7 Billion and Counting…

November 1, 2011

Political Theory


The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) announced that on October 31, 2011, the world population reached 7 billion people, growing from 6 million in just the past 13 years.  Alarming for some and optimistic  for others, there is no doubt that our world is changing faster than it ever has before.  Currently, 43% of the world’s population is under 25 years of age, and half of the world’s population lives in cities, projected to climb to 2/3 of the population in the next 30 years.  Life expectancy has also increased to 68, up 20 years since 1950.

Newborn Danica Camacho is just one of several babies chosen to be the world's symbolic seven billionth baby

Newborn Danica Camacho is just one of several babies chosen to be the world's symbolic seven billionth baby

On the downward side, infant mortality has plunged from 133/1000deaths  in 1950  to 46/1000 right now.  Female Fertility has also dropped from an average of 6 to 2.5 children, a surprising statistic being one of four siblings in my family.  In short, the population is growing and more people are living longer, but individual women are starting to have fewer kids.  So what seems to be the problem?

Many people believe that having half of the world’s population under 25 is a good thing.  They will have immense economic opportunities, plan the growth and development of new cities, develop programs to sustain the Earth’s resources, and have the opportunity to improve education.  However, this specific population is in a very vulnerable place, because alarmingly, 250 million women around the world are not able to receive contraception or family planning, speculated to grow to over 40% of the world’s population by 2050.  At 7 billion people, this is the largest generation of young people entering their reproductive years than ever before.

There are also financial dangers associated with this population increase.  Although unemployed workers in developing countries are beginning to find more industrialized jobs, labor shortages are threatening the economies in some industrialized countries, just like we are seeing in the US today.  And although there has been a steady decline in extreme poverty over the years, the gaps between the rich and poor are widening all over the world.

Demographers estimate that the world population will reach 8 billion by 2025 and 10 billion by 2083, depending of course on life expectancy, access to birth control, and infant mortality among other things.  Currently, the world’s most populous nation is China with a staggering 1.34 billion people, followed closely by its neighbor India. The Chinese Government, despite its strict family planning policy, is worried that soon, there will not be enough young Chinese to support the enormous elderly population.

So the country with the world’s biggest population is worried that they’re won’t be enough of their own people to support the older population? This seems ridiculous, and I’m sure Hobbes, and Locke would agree with me.  But how would each philosopher address the current population problem? How would Hobbes’ State of Nature be effected in a world with over 7 billion people? How would Locke encourage man to secure property rights on an earth that is running out of room?

And what do you think the world should do? Is it time to implement a world-wide family planning policy just as the Chinese have? Where do we plan on putting another billion people, dead and alive, in the next 15 years? How do we ensure that we have enough natural resources to last us to that point?

Is this the future of transportation?

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7 Comments on “7 Billion and Counting…”

  1. blevz Says:

    The interesting thing about population demographics lies in the stage of industrialization that country has reached. Fertility rates drop tremendously during the post-industrial stage of development. Many Western European powers (France’s fertility rate 1.96 Germany’s 1.41 Greece’s 1.38) and Japan (fertility rate 1.21) have reached this point and are already dealing with the issues of supporting a larger and longer living contingent of unemployed elders. However, in countries like Afghanistan (5.39) and Somalia (6.35) large amounts of population increases are continuing unabated. In the case of Afghanistan and Somalia the issue of widespread violence among other underlying conditions prevent the adequate dispersal of family planning. There exist a connection between urbanization and access to family planning that makes sense; it would take large amounts of energy and time to acquire family planning from miles away by walking as opposed to cities where denser living and public transport, not to mention to increased income, allow for easier access to family planning. It seems like Hobbe’s argument is affirmed in this instance, the areas that are under less threat from a Sovereign (or resist it’s control and thus remain in a state of nature in the case of Afghanistan) aren’t able to establish essential human services that would improve the life of all.

  2. wjpetok24 Says:

    As much as it pains to me to take this position, I believe that over-population could be a very costly issue for our world in the near future. Given the situation already taking place in China, I would hate to see America adopt such a policy, but we must learn from their mistake to prevent our own. I’m not suggesting that we implement a family planning policy or program, but a more concerned effort to reduce the strain of over-population by trying to slow down birth rates.

    With the rapid growth expected, over-population may already be inevitable, and this would surely affect our reserves of precious resources needed to maintain our existence. If anything, it should be a goal of this country to come together to address this issue before it becomes to overwhelming to deal with as it already has in China and soon India and other countries around the world. With China as a prime example of the dangers of over-population, our citizens should make a concerned effort to not over-populate our country or face the consequences of dwindling resources and space.

  3. arielleshanker Says:

    The problem of overpopulation seems very relevant to our discussion in lecture today about Machiavellianism, particularly the passage that we looked at on the problem of dirty hands.

    The problem of dirty hands that we identified in class today discusses the idea that good men are at a disadvantage because they are required to interact with corrupt people on a daily basis, and thus it is beneficial to act more “corrupt” as well in order to level the playing field. One could argue that previous generations have acted with high Machiavellian behavior in regards to natural resources, in that they used what they had to in order to sustain themselves without concern for future generations. Nowadays, people are slightly more cognizant of the conservation movement and the depletion of resources that could possibly result from a world population of 7 billion.

    These changing perceptions about the usage of natural resources are likely due to people beginning to understand the consequences of the Machiavellian behavior of our ancestors. Their ends of survival justified their means of consuming resources without thought for what their children and children’s children would have to use. There was no end-independent normative constraint. On that same note, it was necessary for previous generations to be ruthless in consumption in order to get what they want, while it will be necessary for our generation to be more conservative in our consumption in order to get to the same end.

  4. goldman13 Says:

    Like you said, we’ve made such incredible advancements over the last 60 years that life expectancy has increased, infant mortality has decreased and the world’s population is largely young, innovative and groundbreaking. Although overpopulation is a dangerous issue, I think we need to first recognize and appreciate the great strides that society has made. We, as a generation, have reached scientific heights that were previously unattainable and we will continue to make unimaginable breakthroughs. That being said, we need to (ironically) correct a problem that spurs from our own ingenuity.

    At this point in time, our natural resources are already running low and have consequently caused global problems including climate change, deforestation, and ozone destruction. But the answer isn’t limiting our own growth (as China has been doing). 50 years ago, the idea that we could communicate with people across the world in real time never even crossed people’s minds. Likewise, 15 years ago, the idea that information could be instantly distributed electronically and without any physical copy was considered ludicrous. But the development of the Internet solved this, and has allowed us to continue to make advancements

    The connection: In the past, we have solved our own problems by developing new technology to help us do so. Therefore, in the next 15 years, I think we need to work on creating technology that will counter population-growth. You may think this is bizarre, impossible. But so did the people 15 years ago who only knew of one type of mail: snail-mail. I have no idea how we will do this, or what we could possibly make to help us solve this problem. But I believe that an answer is out there, and we are advanced and innovative enough to find it.

  5. parijog Says:

    I agree with the author that the statistics of worldwide population growth are initially alarming, but upon reading some of the above comments, I have come to believe that this is a problem that will likely take care of itself naturally, and there is really no just way of girdling the world’s population. We have all learned in our biology classes about a the carrying capacity of an certain ecosystem. The carrying capacity is determined by teh resources available in that particular ecosystem. For humans, the world is our ecosystem, and our resources are limited as well by acreage of land available for farming and living. Because we have yet to run out of land, we continue to grow. In the animal model, we could expect soon that the weaker humans would die out as soon as the resources became scarce. In a Hobbesian state of nature, this would be the case for humans as well. I however, like to believe we humans are smarter that animals. We will not continue to procreate in knowing that the worlds scarce resources will plunge our offspring into a state of animal competition for food. Birth control is becoming more and more widely available, and hopefully by the time population becomes a problem, birth control will be available to everyone, and everyone will have awareness of what effect will come of their actions to procreate.

    I feel that as resources slowly become strained, humans globally will learn to curtail their sexual acts in accordance will Hobbesian state of nature. If you know that your child will be competing with you and requiring resources from you (that you do not have in excess) you will be less inclined to procreate so recklessly(hehe)

  6. shmily4k Says:

    Overpopulation not only causes limited resources to be used up quickly, it also brings economical and environmental problems. In fact, we are destroying the biological diversity and depleting the natural resources. In my opinion, there are two ways to solve the problems caused by overpopulation. The most important and effective way is by education. By teaching and encouraging people to use contraceptives voluntarily, we can efficiently reduce the number of newborn babies. Another solution would be the use of government regulations. By restricting the number of children that each couple could have, we can reduce the growth rate of the population. However, this regulation has to be strictly enforced to ensure its effectiveness. For example, even though the population growth rates have been lowered in the cities of China, the entire population of the country continues to grow. The reason behind this phenomenon is that the regulation was not enforced strictly in the rural areas. I’m not saying every country must implement the one-child policy like China did, but it is worth considering to use government regulation to control population growth. Many people oppose the use of government regulation because they think that it is parents’ “freedom” to decide how many children they want to have. However, by Mill’s utilitarianism, we should implement government regulations in childbirth to promote greater happiness of the entire world. If government regulations are not enforced, we would not be able to control the population growth efficiently and that would bring about many disastrous environmental and economical problems.

  7. maxmoray Says:

    I initially had to agree with the comment left by parijog, regarding the fact that population growth is a problem that will likely take care of itself naturally. Yes, other countries like China have adopted laws to limit population growth, however in my eyes there is really no real way of girdling the world’s population. Living within the United States, one of the greatest freedoms we have is our ability to reproduce with the one we truly love. This allows for family ideals to be passed from generation to generation, as well as keep the family traditions alive.
    Rather then focusing on the obvious growth of the world population, I believe what we need to focus more on are the factors that are leading to these positive trends. Over the last one hundred years, the biggest population story involves the conquest of disease. Scientists have learned a great deal about the ways to prevent and cure many types of disease. Likewise, over the past 10 years, the world’s food production has increased by 24 per cent, out dueling the rate of population growth. Unfortunately, this increase was not evenly distributed throughout the world. Countries such as Africa are heavily increasing in population, and sadly aren’t improving in food distribution.
    For Thomas Hobbes, who described life in nature as “poor, solitary, nasty, brutish, and short,” these living conditions for third world countries would be of no surprise. For many workers who lived in the Gilded Age, similar problems were faced with a lack of nutritional resources. How can we as a country stop it? I don’t think this can be answered without the concordance of all other countries. That is, the increase in world population will only be mended, if all countries come together as one and fix the potential problems at hand.

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