On November 15th, 2022, the United Nations estimated that the world’s population had hit a new milestone of 8 billion people. Since the industrial revolution, the population has increased at rates never seen before. It took around 123 years to grow from 1 billion to 2 billion people, but it only took 12 years for the earth’s population to go from 7 to 8 billion. Improvements in quality of life, healthcare, and consistent birth rates have allowed babies to be born more often and for people to pass away later.
The Washington Post notes the milestone declared by the U.N. is “more symbolic than precise.”
The United Nations attributes a large portion of the recent growth to high fertility rates in developing African countries. The U.N. estimates that in the next 30 years, only eight countries will be responsible for half of the world’s population growth. Among these countries are Nigeria, Congo, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. Not surprisingly, India also makes this list, as it is projected to become the most populous country in the world within a year.
As Earth surpasses 8 billion people, strain continues to increase on natural resources. Poorer countries with growing birth rates will need to use more electricity and manufacture more products to support a growing population. Although more developed countries contribute significantly more carbon emissions, a rapid rise in population in Sub-Saharan countries will require additional fossil fuel consumption. “Meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise, while achieving the [Sustainable Development Goals], critically depends on curbing unsustainable patterns of production and consumption,” the U.N. stated in an announcement. Providing these underdeveloped countries with enough aid so that their increasing number of citizens are fed and safe will also pose a challenge.
Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington, said, “Population is not the problem, the way we consume is the problem — let’s change our consumption patterns,” he said.
Interestingly, the pattern of exponential population boom is predicted to slow over the next decades. Current figures show it will take 15 years to reach the next billion milestone and 22 years to reach 10 billion people. While lesser-developed countries’ birth rates explode, the rates in the United States and others have slowly declined. Experts chalk this phenomenon up to multiple reasons, including fewer teenage pregnancies, more parental investments in fewer children, and rising costs of having children. Since the Great Recession, birth rates in first-world countries like the U.S. and Denmark have hit historic lows.
However, as of now, there will still be plenty of people left on Earth. “The milestone is an occasion to celebrate diversity and advancements while considering humanity’s shared responsibility for the planet,” says António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General.