Earth's population stands at nearly 7 billion, and demographers project we may reach 9 billion by the middle of this century.
In the past 50 years, population has grown at a rate never before seen in human history. Pastures have become towns, cities have sprawled across the landscape, and humans now live in places once considered remote. The change is so dramatic that some scientists now refer to this as "the age of man."
But as humanity's reach expands, forests are vanishing, glaciers are melting and almost 1 billion people go hungry each day.
Robert Kunzig is a senior editor for National Geographic and author of this month's cover story, "7 Billion," which considers the possibility of the global population overwhelming the planet.
He tells NPR's Neal Conan that he believes India is emblematic of where current population growth is taking us.
"I spent a few weeks there," he says, "and there's really no place like India to get the experience of being immersed in a crowd." Kunzig describes the heat hitting Western visitors "like a brick," and dust swirling.
He says he visited two very different places in India — the South, where populations have stabilized, and Delhi, which is still growing.
"It's a typical developing-country megacity ... 20 million people, people streaming in every day," Kunzig says.
But it still lacks the infrastructure to handle the influx.
"The government tries to plan, but it's really just sort of overwhelmed by events, so people make their own way," Kunzig says. He adds that while there are "outright slums and shanty towns," there are also neighborhoods where people are building their own apartment buildings and making their way, stealing power from the electric company. Kunzig calls those neighborhoods "a hodgepodge of worlds — cows in the streets, satellite dishes on the roofs."
Because of that hodgepodge, Kunzig says he was optimistic when he left India.
"There's a tremendous energy there," he says. "I met people ... that have come in from the countryside, have built their own homes and are now devoting themselves to the education of their children." ...
via 7 Billion And Counting: Can Earth Handle It? : NPR.
This reader comment puts things in perspective:
Albert Reingewirtz (Poupic) - "I am 76 years old. When I was in school there were 2 billion people on earth. ...There is a solution to over population already but you refuse to even mention it. China solved the problem a long time ago. It is one child per couple."
Confirmation of his claim here. Our population has almost quadrupled from 2 to 7 billion people in one lifetime. This is one big reason I choose to have no children. Too many humans already.