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Five additional billions
and careening toward
10 to 15.8 Billions
Humanity's Population Trainwreck
Five Additional Billions Since 1930
Arguably the most important data set in the history of our species is depicted in one of the two graphs shown on this page. Beginning with a worldwide population of two billion in 1930, we reached our seventh billion late in 2011 so that we have added FIVE additional billions in a IVE less than a single human lifetime, with still more billifetime lions (numbers 8 and 9) on-track to arrive by 2041. track And the newest U.N. world population pro nd projections of May 2011 show us careening toward worldwide numbers of TEN to SIXTEEN Billio by 2100 - and since illion earth's planetary carrying capacity for a mod modern, industrialized humanity is on the order of TWO billion or less, the numbers cited above are exceedingly dangerous. The mathematics summarized in both of these graphs shows: (1) A disturbing similarity to a J-curve graph of the fission events inside the nuclear dede tonation that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan at the close of World War II, and, (2) Suggests that all , (2 of us alive today may well be living through the catastrophic closing stages two centuries of a population detonation. 15.8 billion
First notice that both of our graphs are extreme and pronounced J-curves. Also note that the graph depicted above reflects U.N. medium edium-fertility population projections to 2100. If, however, worldwide births per woman average just 1/2 child per woman higher than the medium-fertility estimates, then hutility estimates mankind’s worldwide numbers will be on-track toon ward 15.8 billion by century's end - as depicted in the graph shown left which reflects the U.N.’s highfertility projections). The potentially implications of these numbers and the of the times in which we live are also underscored by the following: We have just added one BILLION additional people to our planet in a span of only twelve years, and as this is written, we are well on , w our way toward adding still more billions by century's end. If we somehow manage to keep from wrecking our civilizations and our planet by adding our next billbill ion, the decades ahead promise us still more billbill
Think of an economic bubble and contemplate the implications of the bubbles depicted in the two graphs shown here.
ions, one after another, until all sorts of things break. Despite these facts and their implications, our traditional schooling typically leaves us with little appreciation of how unimaginably large a billion really is. The truly colossal size of a billion will therefore constitute our remaining topic in this pdf. For most of us, a million and a billion are simply two very large numbers. If we could earn a million dollars, that would be great, and if that were a billion dollars that would be even better. And while it is true that both values are large, the reality is that the two numbers are enormously different. And, since data involving human population growth typically involves additional millions and additional billions, we must be able to distinguish between the two. Today we add an extra one MILLION people to our planet every five days, but we add an extra one BILLION people to our planet every twelve to fifteen years. Between 1975 and 1987, for example, world population grew from FOUR billion to FIVE billion, and between 1987 and late 1999 it grew from FIVE billion to SIX billion (UNDESA, 2004). And in 2011 we reached SEVEN billion, and according to UN medium-fertility projections we are headed toward EIGHT billion before 2030, and NINE billion by 2041, with medium and high-fertility trajectories toward 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, or 15.8 billion by the end of this century. Thus, to appreciate the implications of repeatedly adding additional billions of persons to our population, over and over and over again, we must be comfortable with how truly immense a billion really is. Two Thought-experiments To help us picture a "billion" we need an example. If we are dealing with a college audience, we might imagine a thought-experiment involving endless library shelves of Principia Mathematica, Tolstoy, or a one-billion page Encyclopedia of Theoretical Physics. On the other hand, knowing the undergraduate proclivity for pizza, we might imagine something involving billions of slices of pizza. Similarly, as another possibility, knowing that there are routinely suggestions that call for strengthening our educational systems, we might imagine a thought-experiment involving a student whose school district has decided to require one billion homework questions for graduation. We will employ two of the above thought experiments: First involving assembling, editing, and publishing a one-billion-page Encyclopedia of Theoretical Physics, and then, for educators and/or younger audiences (and/or those for whom it is a bit too early in the day for quite so much Theoretical Physics), we will outline a second version of the thought-experiment requiring students to correctly complete one billion homework questions in order to graduate.
Editing and publishing a one-billion page Encyclopedia of Theoretical Physics Imagine that you have been chosen for a well-remunerated position as proofreading and peer-review editor of a new one billion page Encyclopedia of Theoretical Physics, and that you decide to both review and publish 500 pages of the encyclopedia each week (100 pages per day, five days a week) until the entire project is completed. If you work at the project without interruption for five days a week, 52 weeks a year, each and every year, how long will need to complete all one billion pages?
The answer turns out to be 38,461 years, which means that if you accepted the assignment and began faithfully working on it beginning 20,000 years ago, when ice was one-mile thick over Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan, when saber-toothed tigers and wooly mammoths still roamed the earth, and humans still lived in caves, and you continued successfully-publishing 500 pages per week for each and every week from then until now, you would only have to continue working, editing, and reviewing for 18,461 additional years into the future in order to complete your publication. Notice that a billion is a truly-immense number. Imagine then, converting each and every one of those pages (500 pages per week each and every week for 38,461 years) into a human being, and then adding all of those individuals as ADDITIONAL persons to our planet every twelve years (and five such billions in less than a single human lifetime) and it should be no wonder that earth's biospheric life-support machinery is breaking
Thought experiment variation number two The Riddle of a Billion Homework Questions First: A " Million " Suppose that school systems in your state adopt a more rigorous graduation standard that requires each student to complete one MILLION homework questions in order to receive a diploma. Now further suppose that a conscientious student decides to work toward this requirement by completing one hundred questions each night, five nights per week, fifty-two weeks a year until all one million questions are finished. A staggering thought, is it not? Working at this rate, how long will the student need to finish his or her homework?
(The answer is 38 and ½ years)
Next: A " Billion " Suppose that one of the state's districts decides to adopt a more stringent policy and requires its students to complete one BILLION homework questions in order to graduate. If our young scholar decides to tackle this assignment at the same rate (one hundred questions per night, five nights each week, fifty-two weeks each year), how long will be needed to finish their assignment?
Answer: To complete a billion homework questions at 500 per week, 52 weeks per year would require 38,461 years So that we begin to appreciate that a billion is not just a large number, but, demographically-speaking, it is a truly colossal number.
Wooly Mammoths Since a billion is of such demographic importance, let us add further clarity to our example: Assume that a cave-student began to work on this assignment twenty thousand years ago, when ice was one-mile thick over Wisconsin and Ohio, when wooly-mammoths and saber-toothed tigers roamed the Earth, and people still lived in caves.
Assume further that this student conscientiously completes five hundred questions each and every week, fifty-two weeks per year, beginning twenty thousand years ago and works from then until now. Despite the most staggering homework achievement in the history of humanity, our young scholar would have to continue to work for another 18,461 years into the future in order to finish their assignment. This riddle thus helps us appreciate that a billion is an exceptionally large number. Twelve to Fifteen Years Now we can use our thought experiment to better understand the times in which we live. First, suppose that we take all of those homework questions, five hundred questions a week from each and every week from all 20,000 years in the past plus all 18,461 additional years into the future, and change each and every one of those questions into a human being. Now suppose that we add all of those persons as extra individuals to the surface of our planet every twelve to fifteen years. Next, let us arm them with bulldozers, AK-47s, sport utility vehicles, chain saws, hydroelectric dams, nuclear wastes, greenhouse gases, heavy metals, doublebacon cheeseburgers, investment portfolios, and pesticides. Given each new multitude, so armed and so numerous, and therefore so dangerous, it is little wonder that our combined impacts might quickly amount to an ecological holocaust. Myers (1995), writing in the journal Science, raises the possibility of unexpected environmental consequences. "First, ecosystems can absorb a certain amount of stress without noticeable effect, but once a critical level is reached the disruption may be cataclysmic" (see also Gallagher, et al., 1995). Secondly, it is also possible for two or more environmental processes "...to interact in unforeseen ways so that the outcome is not additive, but multiplicative" (ibid). Other papers conclude that current environmental changes are "profoundly altering the functioning of the biosphere" (Chapin et al., 1997). By helping to quantify the immensity of a billion, our examples encourage us to better appraise the potential severity of our impacts on earth's critical lifesupport machinery. Madison Square Garden To help picture the impacts of our present avalanche, we might also imagine a boxing match in Madison Square Garden. In one corner stands the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. In the opposite corner stands a fragile old lady, "Mother Nature." Each fist of the champion is fitted with a boxing glove labeled "one billion additional people." With the bell, round one begins – it will last for twelve years. As Mother Nature moves to the center of the ring, the huge right fist of the champion smashes her with a crushing blow. Down she goes, bruised, bloodied and dazed. Struggling, however, she staggers to her feet as the first round ends. Round two also lasts twelve to fifteen years, and the same scenario unfolds: A powerful left fist, featuring the staggering impacts of a billion additional people blasts the old lady. The champion taunts her to get up. The crowd falls silent. How severe must be her injuries? Will she ever get up again? She is hemorrhaging and barely functioning. Is the match over? Why don't the officials stop the fight? Round three begins. As its twelve to fifteen years proceed, the champion shows no signs of mercy, no signs of tiring, and no signs of weakening. The world's leaders show no inclination to stop the assault when the profits are so enormous. It is obvious to everyone watching that the
repeated blows – a staggering one billion followed by another and another and another are too much for the old lady. The only question is this: Which blow is going to be the last? After one of these billions, the old lady will fall and will not get up. Today's young people are living their lives at a time when humanity is crushing earth's natural, biotic, and climatic systems with the impacts of one billion additional people every twelve to fifteen years. With each such blow, these systems are injured, bloodied, and staggered. The possibility exists, however, that one of these billions will be the final blow. Food May Not Be Our First Worry Dozens of population analyses have been published that focus on food, nutrition, and agriculture such as “Can the growing human population feed itself?” (Bongaarts, 1994). Because producing enough food is both important and intuitively obvious, such considerations are clearly appropriate and worthwhile. (For others of this genre, see Revelle, 1974 and 1976; Farrell, et al., 1984; Hudson, 1989, and Waggoner, 1994.) In 1995 Joel Cohen nicely surveyed a host of these studies. With the exception of Cohen’s, however, most of these papers are flawed because most of them are based on an assumption (that is almost always unstated) that supplies of food are the most critical or most immediate factor affecting or limiting our population.
This assumption, which is routinely unstated, unquestioned, and unchallenged, diminishes what are otherwise useful papers submitted by economists, demographers, and statisticians with limited expertise in biology.
The most immediate danger to our planet, its natural systems, and our civilizations may not be food, and we may be distracting ourselves if we imagine that it is. It may well be, for example, that our ultimate, more immediate, and most serious dangers may lie in the sheer degrees of ongoing, non-stop, and ever-growing physical eradication and damage that we have inflicted, are inflicting, and will inflict on earth's biotic and biospheric life-support machinery, together with the impacts of our ever-growing, non-stop, and unending daily worldwide avalanches of industrial and societal wastes. Biologists Campbell, Reece, and Mitchell (1999) observe that it is "possible that our population will eventually be limited by the [environment's limited capacity] to absorb the wastes and other insults imposed by humans." Vitousek, et al. (1997) make a similar point: "Often it is the waste products and byproducts of human activity that drive global environmental change." Similarly, "today's rapid relative and absolute increase in population stretches the...absorptive and recuperative capacities of the Earth...." (Cohen, 2002).
As a result, we devote several other PDFs in our collection to these alternate likelihoods.
Demographic, Numeric, and Biospheric Literacy The central contention of this article is this: There are certain numeric, demographic, and biospheric "basics" that must be a part of every school curriculum and university-degree program (in all fields) and a core component of our universally-shared societal knowledge if civilization is to persist and we are to be functionally literate citizens in today's world. Concerning demographic literacy, each of us must understand, on an ongoing basis, the number of births and deaths that take place on an average day, as well as the approximate number of additional persons that we add to our population as a result. And in addition, we must each recognize the truly enormous numbers represented by each of our additional billions. These enormous numbers, and the breathtaking rapidity with which they are arriving, raise challenges to our civilizations and our planet that may be insurmountable. Soule (1985) observes that "many, if not all ecological processes have thresholds" (another way of commenting on limits). In the same paper he observes that "genetic and demographic processes [also] have thresholds...." Elsewhere in this project’s collections (including other PowerPoints and PDFs) we examine limits, thresholds, tipping points, overshoot, delayed feedbacks, J-curves, classical climb-and-collapse population outcomes, and limiting factors and consider what happens when populations exceed carrying capacities. If we are to address our impacts over the decades just ahead, society at large, as well as our policymakers, journalists, and leaders, must be cognizant of the major concepts, data, and principles sets that constitute "What Every Citizen Should Know About Our Planet." Mathematics texts of the last century targeted mastery of polynomial expansions, multiplication tables, Euclidean geometry, and quadratic equations. Similarly, in public schooling and science curricula, too many of us have probably been taught too much about the muscles of a frog, the sclerenchyma cells of a plant, and the revolving nosepiece of a microscope. Our math and science texts of this century must ensure that chapter one and its opening pages introduce all students to the numerics, demographics, and mathematics that will shape their lives and the future of our planet: Births, deaths, net daily increase, and the enormous contrast between a million and a billion constitute an appropriate place to start.
Births per day Deaths per day Net Increase ~ 381,000 ~ 154,000 ~ 227,000 (extra births per day)
If today is Friday, If today is Monday,
~ 681 000 extra by this same time on Monday ~ 908 000 extra by this same time on Friday
(Enough food?) (Enough classrooms?)
Daily births, deaths, and daily net increase are after The 2009 World Data Sheet, PRB, 2009.
Approximately one BILLION extra every twelve to fifteen years
It took all of human history until 1930 for us to reach two billion Yet between 1930 and late 2011 (in less than one human lifetime) we have added five ADDITIONAL billions with our latest trajectories carrying us to between TEN and FIFTEEN billion by the close of this century A continuation of today’s demographic tidal wave may constitute the greatest single risk that that our species has ever undertaken.
Adapted from What Every Citizen Should Know About Our Planet Used with permission
Also notice, by the way, that on a worldwide basis, our population graph over the history of civilization is emphatically not an s-curve. Instead, it is an extreme, pronounced, and hyper-exponential J-curve. exponential
Note also that our numbers are rocketing explosively straight upward along the y-axis and that essentially all of our growth has taken place in the last two hundred years, with the lace bulk of that growth having occurred since our population milestone of two billion in 1930. United Nations medium projections in May 2011 estimate that our numbers will have reached NINE billion by 2041 and their highfertility trajectories would carry us toward 15.8 BILLION by the end of this century. It might also be disquieting that such J curves can have a decided tendency to flatten and obliterJ-curves oblit ate everything around them in every direction as humankind first learned most dramatically at the humankind close of World War II with the events that the world remembers with horror as Nagasaki and HiHi roshima. (Of course, the two J J-curves just cited were at least relatively localized events, while the events J-curve depicted above is worldwide in scope. ed scope.)
Copyright 2012, Randolph Femmer. This document is entirely free for use by scientists, students, and educators anywhere in the world.
Librarians: A paperback version of What Every Citizen Should Know About Our Planet is available from M. Arman Publishing Fax: 386-951-1101
Expanded implications of this excerpt are also addressed in additional PDFs in this collection: Thin Films - Earth's razor-thin atmosphere and seas Numerics, Demographics, and a Billion Homework Questions Conservation planning - Why Brazil's 10% is Not Enough Eight Assumptions that Invite Calamity Climate - No Other Animals Do This Critique of Beyond Six Billion Delayed feedbacks, Limits, and Overshoot Thresholds, Tipping points, and Unintended consequences Problematic Aspects of Geoengineering Carrying Capacity and Limiting Factors Humanity's Demographic Journey Ecosystem services and Ecological release J-curves and Exponential progressions One hundred key Biospheric understandings
Sources and Cited References
Anson, 2011, 2010, 2009. What Every Citizen Should Know About Our Planet. Bongaarts, 1994 Campbell, Reece, and Mitchell, 1999 Chapin et al., 1997 Cohen, 1995, 2002 Farrell, et al., 1984 Gallagher, et al., 1995 Hudson, 1989 Myer, 1995 Revelle, 1974, 1976 UNDESA, 2004 Vitousek, et al., 1997 Waggoner, 1994
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