GE Cluster course project makes 7 billion population milestone tangible

By Nicole Mirea
Originally posted in the Daily Bruin

Sand-filled jars – 141 of them – sat on a table at the front of the classroom, each bearing the name of a country.

The world’s population reached 7 billion on Monday, according to a report released by the United Nations.

To commemorate the population milestone, Keith Stolzenbach, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, had planned a special project.

Each student in his General Education Cluster M1A environment course received a jar. The amount of sand in the jar reflected the labeled country’s population.

The students’ mission for the next week is to research population-related issues in their assigned country.

“It’s cool how we can … see the different political and social factors related to population in individual countries,” said Maggie Su, a first-year English student in the class.

Su, who received the jar for Iraq, said the project offers a more creative way of learning about population than writing a paper.

Bryn Bacharach, a first-year environmental science student who took home the large container marked “China,” said that although she was worried about dropping the heavy glass jar, she is looking forward to learning about the steps China has taken to reduce overpopulation.

Namely, she said, the one-child policy, which allots each Chinese family only one child.

The project’s goal is to convey the 7 billion figure in tangible terms and to provide additional focus on population growth in individual countries, Stolzenbach said.

He added that he wanted to emphasize population as a region-specific issue.

Overpopulation has less to do with the total number of people on Earth and more to do with density in a specific area.

However, overpopulation still remains a major problem in some parts of the world, Stolzenbach said.

He said urban areas are especially prone to its effects, which include shortages of resources such as food and water, as well as energy deficits, pollution and poor health care.

Cully Nordby, academic director of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and a lecturer for the cluster course, said education about birth control in developing countries is crucial to reducing overpopulation.

Overpopulation is not just a problem in developing countries though, Stolzenbach said.

He pointed out that the urban areas of Los Angeles also experience some symptoms of overcrowding.

In its report, the U.N. projected that the world population will continue to grow, although at slower rates.