I was the 3,686,047,559th person born, that was back in 1970. By the end October 2011 the world's population is forecast to surpass the 7 billion mark according to the population experts at the United Nations, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
What does this mean for you and me?
Well often the arguments around population growth revolve about the potential for conflict to arise over resources. The most important argument espoused by free marketeers, and this is historically factual in the developed world, is that heightened prosperity generates lower birth rates. So if you propose to follow this logic, we find ourselves with a race against the clock. Namely, is sufficient growth achievable in the developing world, soon enough, to reduce birth rates, before the resources are depleted.
In my opinion the next thing we have to ask ourselves is thus; Given the economic failures of recent times, is such continual, sustained growth possible anymore? With cheap energy seemingly a thing of the past and the environmental impact that comes with producing power on the vast scale that would be necessary to support such growth, politically such a hot potato, it would suggest to me strongly, that consumer driven growth and sustainability are uncomfortable bed fellows.
We also have to tackle the issue about population explosion that doesn't get talked about often. Modern health care improvements in the developed world mean that the population also live a lot longer. (Hello Mum!) So it's not just that the birth rates fall as affluence increases, but that children of the future will both expect, demand and get, a quality health care provision that means this issue won't go away.
So at the same time as we quite literally start to run out of younger people, we'll also find ourselves with a significant ageing population who will not be able to contribute a lot to the economy because they can't due to age or general infirmity. Their growing numbers will put a massive strain on the health service and state or private pension provision. When pension and health insurance contributions no longer cover the price of elderly care, there will be enormous pressure on that part of the population that can contribute, especially when you take into account the rising cost of living in other areas. Self interest will be at the fore.
I don't have the solution to all of this, but suspect that it will be awful, hard, undemocratic and unpalatable. We cannot advocate letting the old folk die sooner, cut off access to medicine or refuse them treatment. But something needs to give, because if the world's population continues to increase at the current (or even accelerated) rates, then we're going to need some good answers to some particularly difficult questions.
I think I'm going back to bed!