Seven Billion and Growing

The temperatures are dropping. The leaves are changing. Holidays are speeding by. We’ve already passed Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, All Hallow’s Eve, Reformation Day, All Saints’ Day, All Soul’s Day. Thanksgiving is bearing down on us, and there’s already Christmas music playing in the stores.

But with all of these occasions, there’s another significant event we should mark – the world population reached seven billion.

Seven billion-with-a-B people. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report “The State of World Population 2011: People and Possibilities in a World of Seven Billion” offers some statistics that are both alarming and hopeful. Right now, less than a billion people in the world are over the age of 60. However, by the middle of this century, almost a third of the world’s population will be over 60. What are we as families, as a society, as a world doing to ensure that our elderly population will have the care and support they need, especially as they age out of the workforce?

People under 25 years old already make up 43% of the world’s population. That number will continue to grow as well. What are we doing to provide food, health, and education to the swelling number of young people who will be our world leaders sooner rather than later?

There is a wide range of issues and challenges that arise from population growth – reproductive choice, urbanization, transportation, energy sources, health, education. These are all topics that will have to be dealt with country by country, culture by culture, with the help and support of the global community. But one issue that can be dealt with, here and now, is the problem of food.

Seven billion people. Do we have enough food in the world to feed them all? Yes. There is currently enough food in the world to feed every inhabitant. In fact, the world has produced enough to feed every person since the 1960s. Today there is enough food to feed every person 4.3 pounds of food every day.

So why are people – almost a billion of them – going to bed hungry every night? Why are 16,000 children dying of starvation and starvation-related diseases every single day? Why are we allowing this to occur?

The problem is too big.

I can’t make a difference.

This is not my problem.

People need to learn to fend for themselves.

I have no idea where to start.

What is your excuse?

The bottom line is this: It’s not about numbers. It’s about people. When we focus solely on statistical analysis, it’s easy to say that this or that child is burdensome, is unwanted by the global community, is one too many. But when we talk about people – when we talk about my brand new grandson born this weekend – we cannot be coldly analytical. These are babies. They are human beings. They are God’s children and our brothers and sisters. When Cain glibly asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” the unspoken answer was, “Yes.” We are our siblings’ keepers. We are the caretakers and stewards of creation, and with that responsibility comes sacrifice.

Those sacrifices can be small but very effective. Sometimes people choose to sacrifice by trading in regular coffee for fair trade coffee or buying organic or locally grown food instead of food that has been shipped thousands of miles. Sometimes people sacrifice a little of their income to organizations. Some people sacrifice their time.

This weekend I participated in a Stop Hunger Now  food packaging event at my church. Their mission is to end hunger in our lifetime, an ambitious but achievable goal. These folks have food packing down to an art. At our food packaging event, we packed 10,000 meals in less than two hours. We paid 25¢ a meal. Stop Hunger Now brought bags of rice, soy protein, dried vegetables, and vitamin packets along with all the equipment. We set up five work stations, each staffed with five or six volunteers. One person held a six serving bag under a funnel. Another person threw in a vitamin pack, then another poured in a scoop of soy, another a scoop of veggies, and another a scoop of rice. When we had a box full of bags, the box was taken to a weighing station that made sure the bag was within the specific parameters. Then they were given to the sealer who heat-sealed the bags closed. Then the bags were packaged into boxes ready to be shipped around the world.

It is an elegant operation that requires no special skills. There were jobs for every age and ability level.

It took two hours of our time, and now an orphanage or school can feed its children. It was an incredibly simple but hugely rewarding experience.

We have the food. We have the money. We have the time. Why do we have hunger?

Seven billion brothers and sisters deserve food.

Am I my brother’s keeper?

Oh, yes. I am. You are. And this population milestone is both a challenge and an opportunity.

Will we take this chance and look beyond our human-drawn boundaries to see our kinship with all of humanity?

–Lisa Talbott, Duke Divinity School Intern

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