World Population Day on an overcrowded planet

Last year, the number of people in the world hit seven billion. Today, World Population Day is drawing attention to the growing numbers on our planet – but is overpopulation really a problem?

Just before midnight, on the 31st of October 2011, a baby girl was born in a packed hospital in Manila. Moments after coming into the world, she was greeted with an explosion of cameras: Danica May Camacho was the world’s seven-billionth baby.

Now, Danica is a little over six months old – and the population hasn’t stopped growing. It has more than doubled since 1960, when just three billion people were on earth: by around 2030, it will hit eight billion and by 2050, as much as nine. Today alone, on World Population Day 2012, another 200,000 people will be born to add to the growing throng.

Many are worried that our planet will not be able to cope with this exponential rise. Each new arrival will need food, water and shelter. They will contribute to the growing output of harmful emissions like CO2. Even more problematically, 97% of population growth over the coming decades will happen in the world’s poorest countries, which already often struggle to provide necessary levels of sanitation, food and water to their citizens.

Why? Today, an average woman in the West can expect to have an education and a career, to marry later in life, and choose how many children she has. For many women in poorer countries, that is not the case. They are more likely to leave education, marry, and have children at a younger age – and an estimated 222 million lack access to contraception.

Today, the UN Population Fund wants to highlight those issues. It is campaigning for better reproductive health, and access to birth control, for all women. That means lower birth rates, an end to runaway population growth.

Most people think that is great news. But some are not so sure.

They argue that the world does not need fewer people, but more. For centuries, they argue, the human race has come up with innovative, creative ways to solve its problems – and it will continue to do so, using the wonders of technology.

And from that point of view, focusing on lowering population growth is, at best, a distraction from important projects like healthcare and education. At worst, it is an anti-human campaign, that treats people as a problem to be eliminated.

The more the merrier?

Most people, however, think that is rubbish. Fewer people means more opportunities, health and happiness for those that are on the planet. Population control does not destroy potential – it creates it.

But surely, critics say, more people means more minds solving the world’s thorniest problems, more bodies working hard to improve their communities and more friends experiencing the richness of life. The planet, they say, needs more of this – not less.

You Decide

  1. Would it be better if there were fewer people on the planet?
  2. Does poverty cause overpopulation, or do too many people lead to more poverty?


  1. In groups, think of three reasons why access to contraception might change a woman’s life. Share your ideas with the class.
  2. Write a letter to the world’s seven billionth baby. What challenges do you think they will face as they grow up in an increasingly crowded world?

Some People Say...

“The more the merrier.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Will this really affect me?
The vast majority of new people will be born in the growing slums of the developing world. If you live in Africa, South America or Asia, you may have experienced this growth first hand. As populations in the developing world grow, pressure on resources like land and water could also mean migration to other areas of the planet.
What about the environment?
As the living standards of a growing population go up, the cost to the planet could increase, too. Modern conveniences like cars, computers and hot showers, eating imported food and living in bigger houses, mean a biggerecological footprint. That means an increase in CO2 emissions and landfill waste, for example – big challenges for the planet.

Word Watch

Exponential rise
In maths, exponential growth is when the rate of increase of a certain value is proportional to itself. That’s pretty complicated: it basically means that the rate at which something grows increases as it gets bigger.
Access to birth control is a hugely important issue in development. Women who have access to condoms, the contraceptive pill, or other forms of birth control, will be able to decide if and when they want to have children.
Ecological Footprint
Someone’s ecological footprint is the total impact of their activity on the planet. It takes into account the resources they use, as well as waste products like carbon dioxide, and compares this to the planet’s ability to regenerate.


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