30/09/2011 09:55 BST | Updated 29/11/2011 05:12 GMT

Be Afraid. Experts Discuss Hallowe'en Population Doomsday

Be afraid, be very afraid. On Hallowe’en this year the world’s population will reach an estimated seven billion.

And while that might not sound as scary as a small child dressed as a Dracula, according to environmentalists it is.

Next month leading experts will gather at Cambridge University to discuss the future of our planet.

They will debate long held fears that overpopulation could lead to violence and famine.

The United Nations says 31 October 2011 will be a significant tipping point in the battle against over population of the globe.

There are already a billion more people than in 1999, and if fertility rates continue at the expected level then the UN predicts that the population will swell to nine billion before 2050.

So with 250 people born every minute, the implications of these figures are disturbing for a world already under pressure from crushing poverty, natural disasters and food and water shortages.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said earlier this month: “The seven billionth citizen will be born into a world of contradictions.

“We have plenty of food yet millions are still starving. We see luxurious lifestyles yet millions are


So what are the solutions?

Limiting the further growth of population could be one answer. Early thinkers such as Thomas Malthus, predicted grossly swollen populations as far back as the 19th century and anticipated the accompanying burden on the planet.

A video released by the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, held next month, asks whether couples with large families are irresponsible.

Environmentalist Dr John Guillebaud said: “Either we [reduce population growth] the gentle humane way of family planning...or nature will do it to us in lots of very horrible ways which will be starvation and disease.”

Controlling population is reminiscent of China’s controversial ‘one child policy’ that restricts families from having more than one child in urban areas.

However this has been heavily criticised due to the way it has been enforced in China. Speaking to the Huffington Post, Dr Guillebaud said: “Many women in countries like Uganda are denied access to family planning because they live in a male dominated culture. They don’t want to keep on having children.

"We want to help women: there is no coercion involved. Do women bringing up four children in difficult conditions really want to have a fifth child? Family planning provision must be looked at seriously as well as sustainable energy use.”

Controlling population doesn’t necessarily highlight the irresponsible use of resources however. Fred Pearce, environmental reporter and author of Peoplequake, told Huffington Post UK: “The issue for me is about consumption, for which there are worrying statistics.

We are not overpopulated in an absolute sense, we’ve got the technology for 10 billion, probably 15 billion people, to live on this planet and live good lives. What we haven’t done is developed our technology.”

When asked of the issue that needed most redress, he said: “We really need to kick the carbon habit and stop making our energy from burning things. Climate change is also really important. You can wreck one rainforest then move, drain one area of resources and move onto another but climate change is global.”

It's not all bad news

Pearce believes that ‘green’ issues are being viewed with increasing importance, despite many of the more apocalyptic warnings forecast for more than a lifetime away.

Change could come in the form of policies, culture or legal changes according to Pearce. In the future, oil companies might end up be sued for the damage they have done to the planet.

He is optimistic about increasing cultural changes motivating political policies. "Politicians tend to follow rather than lead.

“We aren’t quite so selfish as we sometimes think. We are a social species and a conformist species and we do have ways of collectively doing things that will benefit the planet.”

Caroline Lucas was the first Green MP to reach Parliament in the 2010 General Election, and it has been asserted one of the main policies that holds the Coalition together is its green policies.

Pearce added:

Meanwhile, Robert Engelman, director of environmental research organisation, Worldwatch Institute noted in the Guardian that the strangely exact figure of seven billion coincided with Halloween.

"Demographers aren't known for their sense of humour [but]....the data shop that pinpointed the Day of seven billion, is hinting that we should all be afraid, be very afraid," he said.