6 Billion of us on Tuesday
- <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
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
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
''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
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.''
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