Population was on the mind of many attendees of the World Economic Forum’s 7th Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China this week, even if the word was rarely spoken. The theme of this year’s meeting was “Meeting the Innovation Imperative.” Implicit to the theme, however, was the fact that the imperative for innovation is driven in large part by a bloated global population that reached seven billion in 2011 and is on its way to nine billion by 2050.
When I met up with Mechai Viravaidya at his restaurant Cabbages and Condoms in Bangkok, he walked the grounds with an ease of familiarity, showing me elaborate sculptures, figurines and lamps all made out of colored condoms.
He posed for a picture next to one of his favorite decorations, a rendering of the Mona Lisa that offers a reason for her wry smile: two condoms tucked in her folded hands. The restaurant, an open-air courtyard flanked by lush plants, also features educational posters and interactive games such as a safe sex roulette wheel. The condom theme is not just a gimmick. Cabbages and Condoms is one of many social enterprises founded by Mr Viravaidya, a public health advocate and entrepreneur known for his compassion, commitment to health initiatives and rural development, and daring sense of humor. Mechai got his start in 1974 when he founded the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), aiming to slow Thailand’s rapid population growth and alleviate strain on resources and communities.
I believe in miracles. I witnessed economy miracle in 2011: China surpassed Japan and became second to the United States with prospectof being second to none. In the future I would like to witness an environmental miracle: China, the largest contaminator and generator of waste, showing the world the route to sustainable development. Thanks to Dr Zhu Dajian, my hope has emerged. The population of China has reached 1,3 billion, 22% of the world’s total.
The United Nations projects that by 2050, the world population will reach more than 9 billion people. How will we provide the necessities for these extra two billion people, when we have not even met the needs of our current population? Technology is an answer. Advances in medicine, agriculture or engineering, have allowed the population to reach its current numbers. But can we rely on technology alone? We cannot escape the fact that we are using unsustainable amounts of non-renewable resources in our daily lives.