Saturday, March 12, 2011

Seven Billion People

We'll reach seven billion people on the planet sometime this year.  Consider the metrics between the low income ($995 or less a year) bottom billion and the upper income ($12,196 or more) top billion:
  • Life expectancy at birth (male) - - 58 (low value)/77 (upper value)
  • Life expectancy at birth (female) - - 60/83
  • Deaths under age five (per 1,000 live births) - - 120/7
  • Access to improved sanitation (%) - - 35/99
  • Deaths caused by infectious disease (%) - - 36/7
  • Years of education - - 7.9/14.5
  • Literacy rate (%) - - 66/98
  • Fertility rate (children per women) - - 4/2
  • Rate of natural population increase (%) - - 2.27/0.39
  • Net migration rate (per 1,000 people) - - (-0.58)/2.57
  • Urban population (%) - - 27/78
  • Telephone subscriptions (per 1,000 people) - - 1/46
  • Cell Phone subscriptions (per 1,000 people) - - 22/106
  • Internet users (per 1,000 people) - - 2.3/68.3
  • Personal computers (per 1,000 people) - - 1.2/60.4
  • Cars (per 1,000) - - 5.8/435.1
  • Carbon dioxide emissions (per-capita, in metric tons) - - 1/13
The data comes from this month's National Geographic - - The World of Seven Billion.  The data is segmented into four categories - - Low Income, Lower Middle Income, Upper Income, and High Income.
The largest is the lower middle income ($996 to $3,945) with four billion people.  In most categories the two middle categories, representing five billion people, looks like the middle.  In others, the upper income category is a true outlier - - e.g., cars per 1,000 people for the lower middle segmentation is 20.3 as compared to the 435.1 for the upper income group.

Without question, it is important to move the lower groups up to the metrics in the upper group - - from life expectancy to sanitation to education to death rates.  A primary goal this century must be to focus on improving these numbers - - especially given the outlook for an additional two billion people.  The inputs to move the numbers toward the upper income metrics will come from three areas - - money, manpower, and methods.  Improving the numbers will require financial resources - - we need to make a collective investment.  Additional manpower will be needed - - from teachers to engineers to doctors to scientists to policy experts.  And finally, new delivery methods need to be explored and developed - - where advanced technology will play a key role in delivering educational services, combating disease, and improving infrastructure.

The key question and potential for conflict and tension relates to those things - - cell phones, computers, cars, clothing, food - - that will define the desires of the lower groups as they move into the upper groups.  From the context of sustainability - - can another one or two billion people own cars at the rate of 435.1 cars per 1,000 people?  Does the planet - - in terms of inputs (gasoline and minerals) and outputs (carbon dioxide emissions) - - have the carrying capacity to support this level of migration up the social-economic ladders?  The biggest problem to focus on this century might just be how to get every citizen of Earth roughly the same per-capita energy we in the upper income group enjoy.  Innovation and creativity will play a key role in this movement.  For without the input of technology - - we might just be at risk of the upper incomes metrics declining to the lower - - migration in the wrong direction. 

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