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Around 1960, the world’s population was about 3 billion. By the turn of the last century, the population had doubled! Today, the population, according to data from the UN Population Fund will hit the magic figure; 7 billion. The BBC has an online application that if you place into the box your date, month and year that you were born, it will show where you fit in the 7 billion. For example, if I were born on June 25, 1983, I was the 4,693,296,339th person to be alive, and the 79,424,999,362nd to have ever lived. Whether this algorithm is on the mark or not is very inconsequential. The fact of the matter is that humanity is around the 7 billion point now, and counting. By 2050, all things remaining constant, we will be about 9.3 billion people. If you are my age, or 35 years and below, the odds are that you could be alive; and the signs are that (if we stay with business as usual), it will be a difficult time.

Let’s bring 7 billion people into perspective. What does it really mean in very ordinary terms? It means more cars, more homes, more mouths. It means more hunger, more deforestation, more poverty, and more conflict. It means less food, less water, it simply means less of everything that we need. There is no doubt that conflicts around the world will continue to be resource based. It will not be about oil, gold or diamonds. This time, it will be about food and water. Already, we have witnessed a slew of corporations and countries running to Africa in search of cheap land and water to feed their populations. But in the places where they seek these resources, populations are growing unchecked, while resources continue to dwindle.

Poverty is very closely connected with bad environmental practices in the third world. Paradoxically, it is even worse in richer countries, where hunger, conflict and diseases are not a major worry. But in many third world countries, the tree cover has vanished due to massive encroachment on natural vegetation by local populations who lack alternative sources of energy. Environmental degradation is in all time highs, food yields have drastically declined and water sources are drying. The ramifications of climate change affect everybody, and yet, we don’t seem to be united in effecting meaningful change to bad practices and finding long term solutions. It is not lost on the whole world that the United States, the world’s biggest emitter of green house gases shied away from signing the Kyoto Protocol (1997). It is almost 20 years later and one can’t imagine the changes that could have happened had the USA taken the lead and shown commitment to this global challenge that we all face.

The solutions that Africa need are well known and they are achievable. Africa is a dumping site for old Asian vehicles, especially from Japan, and this could change if Africa invested more in durable infrastructure that would give people the confidence to start investing in newer vehicles and vehicle manufacturing plants. But this could be considered a minor problem as more than 90 percent of the Sub Saharan African population still can’t afford a used vehicle, or even costs of maintaining one. The real problem is energy for home consumption. Rural electrification in Sub Sahara Africa is at 12 percent. Yes, one, two, three…thirteen, fourteen percent! Even in Urban Sub Sahara Africa, electricity access is at about 55 percent. In short, more than 45% of the people that dwell in urban areas do not have electricity. And that’s not all, in the cities, the other 45% who have electricity, they probably don’t have it all week and sporadically experience power outages during the week. And to bring it further home, only about 5 to 10 percent of the 45 percent can afford to use the electricity for cooking, water heating, and other high electric consuming tasks.

Therefore, 90 percent of the rest of the populations in Sub Saharan Africa have their hopes fixed on trees. Not for shade, for beauty, or for the climate but for fuel or firewood. When I was consulting for the Government of Uganda and the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) during the Juba Peace Process, one of the recommendations I made after thoroughly touring Northern Uganda, was to mobilize the communities through radio and have them plant trees, each family a few trees every year. But like most recommendations made to the Ugandan government, it was swept under the rug. 7 billion people today, and a few million following shortly is just not cool. I don’t think that the babies in our bodies are crying out loud to have us produce them. They certainly don’t want to come to this earth that we are simply destroying. They don’t look forward to the tsunamis, the droughts, the landslides, the flooding, the climate change. I bet you, and you know it that they’d rather be where they are right now. That’s how much we have sucked!

So, where doyou fit in the 7 billion? Does it matter? Yes, it does, but only if where you fit isn’t just in the numbers, but in doing things that will consciously improve the place that we live in. We don’t own it. So we must become good stewards.