According to the United Nations, the six billionth person was recently born on October 12, 1999. A celebration took place in Sarajevo, Bosnia, with Secretary-General Kofi Annan holding up the baby considered to have set this phenomenal record.
Yet, looking at it from a historic and prophetic point of view, crossing the six billion mark is more a cause for concern and alarm than for celebration. With this dubious "record" in mind, it seems a good time to pause and consider the negative impact this current population explosion is having on planet earth.
According to population experts, it has taken almost 2,000 years for the world population to slowly rise from an estimated 250 million at the time of Christ to a billion and a half at the beginning of the 20th century. Then, in just this century, the population truly exploded as it quadrupled in size and reached the mark of six billion. Despite advances in birth control, the world population is still burgeoning as the 21st century arrives.
A glimpse at the trend shows why we should be concerned. According to the U.N. Population Division, it took 123 years to get from one billion to two billion people. Yet, it took only 33 years to reach the three billion mark and 14 years to arrive at the four billion level. Next, it took only 13 years to reach five billion and now just 11 years later it crossed the six billion mark. From now on, it is estimated that one billion people will be added approximately every 10 years. Provided this growth rate of some 80 million new people per year continues, our present population will again double within 50 years.
What do these facts signify? Is the earth equipped to sustain this constant over-population without bringing dire consequences? Population experts consider an ideal population to be around two billion people, since this balances development with a healthy environment. Yet we have already reached triple that amount of people and continue to multiply at breakneck speeds. Even with a further slowdown in the birthrate, there are already so many billions of people today that, in a manner similar to the action of compound interest, the sheer momentum is causing the population to skyrocket.
Signs of Global Environmental Fatigue
Already the world is suffering serious consequences from this excessive population increase. In 1989, the fishing industry reported a dwindling of fish catches in the world's oceans, and the decline has continued ever since. Diminishing reserves of metals, fossil fuels, forests, arable lands, fresh water and wildlife are a fact of life. Pollution has reached global proportions, with hardly any part of the earth now free from contaminated air, water and soil. This is not an extremist view, but rather it is the perspective of prestigious world organizations such as the U.N. and the Red Cross.
Perhaps in the United States, Europe and Japan, where funds are available to curb the most damaging effects of the rise in population, there is not as much concern. But then again, these nations comprise less than a sixth of the world's inhabitants. The rest of the world is in a far sorrier condition.
Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Gardens, is so concerned with the damage being done to the earth, that he compares this destruction to the five previous massive catastrophes that appear in the fossil record. Dr. Raven believes that if this latest one continues to develop, "the sixth mass extinction of living organisms will be brought about by people, by a mushrooming population that has doubled in 40 years, to six billion, and by human carelessness and commerce" (Time, April 26, 1999, p. 33).
More Famines Predicted
The exponential increase of the world population has placed great strains on political, military, economic and social systems around the planet. Some relief agencies already consider parts of Africa to be in a chronic state of hunger. Recently, the U.N. supplied information of yet another mounting famine in sub-Saharan Africa, with 16 countries and 10 million people at risk. The reasons? Severe droughts, crop diseases and bloody civil wars.
In 1950, Europe had a population three times that of Africa, while today Africa, with almost a billion people, has three times as many people as Europe. "Such growth," says Joseph Chamie, the U.N.'s chief demographer, "is simply beyond the carrying capacity of an already beleaguered continent" (Newsweek, May 3, 1999, p. 2).
Unfortunately, the population explosion is not only a problem of quantity, but of quality of life-due to different living standards. While the birth rate in industrialized countries has plummeted, in less developed regions it remains quite high. Alarmingly, it is estimated that over 95 percent of the future population growth will take place in the world's 130 poorest countries. Already, one-fourth of the earth's inhabitants live with less than a dollar a day and yet this group is part of the population that is multiplying exponentially.
In the meantime, the voracious nature of an industrialized world on the one hand, and an impoverished one on the other, is rapidly depleting the earth's vital resources. Ola Ullsten, former Swedish prime minister and head of the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development, recently said that in the past 20 years alone, forests have disappeared in 25 countries, and another 18 have lost more than 95 percent of their tree cover. Just before World War II, there were an estimated 60 billion hectares of forest; now there are barely 3.6 billion globally. The causes? Logging, indiscriminate cutting for firewood and desertification (Newsweek, op. cit. p. 2).
As the population grows, it strains the human relations within cities and even between nations. More crime, violence and disease will invariably appear as people are increasingly forced to live in more cramped and unhealthy quarters. According to 1990 U.N. statistics, Tokyo was the most populous city in the world with 25 million, followed by New York City with 16 million. But in the next 15 years, the U.N. calculates the largest cities will be in the poorer nations. Those cities include Bombay with 28 million, Lagos with 24 million, Shanghai with 23 million, and Mexico City and Sao Paulo with 20 million each. Can impoverished nations continue to provide basic services and social peace as their resources dry up?
Unfortunately, one thing that is not diminishing is worldwide investment in military hardware. Explains Pranay Gupter, editor of The Earth Times, "The industrialized world's investment in sustainable economic and social advancement in underprivileged states was at an all-time low-barely $45 billion a year. In contrast, global expenditure on weapons touched almost $1 trillion" (Newsweek, op. cit. p. 2).
Shadows From the Past
During World War II, one of the reasons Adolf Hitler sought to justify his invasion of neighboring countries was Germany's supposed need for lebensraum or more living space. He claimed the overcrowded Germans were entitled to new territories. He wrote in his book, Mein Kampf, "This soil of Europe exists for the people which possesses the force to take it. The law of self-preservation will go into effect; and what is refused through amicable methods, it is up to the fist to take" (p. 138).
As the population soars, future leaders could be tempted to justify their invasion of neighboring countries with a similar rationale. This is presently happening on a smaller scale to a weakened Russia. "In the far east," writes Igor Malashenko for Newsweek, "massive numbers of illegal immigrants from China are pouring into depopulated regions of neighboring Russia. The future territorial integrity of Russia cannot be taken for granted" (Newsweek, October 4, 1999). This Russian weakness could be a source of future wars, as the struggle for space and resources becomes more critical.
Prophecy on the March
How is all of this related to prophecy? In the end-time scenario described in the book of Revelation, a horde of Asians will cross the Euphrates River and cause a disastrous world war.
"And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, 'Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates. So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind. Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million. I heard the number of them..." (Revelation 9:13-16).
In order for this prophecy to come to pass, there must exist billions of people, since just this part of Asia will enlist 200 million able-bodied soldiers. Until the latter part of the 20th century, Chinese and other Asian people could not muster even half that number, but now for the first time in history, they can easily provide this immense figure.
Also, as world population multiplied in the 20th century, so did the explosion of knowledge, made possible by improved communications, global travel and shared technology. More than ever before, this modern society fulfills the prophecy given to Daniel by God, "But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase" (Daniel 12:4).
We now take for granted such things as international travel and the knowledge explosion, but these have only been around during the latter part of the 20th century.
Parallel With Noah's Day
In addition, this prediction of a rapid increase in the world population is related to the conditions in Noah's time. Christ compared the society of Noah's day to the end time in Matthew 24:37-39.
In Noah's day, people were caught off guard by God's judgment, in spite of His warning through Noah's preaching. The Bible says the earth was full of violence and corruption in Noah's day, which was the reason God brought about the Flood. "Meanwhile, the crime rate was rising rapidly across the earth, and, as seen by God, the world was rotten to the core. As God observed how bad it was, and saw that all mankind was vicious and depraved, he said to Noah, 'I have decided to destroy all mankind; for the earth is filled with crime because of man'" (The Living Bible, paraphrase of Genesis 6:11-12).
Another condition mentioned about Noah's day was a notable rise in world population. "Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth..." (Genesis 6:1). The paraphrase in The Living Bible captures the sense of the verse: "Now a population explosion took place upon the earth..." (Genesis 6:1). The population explosion was clearly linked to the fact that the earth became literally "filled with violence" (Genesis 6:11).
Christ's prediction that end-time conditions will be similar to those of Noah's time certainly does fit the description of our days-although we don't know exactly how long God in His patience will permit time to go on before He intervenes decisively.
As the population of impoverished nations continues to explode, men could react in two ways. First, there will be those who want to control the earth's population by any means possible, including war and ethnic cleansing. Secondly, as the population of third world nations explodes, their leaders will be pressured to invade their neighbor's land in an attempt to feed their people. Both scenarios point toward the time of the opening of the seven seals of the book of Revelation. There will be war, famine, pestilence and millions will die.
Yes, it is certainly significant that the sixth billionth person was born at the close of this 20th century. But instead of thinking this a great feat, we should consider it to be an alarming sign that world population has gotten out of hand. This uncontrollable population explosion could help usher in the prophesied end-time scenario and with it, the true solutions to this troubled world that only a merciful God can bring. WNP