The human population on the Earth as of 2012 was about 7 Billion. It’s probably considerably more now. Round numbers always excite us so it is no wonder that as we were hurtling towards the big 7 in 2011, National Geographic among others decided to cash in.

To appreciate the overcrowding of the Earth, especially for someone living in India, reading a book is not a prerequisite. However, 7 Billion by National Geographic drives home certain facts about our collective existence which make it one of the best non fiction reads under a 100 pages.

No one in Bangladesh can ever be alone, that is statistically the population density shall not allow it. More than 5 percent of the world’s population lives on less than 1 percent of the land on Earth, in Asia. There are still regions in North America, Russia and even parts of China where it is not uncommon to be able to avoid human contact all together for days. Sometimes even without trying to do so. However you look at it the vast marvel of our collective existence is interesting. The book is broken down into seven chapters which cover topics in anthropology, evolution, history, geography, agriculture, climatology and politics. It is not enough to examine how many of us are there but how we got to be so many? How are various countries dealing with the problems of population? Are these problems even recognized? How is each country dealing with fertility rates? What is the impact on flora and fauna? Will we have enough to eat a few decades down the line?

The numbers the book has to offer are outdated today and can only make for the contents of high school debates on government controlled sterilizations. But knowing that these are not current values is an even more frightening idea. You realize that things must be worse now. In 2005, 45,000 female of ages 5-6 months to seventies were raped viciously in one single province in Central Africa. The reason? Civil war with members of one ethnic group wanting to make sure that the women of another are never able to reproduce. The intent being to stamp out the growing population of one tribe so that land and food would not be split so many ways in that part of the World. Overpopulation to us has been that thing we shrug and curse at on social occasions. Blame for the state of our nation and then blame it on the uneducated. To think that it has such stone age like implications still in the day of holographic speech making, is frightening.

The right to procreate is taken for granted by most of us in a democracy. Embryos are future citizens with their rights decided by the amalgamation of religion, biological awareness and the moral zeitgeist of the society in which they shall eventually enter. To think that this right could be snatched by an elected government or the most powerful entity around, is unimaginable. Yet that may be the way a too full world might head to. In Brazil a majority of women choose to get themselves sterilized after their first or second child birth. Their choice driven  by an economic sense and social pragmatism, unexpected in such a paternal society. Despite a primarily Catholic population, the women in this BRIC nation have decided to have efficient families. The book tells of how this was achieved, perhaps as a lesson to other societies.

Discounting for the inflated image a documentary like book may paint, there is still enough in this work to make one stop and think. A single child may bring countless joy to a family and the kin of his parents. He or she may be the hope and future of the nation. But he or she is contributory to that collective weight on an ever shrinking landmass. We may move to alternate resources, generate more food and even stop climate change but we cannot create more space on the planet. (unless we move into the oceans – there’s a science fiction novel for you) Given what we know about our efforts to combat population explosion today one question resonates with the echoes of unease:

“Should we allow most of the babies to come, to remain unborn? Or after having recognized the problem, is it still better to perpetuate the contest for survival which is so apparently fatal to the species?”

This book is a collection of all the material that comprised the feature and other media which can be found here.

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