Dear 7th Billion,
Welcome to Planet Earth, our beloved blue marble. We have been expecting you to be born in the late 2011 or early 2012. I don’t know who you are, or where you will be born. Perhaps you are born in Asia, where the fastest growing population is. Probably Indian or Chinese. No matter where you are born, I hope you are born into a wonderful home with a loving family, which is not always the case.
You see, there are some children who born out of unwanted pregnancies, when the parents could not afford to have kids, did not plan to have one in the first, from teenage mothers or even rapes. Yes, it’s terrible for the child to be unwanted. The fortunate ones were sent to orphanages built raised by charitable organizations or state-run. Those misfortunate ones were killed by their emotionally-unbalanced mothers the moment they are born or simply because they are born female. Hopefully, you are not the misfortune one.
Depending on where you are, I trust that you receive the best health care possible. Some countries offer free health care to its citizens, funded by public money. In some countries, health care is mainly provided by insurance companies which can be expensive for the users. In the worst case, people might have to bribe health officials so that they can get access to doctors, such as in North Korea, where even basic resources are lacking for treatment. I do wish you get to grow up healthy.
Do listen to your guardians or parents when they tell you to study hard. Education is the key to improvement of your family’s and your own life. However, do think for yourself what is your career path when you choose your educational path. With knowledge and skills, you can anything you want to be: a chef, a carpenter, a doctor or even an engineer. Even you land on a high-paying job, do not look down on those who are lower-paid than yours. That’s because everyone has a part to play in society. A meritocratic society rewards those who improves and lifts themselves in the professional hierarchy. This society must also be kind to those who are hard on lucky and need help. No one is a loser, deserves their misfortune and is born to be looked down upon by the elitists.
As you grow up into adulthood, perhaps life will become more difficult each year. Let me explain, we are living in a unique era which no one in history has ever experienced: a world going from warm to warmer due to climate change and a world that can barely feed its ever-growing population. During Singapore’s independence, world population was 3.34 billion. By 2000, it was 6 billion. And 12 years later, around this year, you, the 7th billion is born.
Food production is in decline due to pollution, climate change, over-usage of the land, dropping water table, lowered soil fertility and farm mismanagement. It doesn’t help that the food industry is plagued by major outbreak of diseases among livestock occasionally. We clear more woodlands so that we can grow more crops to feed more of our livestock and fuel our machines; crops which could have been used to export to food-starved developing nations.
By the time you live to 2050, seafood could possibly be extinct. Dead zones are appearing off the coast of some countries. That forces fishermen to sail further away from the shores, endangering their own lives to feed the world. Some countries expand their offshore fish farm to rear seafood for hungry diners, but there is a limit to this since feeds for cultivated fish will still need to be caught in the ocean.
With an ever-increasing population on Earth and more ageing employees still working into their 60s, people finds it harder to look for work. As I’m writing this, youth employment is on the rise worldwide as older people are still working for their livelihood and retirement funds, unable to vacate their jobs for the younger generations. The elderly find it more difficult to rejoin the workforce after being retrenched. Long-term unemployment can be damaging to a person’s mental health. Currently, high cost of living and unemployment lead to social unrest in several countries, most notably in the Arab states. Not helping is the widening rich-poor gap, with the richest few owning a very large portion of the global wealth and assets. With more people in this world, there is less of the wealth for people to enjoy.
The challenges ahead will be tough for you. Perhaps you will know poverty even more severe than what my grandparents and their predecessors experienced in the beginning of the 20th Century. Maybe you will have to go hungry for a very long time period of time. Possibly, people around you or yourself will fall ill to a severe pandemic, not unlike the Black Death or the 1918 Spanish Flu, that might kills millions, if not billions, globally. For that, I, on behalf the generations who precede you apologize for messing up the world. It’s understandable if you will never forgive us for what we did.
That’s the biggest reason why I’m childfree, whereby I do not plan to have children in any time of the future. I strongly believe that no child should be exposed to the dangerously deteriorating conditions of the world which will lead to untold sufferings. On the other hand, some people it’s their duty to bring to this world in order for them to experience happiness. I have seen both parents and children living in genuine happiness together.
Singapore is now going through a declining birth rate. Most countries are obsessed with birth rates because a “sustainable” birth rate is able to support an ageing population and boost the economy with increasing consumption.
Yet, this cannot continue indefinitely as Earth has a finite living space and a finite amount of resources for a seemingly infinite growing population. So, a big question will be: is there a way to grow a sustainable economy while keeping population growth at a constant rate or gradual decline to sustainable numbers? And how do we do it?
In Singapore, economists and government officials see declining birth rate as disastrous. I see a negative population growth as an opportunity to upgrade Singapore’s public infrastructures and introduce policies to improve people’s lives without causing too much disruptions. An environmental-sustainable economic and demographic growth is the key to a nation’s survivability. The global financial downturn that is happening now gives us time to stop and think about happiness economics (the study and measure of quality of life and life satisfaction with economic aspect), which is replacing Gross Domestic Product in some countries as an economic indicator.
Unfortunately, it’s estimated that world population will reach 9 billion by 2050 and we are running out of time to solve the overpopulation and food problems. By then, I imagine you will have kids. There will be tough times ahead, you might witness horrors that none of us now can imagine. The world might crumble around you, your loved ones may die en masse around you. But, you must hold on to hope, because that’s what keep us going, even though the darkest of hours.
Always, look on the bright side and toward the future. Technology has always marvel me; what will people invent and discover next. I hope the colonization of the Moon and/or Mars happens in your lifetime. I look forward to travel to Mars one day, thanks to the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. I wonder will there be a “New Singapore” on Mars. It will be a wonderful dream: Singaporean cosmonauts building a Martian colony.
I trust that you, as the 7th billion, will guide yours and future generations to happiness and liberty. It’s the duty of youths such as yourself in the 21st Century to define this century. If you let others do so, chances are you will not like their definition. Please remember, live happy, live strong and live free. See you on Mars.