What Will Baby 7Bn Eat?

What Will Baby 7Bn Eat?

Today’s the day.

Today, the world’s population hits 7 billion. From here on out, we inhabit a planet of 7 billion mouths attached to 7 billion bodies with 7 billion daily needs to eat.

It is, of course, a symbolic mark of an elusive event. No one really knows precisely when the 7 billionth person will arrive, and global population clocks differ slightly in their calculations. But the United Nations has chosen to mark this day, Oct. 31, 2011, as Baby 7Bn’s birthday.

I wonder: who is that newborn baby? Who will he or she become? Will he grow big, chubby cheeks on a diet of milk and honey? Will she grow gaunt from a life of want?

One NGO, Plan International, pins an actual name and place to Baby 7Bn—she’s a little newborn named Nargis, born near Lucknow; a poster child for the group’s campaign against female foeticide.

Whether she’s Nargis or not, the whole ticking clock of population raises a slew of questions about the future of Baby 7Bn—and the future of humanity.

I wonder, wherever he or she is: will the little one make it past the critical age of 5? Or will that babe be the one in 15 to die each year in developing countries?

Will improper nutrition stunt that kid, along with 195 million others?

Or will she join a crowd of 42 million youngsters worldwide fighting obesity and overweight?

So much rides on the flip of a coin—chance, luck, karma or kismet. Somewhere on the map, at some unknown hour, Baby 7Bn is born. North or South, city or village, mountains or plains—that baby’s life is largely prescribed by parameters defined before her arrival. So is the answer to the question, Will she have enough to eat?

Experts say the world’s farmers must produce 70 percent more food to meet the increased demands of population.

Others say the entire world will eat only after global economies change shape and form.

I thought about  Baby 7Bn the other day, when Elizabeth Kolbert spoke at the University of Montana about her book (which is required freshman reading). She approached the podium with a serious brow and a sense of intensity that mirrored the dire findings in her research. “We are changing the planet permanently,” she said. “There’s no going back.” And there’s no telling the future.

Ice caps are melting, seas are rising, and people seem “incapable” of limiting their greenhouse gas emissions. Even if geoengineering succeeds in offsetting some of those emissions, Kolbert said, it won’t keep the oceans from turning more acidic.

Most experts agree that dramatic shifts in climate will alter agricultural production. What will Baby 7Bn eat by the time she reaches 18? If she reaches 18?

In the years since Kolbert researched her book, published in 2006, she has seen both “global change” and “global stasis,” she said. “What has changed is the world…. What has stayed the same is our behavior.”

For a few moments, she took off her journalist hat and spoke to the crowd as a mother, appealing to her fellow inhabitants of Planet Earth. She asked the audience to act—do something, start somewhere. Help to change the political strictures that keep us in a state of stasis.

Some solace, Kolbert said, lay in the fact that no good comes from despair. People must channel their energies toward better ends. What in the world are we waiting for? she asked.

I have thought of Kolbert’s words every day since she spoke. Actually, I have thought of her words ever since I read the precursor to her book as a series in The New Yorker.

I will think about that, about her, and about Baby 7Bn as I head home now to a fully stocked fridge and the privileged dilemma: what shall I cook for dinner?

What Will Baby 7Bn Eat?

Photos by Jerry Redfern. See more at Rambling Spoon.

When she’s not running up mountains or sweating through a buggy jungle, Karen Coates covers food, environment, science, health and social issues. She is a 2010-2011 Ted Scripps Fellow in Environ ...read more

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