State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

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How You Can Help Earth Cope with 7 Billion

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The World at 7 Billion

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The World at 7 Billion: Sustaining our Future

Photo credit: SimplyCVR

The population of our planet reached the 7 billion mark at the end of October according to the U.N.’s calculations. Earth’s population has more than doubled in the last 50 years, from 3 billion in 1959, and will likely exceed 10 billion by 2100. These numbers represent big challenges—feeding and providing for additional people on a planet already stressed by environmental damage and climate change. What can ordinary individuals do in the face of such enormous issues?

Since the evolutionary goal of each species is to increase its numbers, we might claim that humans have triumphed. But we have achieved our “success” by devouring Earth’s resources and devastating other species and their ecosystems.

We are already on an unsustainable trajectory of deforestation, water pollution and scarcity, depletion of soils, and species loss, and yet we must find even more food, water, and energy to provide for our continually increasing numbers, 97 percent of whom live in developing countries.

Today, half the global population lives on $2 a day or less, and the gap between rich and poor is growing. In poor countries, undernourishment, discrimination against women, and high birth and death rates are inextricably linked. The poor will also suffer most from the effects of climate change—drought, heat waves, flooding, sea level rise, extreme weather—although they are the least responsible for producing the greenhouse gasses that cause global warming. Moreover, as the world population grows, the demand for resources will increase as people move out of poverty and seek a better life.

To focus only on the urgent global picture, however, makes the situation feel overwhelming and may prevent us from taking action. But there are things each of us can do to push for government action and to make a meaningful difference.

For example, we know that one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of poverty and slow population growth is to improve the reproductive and general health and education of women and girls.

School girls in the Central Africa Republic

Education gives women a way out of poverty, and when women feel confident that more of their children will survive, and understand family planning, they have fewer children.

And as residents of the United States, the world’s largest consumer, there are many steps we can take to restrain our use of natural resources and protect the environment.

Here is a list of ways you can help that will hopefully spur your imagination—please share your own ideas too in the Comment section. Saying you don’t have time is no excuse!

What you can do about POVERTY if you have:

5-10 minutes

Take the Oxfam pledge to end hunger

Send a CARE advocacy letter about global poverty to your elected official

1 hour

Invite your friends to loan $25 to Kiva to support a low-income global entrepreneur

1 afternoon

Volunteer at an Oxfam concert

Clean out your closet and donate clean unused clothes to a local shelter

1 day

Offer your skills (printing, computer assistance, transportation, cooking) to a homeless shelter

Host an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet

1 week

Organize a concert with local musicians or a poetry reading to benefit a neighborhood shelter or soup kitchen

1 month

Instead of taking a vacation, volunteer abroad to provide skill-based training to underprivileged communities

1 year

Join AmeriCorps VISTA to help poor communities in the U.S.

Become a Young Leader (NY Chapter) at the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health

Unlimited time

Become an advocate for the homeless

Volunteer at your local food bank

What you can do to help WOMEN AND CHILDREN if you have:

5-10 minutes

Post girlup on your Facebook status to help girls in developing countries get the tools they need to go to school

Email Congress urging officials to support policies that help women in poor communities

Change your browser to to support Save the Children

Take a stand against the anti-choice Smith Bill now on its way to the Senate

1 hour

Do your holiday shopping at fair trade retailers that support women in poor countries

Create a personal webpage to raise funds online for UNICEF and provide humanitarian help for children

Learn about state-level attacks on Planned Parenthood and get involved

1 afternoon

Educate yourself about global strategies for women’s and children’s health

Host a Young Advocates for Pathfinder event in NYC to support reproductive rights

1 day

Organize a group-giving event to do holiday shopping from the catalog and educate a girl for a whole year

Let your elected representatives know you support your pro-choice

1 week

Host an event to support the Global Fund for Women that funds women-led organizations worldwide

Hold a product drive for kids in need

Write a blog post about maternal health in your community and email it to Women Deliver to share with their readers

1 month

Volunteer abroad to promote women’s empowerment

Set up a Nets for Nets event during a sporting event to raise money for mosquito nets to help fight malaria

Help International Midwife Assistance (IMA) in Uganda through holding an IMA book club meeting

1 year

Start a Girlup club to improve the lives of girls in developing countries

Become a Big Brother or Big Sister to nurture children in need

Mentor an at-risk youth

Help Youth at Risk NYC with their public relations or a special event

Become a homework helper for an impoverished child

Organize a Vox college campus group to raise awareness about reproductive health and rights

Refugees from Somalia arrive in Kenya in need of food and shelter

Unlimited time

Become a Women for Women international ambassador to help women survivors of war

Become a foster parent

Save your small change to sponsor a child in need with World Vision for about $1 a day

Become an advocate for adolescent and sexual health in your community

What you can do to protect our ENVIRONMENT if you have:

5-10 minutes

Watch The Secret Life of Paper and/or The Secret Life of Beef

Install 5 compact fluorescent bulbs

Plan several vegetarian dinners instead of meat-based meals

Set your printer or copier’s default to double-sided to save paper

Sign up for a free e-card service instead of buying paper cards

Take action on environmental and/or energy issues through the Sierra Club or the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

1 hour

Photo credit: Official CEMEX images

Plant a tree or shrub in your yard

Set up online banking and bill paying to save paper

Make your own non-toxic household cleaners

Stop your junk mail and unsolicited catalogs

1 afternoon

Properly dispose of hazardous materials by taking them to a recycling facility

Install low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators to save water

Mulch your gardens to prevent soil erosion and runoff

Participate in a beach cleanup

1 day

Plant a vegetable garden

Participate in a Birdathon to count birds and raise money to protect birds and wildlife

1 week

Insulate and weatherize your home

Organize a stream or beach cleanup

Host a Climate Reality Project presentation to help educate your community about climate change

1 month

Sponsor a Charity Water project to provide clean safe drinking water to a developing country

Become a Climate Reality Project presenter to help educate the public about climate change

1 year

Protect a local water body by becoming a volunteer water monitor or a Waterkeeper

Become a citizen steward of the Hudson River Estuary

Unlimited time

Eat less meat

Take 5-minute showers instead of longer ones

Make your lunch and carry it in a refillable container with a cloth napkin

Hang your laundry on the line to dry instead of using the drier

Subscribe to the NRDC’s Legislative Watch to keep abreast of environmental issues

Adopt an Important Bird Area to preserve bird biodiversity through your local Audubon chapter

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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phan chanh tin
12 years ago

I think if we want to deal this problem, we have to combine with more 200 govement on the planet.

Ammad Ali
Ammad Ali
5 years ago

Thanks For Sharing such a great Article. I Think we will countries need to combine then it will be possible.