In the next few days, the world population will hit the 7 billion mark, and the United Nations, aided by the media, is scaring us to death about it. The UN even has a countdown clock (Y2K style) that serves as a steady, ticking reminder of how close to the precipice of overpopulation and the dreadful consequences for mankind that are waiting on the other side. It's oddly mesmerizing.
Equally mesmerizing are the photo slideshows, the YouTube videos and the stat-heavy featurettes that the UN's countdown has spawned. Of course, the overpopulation problem is not a new one, and as we'll point out in a second, some journalists are perturbed that the UN is taking it upon themselves to make a big event about a statistic we're not even sure is correct. You probably learned about how the hockey-stick growth of the human race will wreck the environmental and endanger public health back in middle school, but some of the latest coverage is at least helpful (horrifyingly so) in putting the idea into present day context. We made you a helpful list of the various overpopulation problems worth exploring that ranges from really scary to not that bad. Based on the UN's countdown, we have until October 31st before we hit the 7 billion mark, so you'd better start reading now.
The environment is doomed - "The constraints of the biosphere are fixed," Harvard sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson said in his 2002 book. Flagging this quote, MSNBC's PhotoBlog helps you visualize the downfall. The Atlantic also profiled Wilson in our November issue.
Sanitation is a growing problem - "With 7 billion people, the world has a poop problem," says Stephanie Pappas at LiveScience. We do not recommend reading this take during lunch.
We're running out of food - And our destructive farming habits are making things worse. "Organics make up less than 1% of the world's food supply right now," ecologist Jon Foley tells the Nature Conservancy, meaning we have a long way to go to find a sustainable solution.
We're also running out of water - Reuters reports that "Water use is rising faster than the world's population," and more than anything, a water shortage will make all the other problems worse.
History's lessons are worth revisiting - "Predictions of doom are nothing new," says Tom Chivers at The Telegraph. Indeed, humankind has been wringing its hands over this problem for centuries.
The UN is just trying to freak everybody out - Carl Bialik at The Wall Street Journal explains that the UN drawing attention to the 7 billion figure is "just a matter of public relations," and in fact, we don't really know how many people are on earth. He does a good job explaining how we're trying to count them, though.
Maybe, there's a bright side - In addition to building the scary countdown clock, the United Nations also launched an initiative called 7 Billion Actions that pulls together conversations about how we can use this milestone to champion positive change. It's worth a gander if only to cheer you up after all the bad news.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.