It’s an unscientific fact that math tends to give people headaches, but numbers are needed to make a point about Earth’s exploding population.
Suppose an ultra-wealthy person — Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, for example — offered to put a penny in your bank account on Jan. 1, then two pennies on Feb. 1, doubling the amount on the first of every month. How long would it take to fully deplete Bezos’ estimated $88-billion fortune?
We’ll save you and your calculator some trouble and woe. You’d have that $88 billion in your bank account on July 1, 2022, thanks to the realities of compounding.
This explains a lot about what’s happening to the world population. As of last July 11, which happened to be World Population Day, Earth held about 7.6 billion humans, give or take a few million. It’s hard to get an accurate count because a lot of folks just flat-out don’t want to be counted or can’t be located by counters.
Population growth is a bit like the Jeff Bezos’ penny-a-month giveaway. It’s exponential, grows much larger over time, and eventually maxes out. Here’s how the giveaway connects with population growth:
The planet’s total human head count in 1800 was about 1 billion, a doubling of the figure from 1500. The total population hit 2 billion just 127 years later, then 47 years after that it doubled to 4 billion. See how that’s working?
Experts reckon the compounding thing will keep going with the next anticipated doubling to 8 billon in 2023, then finally level off to 10-12 billion by 2100. No one can be sure about these numbers, and there are literally billions of factors that could effect the outcome.
So, why would population growth level off around 2100? Again, it’s a matter of conjecture, but many scientists believe the leveling occurs because Earth will no longer have carrying capacity for a larger population.
It doesn’t take much imagination to guess why — we’re going to run out of food and water, which means a thinning of the human herd will be caused by loss of life, premature death by starvation and disease.
Humans are tireless consumers of resources such as aquifers and ice caps, fertile soil, forests, fisheries and oceans, while at the same time polluting the planet’s ecosystems.
Modern humans, at least those in wealthy countries, have adopted a culture of want, rather than of need. We want it, we buy it and use it up, creating waste.
The United States and its citizens are a prime example of consuming far beyond our population, more fuel, more clothing, more of just about everything than any other country. Our culture encourages us to consume more.
According to Worldwatch Institute, the planet offers 190 acres of land per person for growing food and materials needed for daily living. The average American, per capita, uses 970 acres per person to supply our wants and needs.
The same study that produced those figures also estimates an adult human needs less than a gallon of water a day. The average American uses about 1,000 gallons of freshwater a day. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization reckons just less than 2.2 billion people lack access to any safe drinking water.
Americans pride themselves on the convenience of turning a knob and getting clean, safe water. Before you get too smug and comfortable about having safe water, think Flint, Michigan.
We need to do a better job of using and conserving our natural resources, because if we don’t, many of them will likely be gone forever.