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Saturday, February 25, 2012
Current Affairs ...

I was pondering a little factoid about world population today. Any day now, there will be 7 billion people living on the planet. It wasn’t so long ago when there were only half as many; in 1968, there were about 3.5 billion. No wonder the world seems to have changed so much over this time.

Even though most population growth has occurred in the developing nations, communications and transportation technology have brought every corner of the planet closer and closer together in terms of every day life. You can’t have a nice suburban life in America these days without worrying over affairs in Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somolia, Japan, Greece, Haiti, the Congo — you name it. And as Neil Diamond once sang, “They’re Comin’ to America”; you can’t go to the local supermarket without standing in line next to people from all corners of the world, often on a cell phone speaking their native tongues with some relative in Moscow, Karachi, Santiago or Singapore, waiting to put their diapers, chips and Pepsi on the checkout belt.

Up until about 1900, an average person living to age 70 could not expect to see a doubling of the world’s population. However, for the 1900 millennium child, world population went from 1.6 billion to 3.2 billion by 1965. A baby boomer born in 1950 will likely live through a tripling of population; 2.4 billion in 1950, and 7.6 billion expected in 2020. According to today’s forecasts, kids born since 1990 will not see a doubling in their lifetimes; world population is expected to level out between 9 and 10 billion after 2050.

The Occupy movement is fond of citing the unfairness of a super-affluent 1% of American population versus a struggling-to-hold-on 99%. But on a world-wide basis, the majority of Americans would be in the top 10%, and even the most destitute would be in the upper 50%. I’m just putting things into context on an international basis.

Back in 1968, I remember talk about the crisis of world population growth. But no one then would have guessed that population would double in 45 years without rampant starvation and political turmoil. For now, the world seems to be holding together, although many thoughtful and informed people wonder if this is sustainable — or are things going to get ugly before long (e.g. famines, mass refugee movements, revolts and wars due to accelerating global warmth and climate change).

I hope that technology and human wisdom will prevail over the darker aspects of our species, and that 10 billions humans can reach a relatively stable and workable accommodation with one another. Like rats, we do tend to get a bit nutsy when too many are forced into a small cage.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:56 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, I agree with you that today’s population is higher than it has ever been before. But I am not sure I worry much about the population doubling in some 40/50 years.

    I do a lot of reading on the period between the 1200s to the 1600s. I’ve found several times information that indicates that certain areas of the world then (which is, admittedly, the portion of the world that had I’m particularly interested in—that and modern day China, I should add) doubled in very short periods of time. For instance, in the 1200s to 1600s, London, cities in Italy, France had populations double in short periods of time. And for all practical purposes at that time, those areas—for the people who lived there—were the whole world.

    And the solution to the overpopulation came rather quickly: famine, wars, plague were the usual means of lowering the population in any given area. Good they had too many people; some survived.

    In some ways we have the technology now to find out the population of the entire world in one fell swoop; yet, when it comes to the practical, it seems to me that perhaps certain areas have a bigger problem with overpopulation than other areas.

    Then too, our world population has increased because of all the advances in medicine and people working less hard are more safely than they used to. People just live longer, when in times before they would simply have died at a younger age. Also, some (more than one might think is my opinion) babies born now, who would have died in times past, live long lives.

    I agree with you, basically. I recently found myself wondering something similar to what you are talking about here: Just what will it be that makes some vast difference in how many people continue to populate the earth?

    Which brings me to the 75,000 year old mystery (I think I’ve got that right): I’ve read that 75,000 years ago (give or take a few thousand most likely) there was some major catastrophe that killed most humans on earth. All the people currently living have descended from the very few who managed to survive whatever it was that caused that sudden massive population decline. Amazing! And now we are talking about overpopulation. Perhaps we need the overpopulation for purposes of having someone survive.

    That having been said, I am not going to spend one second worrying about whatever it is that will reduce the population. Basically, I think it’s futile (and almost silly) to worry about such things as when the individual dies, he/she no longer has any investment in this earth (well, at least won’t have for a while if those who believe in reincarnation are right). My approach to worrying about the destruction of the world is that as far as I’m concerned, the destruction of the world happens when it comes time for me to die.

    And that’s not necessarily an unpleasant thought—more a practical one from both standpoints—that of the fact that each of us will definitely have to die at some point. And, second, if our death comes with the destruction of the world, what’s the difference?

    If I may make a comment on your point about refugee movements: Once again, I think, while we are very conscious of them at this point in our history, this is another phenomenon that has gone on through time and is something that is often unnoticed by a lot of people—those not directly involved. I recently read that during the first half (plus a little bit—to just after the Civil War), there was a massive migration of individuals/families from the East Coast, the “West” (actually the Mid-West as we call it now) to the undeveloped territories past the Mississippi River. Several hundred thousand people moved in covered wagons, on foot often, using the best “technology” they had at the time. Then there was the migration of the Irish during the potato famine, the migration of those of various German speaking nations—all during/about the 1800s. Can’t say what was going on in the East then because I’m unaware of what may be available in history on that subject.

    I know it’s not the “right way to think” these days; but I tend not to worry about overpopulation. (I note that this word has been in such use that instead of being 2 words, it is now correctly spelled as one word!) Frankly, if it had not been for migration, I would not live in the Mid-West as my ancestors migrated from Europe. And in my own way I too have “migrated”—from the city to ever further away from the main city suburbs. I think you likely could say the same thing. And in the end overpopulation may serve some use for the human race as a whole. Who is to say? MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — February 26, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

  2. Hi Jim, haven’t visited your wonderful blog for awhile. This post struck a chord with my own thinking/musing today – even though my thoughts go off into a sort of trajectory and are concerned more with the social and cultural implications than with the issue of overpopulation per se.

    I am the product of migration, several generations ago (4 to be precise) my ancestors migrated from China to South East Asia. We were the newbies here at the time. Now, we are facing yet another wave of migration from the same places – mainly India and China – and this new wave, in its churning and frothing, has once again stirred things up in a society that barely had time to let the dust from wandering feet settle. Within a short span of time, humans have made remarkable changes, thanks largely to technological advances. The world is smaller and more packed. What happens when humans are more and more packed, and change is more and more frequent, major changes, in fact?

    A little microcosmic example happened in my living room today. Two migrant workers from India arrived to deliver a state of the art massage chair and take away the old one for refurbishment. They came, they saw two Chinese women in the house alone, giving them instructions (albeit politely) on what to take out and how (please do kindly mind the antiques etc). I suppose they took offense, in a way which no local Indian or Chinese male would, were they in the same situation. In their home country, they keep the traditional culture of female suppression and male dominance. They bring it now to a vastly different society, even though the racial mix may be similar, i.e. we are Asians, we are Indians, Chinese etc. They are completely alien to our ways, the system and lifestyle we have become so used to after less than 200 years. They brought animosity right into to our living room. They will not listen to a couple of females telling them what to do. Where are the men? They stood there refusing to even acknowledge our presence let alone do what they were paid to do by the company which sold us the chair. Then we had the audacity to call the company to complain and ask for help. That insult proved too great. They began to hurl verbal abuse at us, calling us “pig” and almost physically assaulting an old woman (my mother came over to see what was happening). In their own country, this kind of treatment of females, unprotected by any male relatives, is acceptable. But here, it is an outrage and behavior that warrants a police report at the very least. It was an uncomfortable juxtaposition indeed.

    I have heard similar stories about the clash between Western Europeans and new migrants from Eastern Europe. Some stories are first hand experiences, told to me by friends living in Western Europe.

    Who is at fault here? The individuals behaving badly, of course. But how much of it is cultural and how much of it is just bad humanity? Looking beyond what is unfolding right in our faces, I do suspect that this is just part of the downside of mass migration happening far too rapidly for us humans to integrate mentally – internally and externally. Our own mini cultural landscape is barely 200 years old, I was only just beginning to enjoy growing up here, my generation at last beginning to see some positive form of cohesion and economic stability. Then very quickly, in the last 10 years, mass migration happened again, but this time the impact seems more marked, because of the great divide that has developed – it is now throwing everyone into a frenzied scramble of trying to adjust, of being outraged at the cultural and social clashes – all over again.

    Good and bad. As always. Bad if lousy things happen in your own living room, leaving you feel vulnerable and angry. Good if grand things happen and the economy is given a good boost etc blah and new migrants come to do the work that locals don’t want to do. Also good for historians of the future who are looking at our lives now and seeing the richness of multicultural change happening within such short spans of time – exciting, even.

    It all depends on how one looks at things, doesn’t it then?

    Sorry if I did go off on a tangent – but your thoughts always tend to inspire in my little brain other thoughts leading somewhere else!

    Hope this ramble finds you well?

    Comment by spunkykitty — February 28, 2012 @ 11:37 am

  3. Hi DJ / SK!! Great to hear from you, I will catch up on your blog too. Hope all is going well, on the way to the PhD program I hope! More soon, Jim G / ESofL

    Comment by Jim G — March 3, 2012 @ 2:51 pm

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