A Heck of a Lot of Birthday Parties

Photo by Sarah Cady, <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sararah/4951417561/sizes/m/in/photostream/">via Flickr</a>.

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The world population will hit seven billion by October 31, 2011*, the United Nations said Tuesday. If current fertility rates continue, there will be 9 billion of us Earth-dwellers by 2050, and 10 billion of us by 2100—mind-boggling when you consider that we just passed 6 billion in 1999.

This issue was on my mind at several points in the past week. On Friday I was discussing (yes, I’ll admit it) the royal wedding with someone a generation older than me. When I mentioned reports that 2 billion people watched the event (which seems a little far-fetched, to say the least), my older counterpart said that was impossible—half of the world couldn’t have been watching. I had to point out that, while the estimate was still silly, 2 billion is actually only a third of the world these days. The exchange highlighted just how fast the human community is growing. The pace of change is hard to keep up with, and must seem almost inconceivable for older folks who grew up with much more gradual increases in human population.

Population came up again yesterday as I was discussing climate and energy issues on a live radio show. A caller inquired about population issues and why environmentalists never talk about them anymore. No matter what forum I’m in, I always get asked this question, and it’s one that most environmental reporters dread. It’s not that I don’t have a good response. For me, the question isn’t necessarily about population, it’s about use of resources. And on that measure Americans consume far, far more than our more plentiful planet-mates in the developing world. But it’s also about family planning and women’s empowerment—when women have access to information and contraceptives and are able to use them, the number of children they have declines. (My colleague Julia Whitty did an excellent in-depth piece on what is often treated as a third-rail last year.)

For me, one of the most interesting elements of the UN’s latest projection is the indication that these numbers could vary pretty widely if fertility rates change. The Population Division at the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs states that “a small increase in fertility” could mean that the global population is as high as 15.8 billion by 2100. At the same time, a small decrease could cause an overall decline, to 6.2 billion by the end of the century.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have revived the attack on funding for international family planning. But if we end up on the high-end of the UN’s projections, we will have a whole lot of birthday parties to plan for come 2100.

*Corrected from 2010. Thanks, SecularAnimist.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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