A world of 10 billion
Mass extinctions, water shortages, dwindling oil reserves, grinding poverty. Can the Earth sustain every one of us?By Charlie Gillis and Kate Lunau.
For the world, as for his family, the birth of Adnan Nevic was cause for celebration. No less an eminence than the secretary-general of the United Nations attended his arrival, posing with the swaddled child as camera strobes lit a maternity room in central Sarajevo. He was born four minutes past midnight on October 12, 1999, and Kofi Annan had made his way to the hospital like a wise man following a star. There were 5.999999999 billion people on the face of the planet, depending on whose “population clock” you went by. The time had come to designate a six billionth.
The challenges that lay before this infant reflected those of human populations around the globe. His parents, Jasmin and Fatima, were poor. The family lived cheek by jowl in a bleak apartment. His father needed work. Ethnic conflict remained a dormant but ever-present threat to their country. The UN chief offered words of hope, saying this “beautiful boy in a city returning to life should light a path of tolerance and understanding for all people.” But a long and happy life? For that, Adnan Nevic would need a few breaks.
Today, as demographers look ahead to a 10-billion-strong global population, the future of No. 6,000,000,000 is no less clouded. By day, he is an apple-cheeked sixth-grader who loves dogs and cheers on the fabled Spanish soccer team, Real Madrid. At night, he watches over a father stricken by bowel cancer, and sleeps in the same bedroom as his parents in their two-room flat in Visoko, a run-down town 28 km outside Sarajevo. Adnan’s plight could never really stand in for that of all humanity. But it does, to borrow the UN boss’s trope, illuminate the road we will travel over the course of his life.
By 2050, according to the UN’s mid-range estimates, Adnan will count among some 9.3 billion people on the face of the Earth, and 10.1 billion if he lives to see the turn of the next century. Each new addition will pose the same challenges he does. Can we feed, clothe and house them? School them? Provide them with health care and drinkable water?
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