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6 Billion of us on Tuesday

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  • ELEvans@xxx.xxx
    World Population Reaches 6 Billion World Population Reaches 6 Billion By MATT CRENSON .c The
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 10, 1999
      <A HREF="aol://4344:3167.worldpop.21059248.622468767"> World Population
      Reaches 6 Billion</A>
      World Population Reaches 6 Billion

      By MATT CRENSON
      .c The Associated Press

      NEW YORK (Oct. 10) - A majority of the 370,000 children born this Tuesday
      will be poor. Half will be Asian. And in theory, one will be the planet's 6
      billionth person.

      Most experts greet this milestone with anxiety. In just 12 years, they note,
      humans have increased their number by 1 billion. During the 20th century, the
      world's population has tripled. And by 2100, ecologist David Pimentel of
      Cornell University warned in a recent paper, ''12 billion miserable humans
      will suffer a difficult life on Earth.''

      Advocates for population control call it ''Y6B.'' They warn that if humanity
      can't clamp a lid on the population explosion it will spell serious trouble -
      war, famine, economic collapse.

      But not everybody agrees that Oct. 12 is a day for doom and gloom. Economist
      Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington,
      D.C., considers it an occasion for celebration.

      ''This is an incredible thing that we have 6 billion people,'' he says.
      ''It's a real tribute to human ingenuity and our ability to innovate.''

      Moore was a student of economist Julian Simon, who died last year at the age
      of 65. Simon criticized warnings about population growth, arguing that
      technological innovation would progress fast enough to support the human
      race. To an extent, that is what has happened this century.

      ''A lot of these prophecies of doom have really proven to be false,'' Moore
      says.

      Even the United Nations, a leading advocate for population control, has found
      reason for encouragement in recent population growth, because the boom is
      proof of increased agricultural production, decreased infant mortality and
      prolonged life expectancy.

      But the ''Green Revolution'' that increased food production so dramatically
      in the 1960s and 1970s appears to have reached its limit. Total agricultural
      yields have leveled off and per capita food production has actually been
      falling since 1983, Pimentel notes in the current issue of ''Environment,
      Development, and Sustainability.'' And there is little chance that
      genetically modified crops and other biotechnology will reinvigorate
      agricultural production.

      ''We can hope, but actually if you look, biotechnology's been with us for the
      last 20 years,'' Pimentel says. ''To state it will turn the food situation
      around, the evidence is not there.''

      Pimentel argues that the optimal world population in the year 2100 is 2
      billion. To reach that population level, people would have to reduce their
      fertility from the current level of 2.7 births per woman to 1.5, a highly
      unrealistic prospect. But if they did, he says, those 2 billion people could
      enjoy a standard of living comparable to that of the average European today.

      An international agreement reached five years ago in Cairo pledges all
      nations to cooperate in trying to limit population growth by providing family
      planning services throughout the developing world. The United Nations credits
      similar efforts with decreasing the fertility rate in those countries from
      six births per woman in 1950 down to about three today.

      ''We can say with some pride that fertility rates have fallen sharply,'' says
      William Ryan, editor of the annual United Nations State of World Population
      Report. ''Of course a lot depends on choices and actions that governments
      make, particularly over the next couple of decades.''

      Developed countries, especially the United States, have been accused of
      failing to meet the commitments they made in Cairo. Developed countries
      contribute about $2 billion a year to population control, less than half the
      amount they signed up for in Cairo.

      ''Not providing these resources will guarantee that we can't make the
      progress we would otherwise make,'' Ryan says.

      It is his agency, the United Nations Population Fund, that declared Tuesday
      the ''day of 6 billion,'' the official date that the world population
      surpasses that figure. But population statistics being what they are, nobody
      knows for certain which day the clock will turn over. U.S. Census Bureau
      figures put the date nearly three months ago, on July 19.

      No matter. Whether the globe's population has already passed 6 billion or
      not, at the close of the 20th century there are really two demographic
      worlds. One is poor, young and growing. In countries like Uganda and Niger,
      the median age is 15 and the growth rate is fast enough to double the
      population in 23 years.

      The other demographic world is wealthy, old and shrinking. The median age in
      Italy and Japan is 40. And the population growth in those countries has
      fallen to zero or below.

      ''Europe is a demographic catastrophe,'' says Moore, of the Cato Institute.
      ''If you take that trend out 500 years you're going to have eight Italians
      and three Irish on the face of the Earth.''

      Closer to the present, the United Nations projects that in 2050 a quarter of
      the developed world will be older than 65. That is a higher proportion of
      retirement-age people than Florida has today.

      ''Politics will change. Environment will change,'' says Joseph Chamie,
      director of the United Nations Population Division. ''Automobiles,
      consumption, clothing, living arrangements.''

      As one world grows old, the other will grow up - and have more children.
      There are about 1 billion teenagers living today, mostly in the Third World.
      Even though fertility rates are expected to keep falling, the simple fact
      that so many people will reach adulthood in the coming decades will boost
      population by another several billion.

      ''Even if all those couples had only two children, population would continue
      to grow for another 40 years or so,'' Ryan says.

      At the same time, that growing population faces enormous obstacles. In some
      parts of Africa, one adult in four is HIV positive. Worldwide, 8 percent of
      the population lives in a place without enough water. By 2050, a quarter of
      the world will have less water than it needs.

      ''Some experts believe the wars in the Middle East in the 21st century will
      be over access to drinking water,'' says Brian Dixon, director of government
      relations for Zero Population Growth, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group.

      Global warming and other environmental factors may also cause problems. If
      current estimates are correct, sea level will rise as much as 3 feet over the
      next century, displacing 72 million people in China and 71 million in
      Bangladesh.

      It would seem almost too much to handle - the disease, the limited resources,
      the environmental threats - but even the man who would like to see a world
      population one-third its present size is hopeful.

      ''Obviously we can't make land and we can't make water, but I think we can
      turn things around,'' says Pimentel. ''I have great faith in human nature.''

      AP-ES-10-04-99 1503EDT

      Copyright 1999 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news
      report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed
      without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. All active
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