Texas A&M Prof And Class To Commemorate 7 Billionth-Person Milestone Monday
COLLEGE STATION — Many Americans are gearing up for Halloween Monday (Oct. 31). The world, according to United Nations tabulations, is gearing up for the birth of its seven billionth person — that’s 7,000,000,000 people — and a Texas A&M University sociology professor and his class are gearing up to observe the milestone with a cake-cutting and a session focusing on whether it’s a trick or treat event.
Prof. Dudley Poston and the Aggies in his undergraduate demography class will celebrate at 4:10 p.m. Monday with a “Big 7” cake-cutting and then launch into a discussion — or a debate — about how the world will cope with its mushrooming population.
“This new seven billionth next Monday is a really big deal,” emphasizes Poston, who specializes in demographic studies. “We didn’t reach one billion in the world until 1800, and it took us until 1930 to get to two billion. We reached three billion in 1960, and on and on and on to 1999 when we reached six billion. And now in a few days we will get to seven billion.”
According to the United Nations, the sixth billionth child was a boy born on Oct. 12, 1999, in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Poston is predicting the seventh billionth child will also be a boy, but he believes the child will be born in China or India — the two demographic billionaires in the world today.
Poston, who holds the George T. & Gladys Y. Abell Professorship of Liberal Arts and serves as director of Texas A&M’s Asian Studies Program, points out there are positives and negatives about the seven billion milestone.
“In the first place, the growth rate of the world’s population is slowing down. Fertility declines in many countries of the world have been staggering,” the Texas A&M professor points out. “The average woman worldwide now has 2.5 children in her lifetime, compared to 4.5 in 1970. Over 70 countries of the world today have fertility rates of 2.1 or less children per woman — with 2.1 being the number needed for a country to eventually replace itself.”
The low-fertility countries include but are not limited to Europe, North America, Australia and Japan. Included also are China (1.5), South Korea (1.2), Brazil (1.9), Tunisia (2.1), Thailand (1.6), Qatar (2.1), the UAE (1.8) and Lebanon (2.1), he notes, adding, “it even includes Iran, where, remarkably, the fertility rate has fallen from 7.0 in 1984 to 1.9 today.”
Poston predicts the years and decades ahead will be times of even slower population growth globally.
“It is really only in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa where fertility is still high — Niger’s fertility rate is 7, Somalia’s and Uganda’s is 6.4 — but even in several of these countries there have been fertility declines in recent years,” he observes.
He says the fastest growth period in the history of the world was in the mid to late 1960s when the world was growing at 2 percent annually, adding that now the growth rate is half the rate of the late 1960s.
“As a consequence, it will probably take the world 14 years to get to eight billion people,” Poston predicts. He points out "The Economist" magazine notes this will be “the first time (in human history) that a billion milestone has taken longer to reach than the one before.”
Poston says it took almost all of human history to reach the first billion, around 1800. Then it took around 130 years to get to two billion in 1930, then 30 years to three billion in 1960, 14 years to four billion in 1974, 13 years to five billion in 1987, 12 years to six billion in 1999 and 12 years to seven billion next Monday.
“But it will be 14 years to reach eight billion, in 2025, and then 18 years to reach nine billion, in 2043,” Poston estimates.
He says the questions most people seem to be interested in deal with the effects of a larger population on war and violence, the environment and food.
Regarding violence, he notes that Steven Pincer's recent book suggests that war and violence are on the decline and big population increases (one new billion every 12 years recently) have not caused increases in violence worldwide.
“Indeed, Pinker writes that we are now living in the most peaceful times in human history,” Poston adds.
What about the environment? Poston notes while it is true that increased numbers of humans have caused changes in climate and increases in greenhouse levels in the atmosphere, but he says he believes another billion people will not necessarily cause more environmental problems.
"The Economist" reports that the lifestyles of Americans and Westerners in general cause tremendous problems for the environment, he points out, noting the magazine article says each American emits nearly 20 tons of carbon dioxide annually. However, in more than 60 countries of the world, including almost all of Africa, the peoples there emit less than one ton per person per year. Poston states it is in these countries where most of the next billion people will come from.
“Population does have an obvious impact on food: the more mouths on the earth, the more food that is necessary,” he observes. “Increases in population size will require increases in agricultural productivity. But it more an issue of the supply of food than the demand. That is, with past increases in population, agricultural productivity was able to be maintained. But will farm productivity continue to be increased, or perhaps is it leveling out? This is the big question, rather than, specifically, the seven billion or the eight billion new inhabitants of the world.”
Poston says he hopes the Aggies in his class Monday afternoon will launch into a lively discussion after they savor a bit of “Big 7” cake.