Sunday, 30 October 2011

Seven billion

Altogether now: 'Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you...'

You've all seen the media coverage for quite a few days now as the world prepared to collectively sing 'Happy Birthday' to our planets 7th billion resident on 31 October 2011 according to the UN Population Division (disputed however by some of the boffins at the US Census Bureau). If you were to believe certain media outlets, there was a big clock somewhere in a control room either at the United Nations or the World Health Organisation, that was counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds before flashing and beeping the 'it's official' birthday message. Think Jeff Goldblum and Independence Day - 'Times up'. The message supposedly being dispatched to a mother and child somewhere in the world; possibly to a country in Africa which apparently has one of the highest birth rates in the world (although I see the Philippines is laying some claim to the 7th billionth title as a consequence of being on the right side of the international date line). Lets hope the 7th billion tag does a little more for the child than the 6th billion tag did.

The BBC has quite a fun birth calculator (here) which provides you with a rough 'statistical' estimate of how many people were around on your birth date. For those of us looking back a few decades (yes only a few) it is quite thought-provoking to know that the population has increased so rapidly within a relatively short space of time.

The BBC (again!) carries an interesting series about the 7 billion figure and in particular the question of predicting what will happen to the numbers in future; click on 'Will people numbers stop rising?'. Watching this series and the various scenarios described I can't help thinking back to a recent entry on the Pharmaceutical Journal blog about prediction and an excellent quote from Physicist Niels Bohr: 'Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future'.

I will hopefully be still around for the 8 billionth birthday and will post again on this topic nearer the time, but can't guarantee too much after that. I leave you with a link to a question/answer that I (and every school aged child) have often wanted to know regarding how much 7 billion people weigh and what effect they would have on the planet?