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Views | Who’s afraid of seven billion?

Views | Who’s afraid of seven billion?
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First Published: Wed, Nov 02 2011. 01 49 PM IST

New born baby girl Nargis, world’s seven billionth baby, in the arms of her mother Vinita at a Community Health Centre in Mall, Lucknow. (File photo)
New born baby girl Nargis, world’s seven billionth baby, in the arms of her mother Vinita at a Community Health Centre in Mall, Lucknow. (File photo)
Updated: Wed, Nov 02 2011. 01 49 PM IST
Dozens of countries have been claiming that the seven billionth human baby was born there.
New born baby girl Nargis, world’s seven billionth baby, in the arms of her mother Vinita at a Community Health Centre in Mall, Lucknow. (File photo)
In the Philippines, it was Danica May Camacho, born in a Manila public hospital, and the Filipinos were so eager to claim the seven billionth as theirs that they shrugged away the fact that she was born two minutes before midnight on 30 October—after all, the seven billionth kid was supposed to born on the 31st. In Bangladesh, Oishee arrived in a Dhaka hospital a minute after midnight. In Cambodia, it was a girl born in the southern province of Preah Sihanouk. Canadians claimed that Carden Lewis McCrindle, born at the Queensway-Carleton Hospital in Ottawa was the one. And in Russia, politicians from three different regions put forward three infants for the crown: Baby Alexander in Kamchatka, Baby Pyotr Nikolayev in Kaliningrad, and Baby Nelli in St Petersburg. When last heard, they were arguing about time differences -- Kamchatka is the easternmost part of Russia, and Kaliningrad is in the west.
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In India, the honour befell little Nargis born at the community health centre of Malihabad tehsil near Lucknow. A grand celebration is being planned at her native village of Donaur when she reaches home. But our Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad complained that the birth of the seven billionth baby was an occasion for worry rather than celebration: “India has 2.4% of the global landmass and around 18% of the global population. For us, a matter of joy will be when our population stabilizes.”
Some American commentators have pointed out that regardless of geography, the seven billionth baby was born on Halloween, when spirits -- both friendly and ferocious -- are supposed to roam the earth.
Of course we should be worrying whether the planet can support so many people. Population growth has been slowing—it’s now 1.1% a year, half the peak rate of the 1960s; and the average number of children per woman has fallen worldwide to about 2.5 now from 5 in 1950. But the point of course is not the number of people per se, but what they produce and consume, and the pressure that this puts on the planet’s resources.
Demographers believe that population is going to increase by another three billion by the end of the century before it peaks and begins a slow decline. The earth can feed ten billion people, but can it handle what those ten billion destroy, emit, throw away and leave behind every day? If population is going to increase another 50% before it peaks, pollution per person will have to decrease by at least a third just to keep total pollution from getting worse. And it’s bad enough already.
On the day we hit the seven-billion mark, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched the website 7billionandme.org. I checked it out. I keyed in my data and was informed that 76,918,102,211 Homo sapiens were born before me, nearly 44 billion of them in Asia (for those into nitty-gritty, all the assumptions behind the calculations are displayed prominently on the site). On the day I was born, 3,157,859,881 human beings were hanging around on the planet, and I was one of the 298,996 babies that howled their first howl that day. Since that fateful (for me) day –about 6.3 billion people have been born, and about 2.5 billion people have gone to their heavenly abodes, leaving us with -- and as I write this, the clock on the site is rapidly running up numbers, OK, this where I grab it, at 9:37 pm, Indian standard time, on November 1, there are 7,000,281,271 people other than me on this piece of rock circling around a minor star on the periphery of a great galaxy.
Boy, that’s a lot of Homo Sapiens! Clearly, it’s high time for us to get sapient.
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First Published: Wed, Nov 02 2011. 01 49 PM IST