When I was born, or so I am informed by this amusing application on the Guardian’s website, there were 4,349,083,096 people in the world. Late last year, the world’s global population reached 7 billion, which means that in my lifetime (I’ll admit: a mere 31 years), the world’s population has MORE THAN DOUBLED. The Guardian app doesn’t support birthdays before 1952, probably because it doesn’t want to scare the crap out of anyone born before that date, but a check of my mother’s birthday in the year 1952 (it was actually in 1950—sorry, Mom!) reports that the population was around 2.5 billion at that point. In other words, both of my parents have seen the population nearly triple in their lifetimes.
This fact is not only astounding, but immensely worrying. For those of us fortunate enough to have been born in a country like the United States with its vast resources and already pillaged imperialized outcroppings, we don’t sense the population boom as much as those living in Asia or Africa. A friend recently reported from India her astonishment over the poverty in the countryside of that ‘BRIC’ nation, but she was even more astonished by the sheer amounts of garbage piled everywhere, stray dogs picking through it for sustenance. In my travels, it is always the waste of human existence that both disgusts and worries me—we are our own biggest problem (and climate change, pollution, and the rest of it is a direct cause of human activity and overpopulation).
For many years I have been a strong proponent of what I saw to be the largest challenge to the human population—not war, nor climate change, nor poverty—but actually what was in many way the cause of all these ills: too many people. I spoke in private with friends and family about my concerns about the lack of concern many had when it came to populating the earth (seems babies grow on trees sometimes), and I was frustrated by the lack of media coverage I found online, on television and in print (back when television and print news were our main forms of media).
Fortunately, this dearth of coverage and awareness is shrinking: Enter National Geographic’s prescient year long project entitled simply ‘Population 7 Billion.’ The magazine’s online and print coverage will encompass a variety of necessary topics including articles that take deep dives into specific issues—demographics, food security, climate change, fertility trends, managing biodiversity—that relate to global population. Looks like a great project that will question our understanding of our species’ impact on the earth, the only place we call ‘home.’
I’ll sign off with an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, written in 1855 when the world population was a mere 1.2 billion, in other words, 14 percent of what it is today. I wonder what Walt would think about the wonderfulness of today’s world…
And that I grew six feet high….and that I have become
a man thirty-six years old in 1855…. and that I am
here anyhow—are all equally wonderful;
And that my soul embraces you this hour, and we affect
each other without ever seeing each other, and never
perhaps to see each other, is every bit as wonderful:
And that I can think such thoughts as these is just as
And that I can remind you, and you think them and know
them to be true is just as wonderful,
And that the moon spins round the earth and on with the
earth is equally wonderful,
And that they balance themselves with the sun and stars is
Come I should like to hear you tell me what there is in
yourself that is not just as wonderful,
And I should like to hear the name of anything between
Sunday morning and Saturday night that is not just as