Seven Billion is a big family

Benjamin Free Range

The United Nations recently announced that there are 7,000,000,000 people living simultaneously on the planet, an announcement that is more of a good guess than an accurate count. Most of that growth happened in the last hundred years (there were 2 billion people c. 1927). This is a rare blessing: we have been spared from severe epidemics, and better medical care means more children are surviving childhood and people are living longer.

Lack of space is not a problem, since it is a big world after all, contrary to what Walt Disney says. This article on the BBC notes that if all the people currently on earth lived in a city the population density of Paris, the entire human population of the planet could fit in France, with room to spare.

However, with so many people, caring for the environment and using our resources wisely is even more important than it ever was before. Feeding all 7 billion people should not be a problem. Much of the growing population has happened in Africa, but Africa also has huge potential for improving its agriculture. I recently read an article saying that 1/3 of food produced in developing countries is wasted because it spoils before it goes to market. Better farming techniques and better infrastructure (reliable roads and power grids) would help Africa use its land well.

I also read that about 1/3 of the food produced in wealthy countries is wasted because it is simply thrown out when it is unsold or uneaten. If we assume that we are doing a good job feeding 6 billion people right now, and wasting 1/3 of the food we produce, without increasing production at all we could feed another 3 billion people just by taking better care of what we produce.

This sounds very simple but it demands a change in our thinking. The way we produce and distribute food is designed for maximum profit. We tend to funnel our resources (water, grain, land) towards higher priced foods: meats, sweets, beer, snacks, soft drinks and ready-to-eat meals, rather than focusing on what our bodies actually need, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans. Focusing on the simple things would make our resources go farther and would feed more people.

The deeper challenge, though, is that we have built a world focused on products and profits. Even our agriculture is run that way. The only thing truly valuable in this world, however, is the people. When asked about population control, Mother Teresa, who saw more starving and crowded people than most of us have, said, “How can you say there are too many people? That is like saying there are too many flowers. There can never be enough.” People are precious, and they will live forever, everything else passes away. Having more people around us is a great blessing, and we need to begin putting people before profits and products so that we can joyfully receive that blessing. +