half their population by 2100.
Countries with below replacement rate fertility will eventually die out. It’s just a matter of time.
Even in the developing world family size has shrunk, from around 5 children per woman in 1900 to well under 3 today. And the decline continues.
According to the UN’s “low variant projection”—historically the most accurate—the population of the world will peak at 8 billion in 2040 or so, and then begin to decline.
High fertility rates are becoming rare. The UN numbers for 2008 show only a handful of countries with population increase rates at or above 3.0 percent.
By 2050, persons aged 65 and above will be almost twice as numerous as children 15 years and younger. The economic consequences of population aging will be closing schools, declining stock markets, and moribund economies.
Ignoring these facts, the population controllers continue to spread their myth of overpopulation.
The UNFPA and other population control organizations are loath to report the truth about falling fertility rates worldwide, since they raise funds by frightening people with the specter of overpopulation. They tell us that too many babies are being born to poor people in developing countries. This is tantamount to saying that only the wealthy should be allowed to have children, and is a new form of global racism.
We should stop funding population control programs, and instead turn our attention to real problems like malaria, typhus, and HIV/AIDS.
Let us also join together in celebrating the birth of Baby Seven Billion. He or she is a sign of our future, our hope and our prosperity.
People are our greatest resource. Extraordinarily gifted people have helped to enrich civilization and lengthen life spans. But the fact is, everyone, rich or poor, is a unique creation with something priceless to offer to the rest of us.
Baby Seven Billion, boy or girl, red or yellow, black or white, is not a liability, but an asset. Not a curse, but a blessing. For all of us.