There are now 7 billion people sharing our little blue marble*, you and I included. That means 7 billion people who get hungry, need space, and disagree with things that the other 6.999999999 billion people say.
It means 7 billion people who want electricity, and who care first and foremost that they have it at all, not so much where it comes from.
It means 7 billion people who want to drive cars, and who will most likely use gasoline to fuel them. It means billions of people vying for oil, though experts believe supply will peak soon, if it has not peaked already.
It means 7 billion people who need clean water at a time when arid regions are becoming more so.
It means 7 billion people who are increasingly vulnerable to an increasingly ornery climate system that has been overloaded with a concentration of greenhouse gas emissions. There will be more floods, fires, and droughts, and there will be more people living in the areas impacted by them.
Of those 7 billion people, more and more have access to the internet and television, and more and more are seeking residency in the so-called Global Village. This is amazing. We are members of an international community with unprecedented access to information-sharing, and we are bearing witness to hitherto unseen communication between disparate regions of the world. But there is now also an unprecedented bandwith for broadcasting the consumerist ideal. There is a greater impetus than ever to obtain the material accessories and luxuries enjoyed by the global 'middle class'.
Which means 7 billion people may soon want stuff like this: (Who wouldn't?)
And to eat this:
And live in houses that look like this:
Or at least like this:
For the time being, however, the 7 billion will increasingly live here:
It means 7 billion people seeking to share their voices; who want democratic representation and economic fairness. Many are willing to fight for it.
You are one of those 7 billion people, and you may or may not still want many of these things. The challenge of the 21st century will be meeting the demands of the 7 billion much more intelligently and efficiently than we have done in the past. If every nation consumed at the pace of the United States, we would need many more earths. We have the one. But we also have new tools.
Cities are efficient and social, and, when designed and managed well, unleash vast human potential. That's why we increasingly want to live in them. New technologies will continue to yield large-scale breakthroughs in clean energy, communications, transportation, and medicine. But above all, the quality of this future planet depends on our collective ability to appeal to one another to address these pressing concerns. To organize. To build societies that thrive without depleting the natural plenitude that has given rise to 7 billion hopeful, interconnected humans.
If we fail now, it will bode ill for 2100. Then, there will be at least 10 billion of us.
*Figures are according to the UN estimates -- other estimates project we won't hit 7 billion for a few more months, and that there may be many more or less people by 2100.