World population will reach 7 billion

Demographer Joel Cohen of Rockefeller University says the world's population has grown from 3 billion in 1960 to now 7 billion.
CBS News

The U.N. says the world's population will reach a milestone this Monday -- 7 billion people. Since 1927, our population has soared from 2 billion to 4 billion in 1974, and 6 billion in 1999. CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell talks about the population increase with demographer Joel Cohen of Rockefeller University.

Mitchell: "How fast is the world growing?"

Cohen: We are adding 75 to 80 million people a year, every year. That's the size of Germany or the United States in four years. It's rapid on the long scale of thousands of years and a slowing to where we were 50 years ago."

Mitchell: "Is that a good thing?"

Cohen: "It makes it easier to solve all the problems that we have. The thing about rapid population growth is that it makes almost every other problem more difficult to solve. And if we could slow our growth rate, we have an easier job in dealing with all the other things like education, health, employment, housing, food, the environment and so on."

Mitchell: "7 billion people?"

Cohen: "Yes."

Mitchell: "What an incredible number."

Cohen: "We've doubled from 3 billion in 1960 to 7 billion now, and the world has not gotten any bigger. The continents are the same size, the atmosphere is the same size, the oceans are the same size, and there's no longer any 'away' to throw stuff away to."

Mitchell: "Does this create basically two worlds, when you have this many folks on the planet?"

Cohen: "One world is the rich world. That's where you and I are lucky enough to live, and it's maybe a billion-and-a-half people with high incomes, long life expectancy, tremendous consumption per person.

"Then there's the poor world, that's the second world. And that's a billion-and-a-half people of desperate poverty. They have shorter life expectancy, they have higher disease rates. They don't have enough water to drink and wash. They don't have enough food.

"In between those two extremes is a world middle class of the wealthier parts of the emerging economies -- it's the richer people in China, it's the richer people in India. But in those countries, there are many people in dire poverty. In India, 76 percent -- three out of four people -- are living on less than two dollars a day. And in China, it's about 36 percent -- one out of three."

Mitchell: "With this many people in the world, our natural resources -- how endangered are we?"

Cohen: "There are a billion people already living with essentially no renewable water supplies. That's not a problem for the other guys only. Atlanta, Georgia has had tremendous water shortages and the studies have shown it's not because of climatic change there, but because of rapid population growth in the Georgia region. The American West -- Phoenix -- they're headed into or already in water shortage situations. But what we're facing is nothing compared to other countries."

Mitchell: "How many people in this world will go without food for a day or two a week?"

Cohen: "I'm sorry to tell you that that number is higher now than it has been in the last 40 years. It's about 925 million -- in round numbers, call it a billion people."

Mitchell: "Oh my goodness."

Cohen: "One person in seven on the planet lives without enough daily calories. Those people are primarily children. And that's because the poor have more children, so this affects countries that are very poor where there's a very high population growth rate."

Mitchell: "What's the birth rate in these areas?"

Cohen: "Very high. This is where we're talking four-and-half, five children per woman. In Niger, it's seven-and-half children per woman."

Mitchell: "What's your biggest concern?"

Cohen: "I have been in poor countries where little kids run up to me with pot bellies and flies in their eyes. And I think, 'This kid does not have the chance to enjoy the dignity of being human. Nobody takes care of his or her illnesses, nobody feeds this kid. This kid is destined for a short life.' We Americans alone spend more on Halloween than it would cost to ensure adequate, modern contraception to every woman in the world who needs it. That would cost us $6.7 billion. And we're spending $6.9 billion on Halloween. I like Halloween, but let's get our priorities in order here."