National Geographic : 2011 Jan
EDITOR'S NOTE PHOTO: RANDY OLSON Crowds surge during the annual Rath Yatra Hindu festival in Puri, India. The world's population will reach seven billion this year. But you don't need to visit Delhi, India (population 22 million), or China (home to a fifth of the world's people) to grasp the consequences. When I return to Jackson County, Oregon, where I was born, the green fields where I used to cut hay, dig onions, and harvest pears are gone. They have been replaced by subdivisions and big-box stores. This is hardly a surprise given that the population of Jackson County has more than tripled in my lifetime. When I see the rapid development going on in my hometown, I can't help but wonder what the future holds for the rest of the world. This month we begin exploring that future with a series of stories about population that will run throughout the year. Environment editor Robert Kunzig starts by sketching out a natural history of population. The issues associated with population growth seem endless: poverty, food and water supply, world health, climate change, deforestation, fertility rates, and more. Kunzig writes, "There may be some comfort in knowing that people have long been alarmed about population." Some of the first papers on demography were written in the 17th century. It's more than 300 years later, and we are still grappling with the outcome of People v. Planet. We look forward to exploring the topic with you.