To many of us, October 31st highlights a yearly opportunity to rummage through the attics of our imaginations, mimic our favorite creatures and fictionally experience ‘walking amongst the dead’. This year, however, it’s walking amongst the living that may bring more than a few to gasp: the world’s population is projected to reach a staggering 7 billion on Halloween of this year, with another billion expected in just another 12 years: a far cry from the global population of 1.7 billion just a century ago!
In a world of ever-increasing mechanization of labor and computerization of everything from cars to drivers themselves, I can’t fight the feeling that this milestone makes us as if needles in a haystack: behold the birth of the nanoperson. But what, exactly, does this entail in terms of the bigger (and growing) picture?
Well, for one, with more people comes greater need for elementary resources including food, shelter, arable land, potable water and access to healthcare, among others. With a growing wealth gap between rich and poor – growing at a rate almost as alarming as the population itself — the biggest concern is for the poor in underdeveloped countries, where birth rates are highest and resources are scarce. With the advent of modern science, moreover, the complete eradication of diseases has gone from being a mere aspiration to a striking reality, all within a comparable speck of the human timeline. Though a proud chapter in the human story, advances such as these have, quite paradoxically, translated into more people consuming a finite inventory of resources, leaving a greater environmental footprint than ever in earth’s history.
Perhaps, then, it’s time to step back and see the consequences of our own accelerated innovation: if we hope to sustain an ever increasing population, we must fundamentally change our non-sustainable practices; we must look towards new ways of controlling population growth by regulating child marriage, proactively overcoming religious and cultural barriers to family planning and proposing more aggressive and wide-spread contraception practices. Perhaps, in a manner that seems somewhat cliché by now, we must finally tackle the elephant, become the ‘99%’ of championing sustainable development.
So remember, this Halloween-- and hopefully onward – that what should alarm us most today should be the health of our people and our planet, so that the skeletons in the closet may continue to be our biggest fear for many generations to come.
To commemorate this memorable milestone, the United Nations has begun a global outreach program entitled 7 Billion Actions, an initiative which highlights countless ways in which everyday people can positively impact our world.