For the past year, nations across the globe have boasted the birth of the 8 billionth baby. Census keeping is imperfect, so this benchmark is merely a guess, but the occasion is still celebrated for many newborns with cakes, parties or traditional customs. The Dominican Republic, India, Croatia and others have claimed this 8 billionth baby, as humans climb to exciting and scary numbers.
Each life form experiences population booms or busts, in response to their biological environment. This is true for Homo sapiens, but is further complicated by the intelligence of our species.
Humans have a unique ability to self regulate their numbers, in hopes of evading the carrying capacity and the following consequences. A carrying capacity is the population limit of a species based upon resource availability. Humans have a tendency to experience unregulated growth as well.
India is set to surpass China in number, currently enduring a stretch of “unlimited” growth. Other nations experience the consequences of self regulation, like China, whose population has almost flatlined in the past decades. While India has not taken a census since 2015, it is estimated that there were 24 million births in 2022, compared to China’s 10 million, according to National Public Radio and CNN. On a larger scale, global population growth per 50 years dropped from 2 percent to 1 percent recently.
India’s population boom in recent years can be attributed to improvement in healthcare systems and decline in female abortions and infanticide, according to an NPR article published on Jan. 4. Female abortions stem from a cultural preference for boy babies; and with the high cost of living in Indian cities, families often can only support one child, who they hope to be male. But strides have been made towards eliminating this prejudice. The “Save the Girl, Educate the Girl” movement promoted women’s education and the value of women in society. Ultrasounds were also banned in India, to prevent abortion of female children before birth.
The modernization of urban India has invited available healthcare to pregnant women and newborns, increasing the likelihood that children survive to adulthood. Mothers are receiving education on their personal nutrition and child raising.
“That dramatic drop [in death rate] is credited at least in part to better overall health outcomes from better access to medical care in cities, rather than the countryside,” NPR Journalist Lauren Frayer said in an article that aired Jan. 4. “And these children will find a brighter future than the newborns of past decades.”
Even with such improvements, urban birth rate is lower than the rural birth rate, hovering at 1.7 children per family opposed to 2.4. Rural families tend to have more children so that their offspring can work to support their families, which in turn boosts their national population count, as stated in the same NPR article.
Across the continent, China struggles with a different issue after their response to overpopulation in the 1980s, the implementation of the one child policy. The population was successfully controlled, but this decision resulted in a gender imbalance as families preferred male offspring and aborted females. In 2015, the policy was revoked, but the population is yet to recover from this blow; there is a lack of women of age to become mothers. China now encourages families to have three children, even offering monetary rewards and extended maternity leave for childbirth. Regardless of such efforts, the high costs necessary to raise children overshadow other incentives to have larger families.
“There has been a decrease in the number of women of childbearing age, a continued decline in fertility, changes in attitudes toward childbearing and delays of marriage by young people,” Ning Jizhe, head of the National Bureau of Statistics, said to state media on Jan. 17.
According to a report by the New York Times, the Chinese government declared that the death rate surpassed the birth rate in China for the first time since the 1960s. There were 9.56 million
births but 10.4 million deaths.
Finally, Tokyo continues to overcrowd as inhabitant numbers reach 37 million. Japan is offering 1 million yen ($8,000 U.S.) for families to move to rural areas, in order to revitalize the countryside towns and increase birth rate that has decreased with urbanization. Yet again, the high living cost in urban areas limits birth rates, coupled with Japan’s high life expectancy. The government is supporting child care services to encourage birth as well, to achieve a stronger upward trend in population.
The population growth seen in India, China, Japan and across the world is natural, but also unique considering that humans are k-strategists, a grouping of species whose populations fluctuate around the carrying capacity. K-strategists have restricted growth rates compared to r-strategists, who can rapidly expand their population. R strategists are typically insects, rodents or weeds, but the human growth patterns in the past few centuries almost matches that of an r-strategist. It was not until 1805 that humans reached 1 billion inhabitants; but a mere 12 years were sufficient to reach 8 billion habitants from 7 billion. This raises concern for the increased levels of carbon emissions and waste on our planet.
“Our atmosphere is overloaded with the gases that we expel in the processes that keep our civilization going. It’s getting warmer out there, we’re having more erratic weather patterns, we’re pushing the extremes of weather,” Alan Wiseman, author of “Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future On Earth?,” said in an interview for NPR. “And the atmosphere doesn’t stop up there in the air. The ocean absorbs it, so seas are getting warmer, they’re expanding and they’re rising and they’re getting acidic.”
Of course, any nation with a large population is a major consumer and contributor to climate change. China uses unprecedented amounts of coal to power their nation. But smaller, wealthy, industrialized nations like the United States or the United Kingdom also have a dangerous impact. American consumerism is greater than most other nations, because many can afford to splurge on excessive amounts of water or electricity, for example. Even though America’s overconsumption is worse than India, the South Asian subcontinent is affected more by global warming, with worsened monsoon seasons.
“In order to understand our impact on this world, you have to multiply our numbers by our amount of consumption,” Wiseman said in the same interview. “And if you do that [America is] the most overpopulated country on this planet.”
The environmental costs of wasteful behavior stretches beyond the nation; globalization of pollution is a pressing issue. For example, coal emissions from Asia can drift across the Pacific to the Americas. Humans attempt to address food shortages with harmful technology as well. For instance, nitrogen fertilizer increases the productivity of plants, successfully creating more food to fulfill the growing need. Unfortunately, the toxic fertilizer drains into water sources from farms, endangering sea life and polluting water.
July 11, or World Population Day, will be the official marker for 8 billion people. The booming population is a concern but also an opportunity to celebrate humanity’s diversity.
“This is an occasion to celebrate our diversity, recognize our common humanity,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement to CNN, published on Jan. 11. “[We can] marvel at advancements in health that have extended lifespans and dramatically reduced maternal and child mortality rates.”