So it appears that humanity will welcome its 7 billionth member. The United Nations claims that the baby in question will be born today, on October 31st.
Well, “welcome” isn’t exactly the right word. The number, like the 6 billionth 12 years ago, is the signal for hordes of population alarmists to repeat their message of doom. They aptly use people’s bias for numbers with a lot of zeros at the right side in order to garner some attention. 7 billion is believed to be special, highly significant, much more than 6.324.168.131 or 7.000.122.011 or something. Humanity is supposed to take another momentous step in its growth path. The common belief in the special significance of round numbers is the perfect excuse for those lamenting humanity’s growth to indulge in dire warnings, warnings that may fall between the cracks when there’s no round number on the horizon.
Never mind that none of this is actually true. No one really knows how many people there are. All that we have are rough estimates. There’s absolutely no basis to claim that a special person will be born today. In 1999, someone even had the stupid idea of actually naming the 6 billionth baby. No one knows exactly how many people there are because population censuses are inaccurate. And even if they were accurate, with more than 3 babies born around the world every second, it’s impossible to work out which baby is the world’s n billionth. It’s all just smoke and mirrors, pure symbolism that can only serve one purpose: to stress that there are many of us, too many. Still, people go about and pontificate about numbers as if they are actually true.
It’s not just the numbers that are misleading. The same is true for the conclusions that people draw from them. It’s highly dubious that there is an overpopulation problem. Even if we assume that there are indeed roughly 7 billion people on earth – which is a reasonable assumption after all – it’s incorrect to state that this number in itself is the cause of problems. True, certain resources are under pressure, but the reason isn’t always the number of people using those resources, and especially not the global numbers of people – small pockets of population concentrations can indeed cause resource problems, but then the problem is concentration, not overpopulation. The most important problem, however, resides in the ways in which resources are used, not in who uses them. I won’t repeat the detailed argument against the overpopulation discourse here: you can go back and read some of my older posts.