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Surprising Science

Can the Earth Support Seven Billion?

The world’s population is about to reach seven billion. Can we handle that many humans, let alone the three billion more expected to be added by the end of this century?

What’s the Latest Development?

The world is approaching a major milestone, says Joel Cohen, a mathematical biologist at Rockefeller University and Columbia University. The world population will soon reach seven billion. Can the earth support that many now, and the three billion people expected to be added by the end of this century? In fact, the world is physically capable of feeding, sheltering and enriching many more people in the short term.

What’s the Big Idea?

But there is plenty of bad news, too. Nearly half the world lives on $2 a day, and more than 800 million people live in slums. Cohen argues: “Henceforth we need to measure our growth in prosperity: not by the sheer number of people who inhabit the earth, and not by flawed measurements like G.D.P., but by how well we satisfy basic human needs; by how well we foster dignity, creativity, community and cooperation; by how well we care for our biological and physical environment.”

Cohen tackles these issues in depth in his Floating University lecture, which is an online course available for subscription here.


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