1000 Days to the 7th Billion Human: What Do We Tell Her?

We have roughly 1,000 days before the seventh billion human being joins the rest of us on Planet Earth. A worthwhile exercise would be for each of us to take 15 minutes as we ride the bus to work, run on our tread mill, or sip our coffee, and imagine what we would say to our seventh billion fellow human being about the human condition awaiting her. This conversation, however hypothetical, can help us take stock of the global constellation that we all have helped produce.

The first thing we could tell our newcomer is that she can expect to live in excess of 70 years, and that this is twice as long as what people counted on a century ago. We would tell her that while the world is a very unequal place in terms of income and wealth, disparities in life expectancy are decreasing. We could report in good conscience that the world possesses some effective global public health instruments, and that we have eradicated small pox and might see the end of polio and malaria in her lifetime. She could be told to expect to have more than 11 years of schooling, education being another area where gross but diminishing disparities loom large in the world. We could also report that the world which awaits her prizes gender equality more than any other era, so she can anticipate a more enabling world than her mother or grandmother endured.

In the spirit of first giving the good news, we can in good faith report that she will have capabilities which can not only empower her but would have been the envy of emperors and tycoons from earlier centuries. In terms of information and knowledge, our newcomer will have unprecedented access through the likes of Wikipedia, JSTOR, and Google Scholar. The breadth of information and knowledge and the ease of her access would have been unfathomable to the Encylopédistes and Academies of Sciences of previous centuries.

At the same time, we should admit to her that there are critical risks. Although we know about the mind-numbing results of previous genocides and have profusely sworn not to allow this ultimate crime to take place again, the sad fact is that if our seventh billion fellow human were to face genocide, chances are that nobody will come to her rescue. We would need to tell her that not only the able military powers of the world have abdicated their solemn responsibility to protect, but that they have also not allowed the development of institutions for people to join a UN Volunteer Army.

We would also need to tell her that we have set into motion, first unknowingly and for the last 20 years in full realization, a chain of events which will soon become irreversible and will lead to catastrophic consequences through climate change. We would need to add that while we were able to devise a scheme for collective global action to prevent ozone depletion, a similar framework to contain climate change has eluded us.

More importantly, working on a welcome message to our seventh billion fellow human being provides us with a rare but overdue opportunity for introspection as well as a frank accounting of the implicit responsibilities we have toward other human beings and future generations. The contours of our epic interdependence should be evident to many of us by now. What is less apparent is our working answer to what our responsibilities are toward each other and what, in turn, our rights are. Without some notion of global civics, the waters of interdependence are treacherous to navigate. Doing unto others what we would have others do unto us remains the most resilient benchmark for decent conduct in human history. This hypothetical conversation with our newcomer could set us on a path toward answering some to these cardinal questions.