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Population watch

7 billion people on earth: Cause for celebration or trepidation?

News_7th billion baby
Danica Mae Camacho, the Philippine's symbolic seven billionth baby. Photo by AFP/via

Today, the world's population is expected to have reached seven billion, with symbolic celebrations (and associated confusion) around the globe for babies born on this day.

It's a milestone, alright, not one necessarily to be celebrated.

There's no method for accurately measuring world population, so population clock keepers disagree on the actual figure. The United Nations' Population Division marks Monday as the estimated day, but seven billion could have been reached weeks ago. Or we could still be in the sixes until July of 2012, or even 2013.

Seven billion. The figure is a round number with so many zeros that the implications are difficult to grasp. One CNN article helped put it into perspective:

Seven billion seconds ago, the year was 1789. That was the year George Washington was inaugurated as the first U.S. president and Congress met for the very first time. . . If you took 7 billion steps along the Earth's equator - at 2 feet per step - you could walk around the world at least 106 times."

More perspective: We've doubled the world population since 1968. We've increased by one billion in a dozen years - the same amount of people that go hungry per day. The U.N. anticipates that the population will reach eight billion by 2025 and nine billion by 2050. Some estimates place the population as high as 16 billion by 2100. Find out where you fall in line here.

Overpopulation has been a scare for almost 200 years, and some environmentalists say that we're close to the tipping point. Water sources are depleting and climate change is creating havoc. Procreation is taking place most rapidly in the nations least prepared to support their populations.

 What the overblown seven billion figure does is create global awareness of the complications associated with the population explosion. What may follow is action.

 Food scarcity is an ongoing issue - and, if the whole world ate a meat-intensive diet like the typical American, current agricultural practices would feed only 2.5 billion people, just a fraction of the population.

At the same time, incremental improvements in medicine have decreased infant mortality and lengthened life spans across the globe. So here we are, seven billion strong, worried about whether Earth will sustain us for the next century.

What the overblown seven billion figure does is create global awareness of the complications associated with the population explosion. What may follow is action. A continued effort to "go green," to educate and empower the young to be responsible parents and progenitors. A collective recognition of small changes that we can make to improve ourselves and our small piece of the planet.

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