WASHINGTON - As the global population surpasses 7 billion people sometime around the end of October, addressing the challenges associated with a still-growing world population will require a two-pronged response, according to experts with the Worldwatch Institute. The combined measures of empowering women to make their own decisions about childbearing and significantly reducing global consumption of energy and natural resources would move humanity toward rather than further away from environmentally sustainable societies that meet human needs.
Roughly 4.5 billion people have been added to the world population in just the last 60 years, according to United Nations estimates, putting increased strain on the world's ecosystems and resources. Because humans interact with their surroundings far more intensely than any other species and use vast amounts of carbon, nitrogen, water, and other resources, we are on track not only to change the global climate and deplete essential energy and other natural resources, but to wipe out thousands of plant and animal species in the coming decades. To some extent, these outcomes are now unavoidable; we'll have to adapt to them. But in order to improve the likelihood they will not be catastrophic, we need to simultaneously work to influence the future path of population and to address the environmental and social impacts that continued population growth will have.