Population growth curve - click to enlarge

I’m number 2,331,808,246 … approximately

Population growth curve - click to enlarge
I'm number 2,331,808,246

Big in the media this week: The world population will reach an estimated 7 billion on October 31.

I’m not sure why that’s such big news, other than 7 billion being a nice round number. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect only statisticians to get excited about. Except … except that the rate of growth has increased so radically in recent years.

The website Population Action International has a graph showing how the rate of growth has soared since 1800. And you can plot your position on the graph by entering your birth date. I found it eye-opening that there were “only” some 2.3 billion people on the earth when I was born, but today there are 6.9 billion.

Should we be alarmed about the population explosion? I think alarmed may too strong a word, but “concerned,” yes. Not that the surface of the earth will become overcrowded. A drive across the central U.S. is enough to dispel that notion. The real concern is the overtaxing of finite resources — fresh water, food, clean air, fuel — and in many areas we are already severely taxing those.

We can’t predict the future with any great accuracy, so I’d put my money on hedging our bets now, while we know we can still do something. Take steps to conserve our existing resources. Keep searching for and developing new resources. Work to limit population growth — which also helps reduce the strain on resources, increase the chances for education and a better life, etc. Birth control is a really, really cheap investment with tremendous returns for the family, the community, and beyond.

Global warming and climate change? Yes, I believe they are happening. The earth is going to go about doing its thing, whatever that might be, regardless of our presence. It will survive, perhaps only as a barren rock, no matter what we do. But also yes, I believe man affects the earth and its climate and resources. I don’t take the extremist view that all global warming is manmade, but there’s no doubt we contribute to it. What more proof do you need than that you are here and by your mere presence you consume, you pollute, you destroy. None of us exists without having some effect on the earth. So while I’m not a radical treehugger, I think it just makes sense to try to tread a little lighter until we know for sure that we are not destroying the only home we and future generations have.

There are indications that by 2050, with a population of 9 million, the rate of population growth will start leveling off. That’s a good thing, because I think the experts can talk till they’re blue in the face, but too many people won’t pay any attention until their faucets run dry, the grocery store shelves are empty, and they need oxygen masks to breathe.

16 thoughts on “I’m number 2,331,808,246 … approximately

    1. No, it’s not just you. I worry about the same thing. Are we already past the point of no return? If we slammed everything into reverse today and pushed the brakes through the floor, could we stop in time, or are we already doomed to go flying over the edge of the precipice? Some of my concern originated back in the ’60s, when environmentalists were saying something along the lines of “if we stopped all air pollution today, it would still take 30 years for the existing crud in the atmosphere to completely decompose and disappear.” But of course we didn’t stop back then …

  1. Your post is a very good view of the macro population situation, Pied, and I agree with it, including your conclusions. Reading it made me have two thoughts from the micro point of view.

    1. Picturing the 20,000,000 tons (that’s twenty million tons) of debris from the Japanese tsunami now floating across our planet’s largest ocean towards our west coast. Now there’s a human footprint for you to consider!

    2. When I was young, in the 1960’s when the Interstate Highway System was new, we thought little of jumping in the car and tooling across the country for a vacation. Not any more. Maybe it’s partly my age to blame now, but I also picture confusing interchanges, speed traps, traffic cameras, constant construction, falling bridges, tail-gating semi trailers a mile long, and traffic jams that never seem to end. I shudder to think what it will be like in another decade or two.

    1. Regarding that Japanese debris, I keep wondering how much of it will actually reach our coast and how much might get caught in the North Pacific gyre. And which would be worse? At least cleaning up our coast would be manageable.

      I know what you mean about that open road thing. It certainly doesn’t have the appeal it once had. And for me at least, age is definitely part of it. I have neither the patience nor the stamina to fight all those hassles anymore, although GPS devices certainly make the urban pathfinding a lot easier, especially for a lone driver.

    1. Had to read the whole page to get down to the relevant info about your “old lie.” Meantime, all those spinning counters and huge numbers were making me feel a bit claustrophobic. The population density map allowed me to breath easily again. Still lots of elbow room out in this part of the country, although you wouldn’t know it at 5 o’clock downtown.

    2. That’s a cool site, Izaak. It reminds me that we live in a quantum world, one in which reality resides in statistics. Individually, people and atoms are unpredictable, but collectively, just the opposite.

      The explosion of the human population coincides with the industrial revolution, the cotton gin, the steel plow, and the combine. Only 0.7 of 1% of the population of the U.S. now needs to farm, and they do it in the air-conditioned cabs of monster machines equipped with GPS. I wonder if we are now at our peak and it’s downhill from here?

      1. Back when I was a kid, I read Asimov’s “Life And Energy” and in it he described how every human required a certain amount of land for him to survive – for his habitation, for growing his vegetable foods on, for his meat foods to graze on, for his waste to be disposed in, etc. I think that our population surpassed what the Earth can support naturally decades ago, and we’ve been getting by using science and technology to squeeze out more from what’s available. But we’ve seriously damaging the natural environment in the process, and locked ourselves onto a completely unsustainable path.

      2. I’m not as pessimistic as you, Izaak. I was a huge fan of Asimov’s and respect his intellect, but I think even he might be surprised at today’s technologies. The September issue of Scientific American was all about the environment and technology for cities, and while I found it generally dry reading I did note that there is tremendous potential for getting more efficient, including vertical farms and rooftop gardens. Of course, all such things depend on stable economies and politics, things now in short supply. Still, I see hope in certain trends like homogenization of ethnic and cultural barriers through the internet and the melding of the races. Management of freshwater will be crucial to success.

      3. A lack of faith in human potential has never been my problem Jim. My faith falls very short, however, when it comes to humans doing what’s actually in their best interests…

      4. Hmm. Is it the “will” that’s lacking, or is it an insufficiently evolved ability to perceive that humankind is not thousands of tribes, but one intra-dependent tribe on a lonely blue marble, isolated forever and adrift in the Cosmos?

        (If we could start by getting Republicans and Democrats together, then the rest would be a piece of cake, wouldn’t it? Carl Sagan, please, come back.)

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