The population of humans on Earth is expected to reach eight billion by November 15, according to the United Nations.
The organization credits this rise to an increase in human lifespan enabled by improvements in public health, nutrition, personal hygiene and medicine. It also added that “high and persistent levels of fertility in some countries” have contributed to population growth.
“Eight billion people. It is a momentous milestone for humanity,” U.N. Population Fund Executive Director Natalia Kanem says, per Amélie Bottollier-Depois of the Agence France-Presse (AFP). “Yet, I realize this moment might not be celebrated by all. Some express concerns that our world is overpopulated. I am here to say clearly that the sheer number of human lives is not a cause for fear.”
Kanem warns against “population alarmism,” saying that when governments focused on numbers alone in the past, it led to “egregious violations of human rights,” including forced sterilization campaigns and restrictions on family planning and contraception, writes the Guardian’s Lizzy Davies.
While adding more people does put additional stress on the Earth’s resources, experts say the bigger problem is overconsumption by the wealthy, per the AFP. If everyone in the world lived the way Americans do, we would need 5.1 Earths to meet the demand on nature. Based on the way people live in India, which is projected to surpass China next year as the world’s most populous country, that number drops to 0.8 Earths.
“Our impact on the planet is driven far more by our behavior than by our numbers,” Jennifer Sciubba, a researcher at the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank, tells the AFP. “It’s lazy and damaging to keep going back to overpopulation.” Concentrating on the total number of humans alone allows people in wealthier countries to shift the blame to developing nations where population growth is the highest, she tells the publication.
But William Ryerson, president of the Population Media Center, and Kathleen Mogelgaard, president and CEO of the Population Institute, write in an op-ed for the Hill that the eight billion milestone should indeed be a “wake-up call.” Education, family planning and contraceptives are linked to lower birth rates, they write, yet people in poorer countries with growing populations often face barriers to accessing these resources.
“If we shrug at population growth and don’t work concertedly to dismantle barriers to family planning to expand people’s choices in poor countries with high population growth, we’re effectively turning a blind eye to widening inequity and worsening environmental degradation,” they write.
A U.N. report published earlier this year estimates that almost half of pregnancies worldwide are unintended.
Human population growth is actually slowing, according to the U.N. It took 12 years for our numbers to increase from seven to eight billion. But it’s expected to take 15 years for us to reach nine billion. In the majority of the world, the replacement level, or the number of births that would cause a stable population, is higher than the actual fertility rate.
Still, our numbers are expected to grow to about 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 10.4 billion in 2100. This growth will be highly concentrated. More than half of the predicted increase in population through 2050 will be in just eight countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and the United Republic of Tanzania.
Tomas Sobotka, a senior researcher at the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital, tells Newsweek’s Pandora Dewan that there are many uncertainties about population data in some countries and regions, so the exact timing of these predictions—even when we’ll hit eight billion—should be “taken with caution.”
“We know one thing for sure,” Sobotka tells the publication. “The ‘eight billion day’ on 15 November is a symbolic milestone.”