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How’s the Population Doing?

crowd at a stadium
(Image: Getty Images)

Happy new year everyone! As our global family kicks off a brand new year let's take a moment to get a snapshot of our big family by asking the big question: How’s the population doing? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.

As humanity ushers in the year 2019 there are currently we have 7.7 billion people living on Earth. A few nations hold a huge chunk of our family. China and India still lead the way with both countries hosting over 1.3 billion people each! The USA, Indonesia, and Brazil complete the remaining countries in the Top 5 populous nations. All of these nations are growing in numbers with the next milestone for our population predicted to be in 2023 as we hit 8 billion humans on Earth.

This is a lot of people and growing. Our impact is of course of great importance here! This means each one of us is adding to the compounding impact of humanity on energy, food, transportation, wastes, and beyond. Nearly half of us live in urban areas. For dense living it just does not get any bigger than a megacity, or an urban area with a population of over 10 million. Just a few years back, in 2014 there were 28 megacities on Earth. Today there are 46 thanks to our rapidly growing human family.

A growing population will mean a greater impact on the environment and a much larger need for precious resources. Last year alone a little over half of our population, which is the amount of consumers on Earth, created over 2 billion tons of waste, much of it directly due to agriculture. Nearly one third of all the food produced all around the world is wasted. This waste would be a result of inefficient production practices, consumption waste, and over consumption. A third of our food adds up a lot quicker than one would imagine. In fact there are well over 2 billion tons of food wasted every single year by humans all around the globe. Not only does this cause an access and resources imbalance for those unable to afford food, but this also passes the food costs over to the consumer. As of now, we waste about a trillion dollars worth of food simply be having it end up in the trash.

Nearly half of all the harvested crops on Earth end up in the garbage. 78% of the over all waste is also associated with the livestock industry. In this study scientists reported that 1.08 billion tons of harvested crops are used to feed the livestock industry alone. This works out to around 840 million tons worth of food loses. Not only is this bad at a humanitarian and economic perspective, but it also has negative impacts in terms of climate change. As all those literal tons of food piles begin to decompose in landfills they release methane. This is a natural gas, but the concentration and release of this much methane is not a part of the natural cycle. This is another incident of humans caused contribution to the release of heat trapping gases into the atmosphere. This is all just for food waste. Industrial, commercial, and other wastes are to be factored in on top of all of this. As the population grows this becomes a larger and larger concern to scientists and urban planners around the globe. As consumers we’re stronger than ever as well. At the rate we’re going we would literally need two Earths to give every human access to the things that we Americans have.

Some experts are predicting that by 2040, just a little over two decades from today, there could be up to 9 billion of us which seems doable considering that 250 humans are born every single minute. But hey, a new year gives us new opportunities to explore these issues and use the common language of science to address our human family’s needs.

Better energy options, using regional crops and productions, lowering food miles, educating and equipping citizens with the necessary tools for jobs, smarter urban planning, family planning, and a greater movement towards mass transportation are all very important to addressing how we will usher in a greater population while lowering our impact on the environment.

Clearly a growing population is going to require a growing number of science headlines. We’re looking forward to covering those science stories with you all year long. From all of us to all of you, Happy New Year!

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