Coming in 2011: The World's 7 Billionth Person
And it's only been 11 years since the 6 billionth
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 31, 2010 7:43 AM CST
A girl takes a view of a crowded street from the shoulders of her father at Tokyo's famous Ameyoko market, jam-packed with year-end shoppers, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010.   (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

(Newser) – Things to look forward to in 2011: all-natural Frito-Lay chips, a bunch of truly unnecessary movie sequels, and … the world’s 7 billionth living person. That lucky baby will arrive sometime next year, according to the UN Population Reference Bureau, writes Bryan Walsh for Time. The world’s 6 billionth living person was born just 11 years ago in Bosnia, and the population is expected to exceed 9 billion by the middle of the century. Can the planet really handle that?

Robert Kunzig attempts to take on that question in a very lengthy National Geographic cover story (worth a read). Walsh picks out a few highlights:

  • Kunzig calls out attention to the fact that it took nearly all of human history to get us to the 1 billion mark, but we're set to explode from 3 billion to 7 billion in about 50 years.
  • By 2050, we'll be somewhere between 8 billion and 10.5 billion, according to the UN.
  • Space isn't the issue. Kunzig notes that if 9 billion people were spread throughout Earth's habitable regions, the population density would be half of that in France.
  • The potential problems: Not enough food, water, energy. And a lot of aging people.
  • Writes Kunzig, "Fixating on population numbers is not the best way to confront the future. The number of people does matter, of course. But how people consume resources matters a lot more ... It’s too late to keep the new middle class of 2030 from being born; it’s not too late to change how they and the rest of us will produce and consume food and energy."