In case you haven’t heard, the United Nations is saying that the world population will reach 7 billion today.

Happy Halloween?

Of course, the number and date are symbolic rough estimates, since there’s no way to count everyone on the planet down to the person. The UN is using the figure to create a news event, or call to action, for fighting global injustices. (More.)

I’m wondering, what the heck are the rest of us supposed to do with this information? Worry? Duly note it?

Tuck it away for sarcasm purposes later?

“Seven billion people on the planet and I’m the one who (insert unique problem and eye roll here.)”

(Whatever you do, from this day forward, do not get caught saying “six billion people” — you will look woefully behind the times.)

Does population matter? Is the Earth over populated? How would you even talk about such a thing from a religious world view?

Population is the unspeakable missing factor in a lot of dinner party discussion topics — the consumption society, rising global living standards, immigration, the state of U.S. education, anthropomorphic climate change, agricultural progress and food shortages, liberal versus conservative world views. (What’s that? You stick to sports and movies? Need to try that!)

Maybe polite company could discuss population growth, but who wants to be the first to go all Ebenezer Scrooge on the party, talking about decreasing the surplus population? The closest thing I ever hear to the “too many people” assertion is usually regarding California highway traffic.

Population discussions are uncomfortable. They go straight to the heart of the debate over individual versus collective freedom.

If “7 billion” as a news topic makes you uncomfortable, you’re not alone.

Bill Gates intellectually struggled with the idea of overpopulation in relation to the work of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which promotes programs that improve health care and lengthen life. He knew that improving health was good on an individual level, but what about on a collective, global level? Gates has said that he was relieved to learn that better health leads to economic improvement, which eventually leads to lower natural birth rates.

“I believe it is in the rich world’s enlightened self-interest to continue investing in foreign aid. If societies can’t provide for people’s basic health, if they can’t feed and educate people, then their populations and problems will grow and the world will be a less stable place,” Gates said in his 2011 annual letter. “. . . The second great benefit of vaccination is that as the childhood death rate is reduced, within 10 to 20 years this reduction is strongly associated with families choosing to have fewer children. While it might seem logical that saving children’s lives will cause overpopulation, the opposite is true. I mention this amazing connection often, since I remember how I had to hear it multiple times before the full implications of it became clear. It is the reason why childhood health issues are key to so many other issues, including having resources for education, providing enough jobs, and not destroying the environment. Only when Melinda and I understood this connection did we make the full commitment to health issues, especially vaccination.”

He’s definitely treading on some controversial territory there, but I believe he presents his arguments in a scientifically compassionate way.

American author Jonathan Franzen addresses the topic of population control in his hit novel, “Freedom.” Two of the main characters — portrayed as liberals harboring excessive guilt over their own existence — adopt human population control as one of their secret pet causes, and find themselves slipping down a rabbit hole of ever-more absurd theories and slogans. Those bits make up some of the most awkward and infuriating sections of the book — if it was the author’s intent to make the reader gnash one’s teeth, he achieved it.

I’ll conclude this blog post the way many debates end in Paris: With the existential question about why we’re even debating it in the first place.

From Adam Gopnik’s, ever-quotable, “Paris to the Moon”:

In Paris explanations come in a predictable sequence, no matter what is being explained. First comes the explantion in terms of the unique romantic individual, then the explation in terms of ideological absolutes, and then the explanation in terms of the futulity of all explanation.

Population talk falls within all three paradigms.

Don’t just be one of the crowd, please feel free to share your thoughts. 🙂

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Other posts:
Simplicity gains momentum, but at what cost?
Economics should be taught in schools. Period.
A gift to humanity (Steve Jobs, 1955-2011)
Simple life lessons: Following a leadership pattern
Five ways to lead a more analytic life
Have you thought about death today?
A paradox of modern life: Comfort is a noose
The world economy in 10 seconds
The world didn’t end. What did you learn?
Don’t be paralyzed by imperfection
Stop feeling so guilty
Thoughts to live by
There’s no such thing as paradise on Earth
Gracefully surrendering the things of youth
A layman’s poem with a simple message