Hot, Flat and Crowded: Global Population to Reach 7 Billion in 2011

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(Qamar Sibtain/India Today Group/Getty Images)

Sometime late this year, our planet will welcome its 7 billionth person. Yes, that’s a lot of people. But, no, it’s not (necessarily) the end of the world.

The earth’s population is growing fast: United Nations demographers now predict the population may reach nine billion by 2045. Given the looming specter of climate change, endemic poverty and worries about the supply and distribution of food and water, it’s easy to be pessimistic about our planet’s surging population.

(TIME’s Bryan Walsh asks, “Is the World Ready for 7 Billion People?”)

However, this month’s National Geographic cover story suggests the idea of a ‘population bomb’ may be misleading.The world’s population is no longer ‘exploding.’ In fact, writes Robert Kunzig, the growth rate actually peaked in the 1970s. Since then, population growth rates have declined by about 40%. The drop is due to many factors including (but not limited to), improved access to contraception, China’s one-child policy and economic growth.
Declining fertility rates are such that, by 2030, the world will reach “replacement fertility,” wherein women have just enough babies to replace themselves. That’s still a ways away. “The bad news,” Kunzig writes, is that 2030 is two decades away and that the largest generation of adolescents in history will then be entering their childbearing years.”

For much of the planet there are many hot, crowded years to come. (Via Reuters)