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8 billion humans and counting: What it means for the planet's future

Parts of North America and Central America as seen from the Apollo 11 spacecraft during its translunar journey toward the Moon, 16th July 1969. The spacecraft is 10,000 nautical miles from the Earth.   (Photo by Space Frontiers/Getty Images)
Parts of North America and Central America as seen from the Apollo 11 spacecraft during its translunar journey toward the Moon, 16th July 1969. The spacecraft is 10,000 nautical miles from the Earth. (Photo by Space Frontiers/Getty Images)

It took 300,000 years for the human population to grow to one billion souls.

We hit that milestone in the early 1800s. And then, that growth curve took off like a rocket.

Only 200 years later, we’ve grown to 8 billion. And there’s hot debate about what comes next.

“There really only been two camps. There’s been this camp that says there are too many people in the world,” Jennifer Sciubba says.

“But on the other side, there are folks who say the more people we have, the more potential geniuses we’ll have, the more innovation we’ll have.”

And that has been true, thus far. But every natural system has a carrying capacity.

“We can either engineer a controlled contraction back to a situation of relative equilibrium with the natural environment, or nature will do it for us as it does with every other species,” William Rees says.

Today, On Point: Population growth, economic growth and environmental balance.

Guests

Jennifer Sciubba, demographer who focuses on global demographic trends. Fellow at The Wilson Center. Author of 8 Billion and Counting: How Sex, Death, and Migration Shape Our World. (@profsciubba)

William Rees, professor emeritus of ecological economics and human ecology at the University of British Columbia.

Also Featured

Andat Dasogot, head of the Population and Development Unit at the United Nations Population Fund in Abuja, Nigeria.

Winnie Mitullah, professor of Development Studies and chair of UNESCO’s higher education network at the University of Nairobi, in Nairobi, Kenya.

Elizabeth Hadly, Global change scientist at Stanford and Director of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.

Book Excerpt

Reprinted from 8 Billion and Counting: How Sex, Death, and Migration Shape our World by Jennifer D. Sciubba. Copyright © 2022 by Jennifer D. Sciubba. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.