In 1804, there were 1 billion humans on earth. This figure reached 2 billion in 1927. Then, it soared to 3 billion in 1960. It proceeded to hit 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, and 6 billion in 1999.
As the years passed, it’s taken less and less time for this headcount to increase by a billion. 123 years went by before 2 billion was reached in the 1920s, for example, but it took only 33 years for this 2 billion to shoot up to 3 billion by 1960. The journey from 6 to 7 billion took all of 12 years to complete.
In July 2015, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs revealed that there were currently 7.349 billion human beings on the planet. Estimates show that if birth, death, and population growth rates remain constant—278 babies born as opposed to 109 people dead per minute, with 1.18 per cent annual growth—we could reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion by 2100.
Life After Death
Life on earth for us Homo sapiens folk wasn’t always peachy keen. Before the advent of sterilisation, and mechanized farming techniques, the average life expectancy was about 35, and around 1200 women would die per 100,000 childbirths.
However, when the Industrial Revolution came in the 1760s, human life began to flourish: machines made previously arduous tool and food manufacturing tasks easier and faster to do, medicines and treatments cured heretofore deadly illnesses, and vaccines prevented one from contracting formerly unavoidable diseases.
In the early 1960s, when starvation ravaged many of the world’s neediest countries, American biologist and Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug came to the rescue. By developing disease-resistant, high-yielding crops, and teaching farmers in Mexico and India modern agricultural methods, Borlaug taught many poor nations self-sufficiency in their food production.
Because of these scientific and technological breakthroughs, millions of lives were saved, and as time went on, billions more lives were created.
Crowded House, Growing Pains
In this great celebration of prolonged and bettered existence, however, what many who came before us have failed to consider is that the earth has physical limits as to how many people it can support, and that operating above this threshold will drive it to the point of collapse.
Soil, for example, is a distinctly non-renewable resource, and already, we’ve blown through most of whatever available land we have for agricultural purposes.
To boost output and meet ever-increasing demands for food, Western manufacturers often acquire forests and arable land in much poorer countries, displacing countless native communities and animals and employing unsustainable planting methods that cause soil degradation and erosion.
Still, even with the materials and devices to grow crops at lightning speed, without soil, we can’t produce food at a large and fast enough scale to keep the world’s constantly growing contingent of hungry people fed.
Furthermore, the global supply of fresh water at any given time is limited, with some areas naturally freshwater-rich, and others the complete opposite, and the wasteful consumption of over 7 billion water drinkers and users has caused droughts to persist, reservoirs to dry up, and deserts to sprout across the world.
When British primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall said, “It’s our population growth that underlies just about every single one of the problems that we’ve inflicted on the planet,” she wasn’t exaggerating. Resource depletion, deforestation, habitat loss, pollution, climate change, species extinction, starvation, poverty—these issues are all strongly linked to our having reproduced so much and so fast, with no thought of how to live in ways that could sustain our environment as well as ourselves down the line.
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