The text below, a letter to the 7 billionth person, was originally published on my (now non-existent) blog in October 2011. I’ve slightly polished it, but 11 years later, as the human family is welcoming its 8 billionth member, much of the sentiment in that piece feels just as relevant, not least now as a parent.
Your first voice was a cry, but every birth is a great joy.
Today, however, your arrival comes with just as much concern.
In theory, you could have been my own son or daughter, and I sure hope to meet you one day. But whoever you are, I truly hope that your greater family — your community, country, fellow humans — will be able to make your life an opportunity rather than a chance.
But I’m not deluding myself. Most chances are that you are born to a family that struggles to survive. Most chances are that neither you nor your family are aware of this historic though symbolic occasion. Yes, you are of course too young to read these words, but it’s also not unlikely that even your parents cannot.
So far, we have been thinking mostly about the present — ourselves, that is — leaving unfairly little to those after us.
Though, as has been said before me, it is not so much about how many of us inhabit this planet, but rather how much of its unreplenishable resources we are consuming, especially the tiny group of the richest humans.
In many ways, the world today is indeed a better place than it was when your parents were born. But it comes with a great cost that’s here to stay for a very long time — from polluted rivers and depleted aquifers to nuclear waste and climate change.
Alongside once unimaginable technological achievements, the gap between the few who can afford enjoying them and the majority that can’t is still consistently growing.
Undoubtedly more — in fact, all — people deserve decent living standards, and the recent social justice movement sweeping the globe is indeed an encouraging sign on the long road to a more equal and just distribution of wealth.
So, some of us are indeed trying to fix some of the past wrongdoings. Solidarity, not just instrumental cooperation, is key to ensuring a better future for your generation and those to come.
Being one of seven billion might seem like every individual is ever less significant, ever powerless. But perhaps the most important lesson history has to offer for the future is that much, not all, depends on what one decides to make out of this remarkable opportunity called life.
Happy birthday and welcome to the club.