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World Population Day: How to Live Sustainably with 7 Billion People

July 10, 2015 | By Cecily Montgomery

overpopulationSince 1989, the United Nations has observed July 11 as World Population Day, intended “to focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues.”

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), with a mission to “deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled” sponsors this holiday in order to discus how to both provide the most fulfilling life possible for everyone on earth and make the freedom to choose how many children to have a right, not a luxury.

Concerns about Overpopulation

Scientists believe that the world’s population is already well over carrying capacity and continuing to grow at an unsustainable rate. In 1950, the world’s population was 2.5 billion. In less than seventy years that number has nearly tripled, giving us our current population of over 7 billion.

The problem with this exponential growth is that meeting the material demands of over 7 billion people takes a toll on the environment as people engage in activities such as logging to make space for cattle raising for their consumption. The way we are currently consuming, given how many people are on the planet, is not sustainable.

Many leaders in the field of population and sustainability argue that a less crowded world could lead to a higher quality of life for its inhabitants, and thus also plays a role in ensuring that “every young person’s potential is fulfilled.” The UN, among various international NGOS, are therefore working to make family planning a right guaranteed for everyone, in any part of the earth.

Making Family Planning an Option

The UNFPA approaches the first part of the mission—“to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe”—by striving to make family planning options more readily available for everyone in the world. Not only do they believe that this will result in safer and more desired pregnancies, but they also believe that it will empower women to have more control over their lives.

For example, a woman who has access to contraceptives might choose to delay having children so that she can get an education. Children raised by a woman who is ready to have them and has the means to support them will likely have more opportunities that make it easier to achieve their potential. Thus, the second part of the mission—“deliver a world where every young person’s potential is fulfilled”—goes hand in hand with the first.

While the UNFPA does strive to make contraceptives available everywhere without stigma, they do not attempt to dictate how large a family can be and instead attempt to give people the freedom to choose how many children they want. They believe that this approach to family planning not only empowers people to control the path their life takes but also slows the fast-growing population because many women would choose to have fewer children if given the option.

But numbers of people are not the only part of this equation. The way that we consume resources is just as important as how many people there are consuming resources.

The Developed World has Role to Play

Even though the population boom is primarily occurring in the developing world where 80% of Earth’s inhabitants live, the developed world also holds a large responsibility to ensure that Earth’s resources last into the future. Countries in the developed world are currently not contributing to the word’s population boom but are consuming far more than their fair share of Earth’s resources.

For example, if everyone in the world had the same lifestyle as the average person living in the United States, we would need 4.1 Earths to sustain the world’s needs. Additionally, although the U.S. only makes up 5% of the world’s population, its citizens consume 23% of the world’s coal and eat 21% of earth’s meat. On the other hand, if everyone consumed as much as the average person in India, we would need less than one Earth to provide for all.

This means that the second part of the mission of World Population Day also requires the cooperation of people in the parts of the world that consume the most. The overuse of the Earth’s resources by the developed world is harming the livelihood of people in the more crowded parts of the world.

For example, the United States’ oil addiction is causing companies like Chevron to drill for oil in parts of the Amazon where indigenous tribes live. This drilling has led to massive spills, which has had harmful effects on the inhabitants of the nearby communities. In order to improve living conditions for people all over the world and ensure that “every young person’s potential is fulfilled,” we must shift our culture from one that is consumption-driven, to one that is rooted in our interconnectedness to all life.

Moving towards a More Sustainable Planet

To learn how to live with less and sustainably use the Earth’s resources, we can look to our indigenous partners for inspiration. They view themselves as part of the rainforest rather than as separate entities and are therefore mindful of activities such as hunting that have the potential to deplete their environment’s resources.

For example, if they notice that the population of an animal that they use for food is low, they will refrain from hunting that species until they believe that its numbers have returned to safe level. Additionally, most Achuar women have gardens where they grow food for themselves and their families to eat. Eating low impact and local foods as well as reducing unnecessary consumption of goods are things that the rest of the world can do as well to ensure that this planet will be healthy and bountiful for generations to come.

To learn more about the shift in consciousness the planet needs now, interact with like-minded people, and rediscover what’s possible for the future of our planet, you can participate in The Awakening the Dreamer Symposium. The Symposium is a 4-hour interactive workshop to discover what's needed at this critical time in history. Find one near you or stream it online.

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Photo Credit: Scott Cresswell

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