Oodles of us, with the promise of more to come | Latte Guy | Nov. 18
November 17, 2011 · 4:53 PM
“Only you and I can help the sun rise each morning. If we don’t, it may drench itself out in sorrow.” – Camus
According to the United Nations, the world’s population reached 7,000,000,000 this month. Seems like only yesterday we were a cozy little planet of only five billion or so inhabitants.
Seven billion seems like a lot of people, particularly to someone like me who sort of freaks out if the line to buy the cheap hot dogs at Costco gets more than three people deep.
Do you realize that if all seven billion people in the world stood on top of each others’ shoulders, you’d have a tower that was as tall as seven billion people standing on each others’ shoulders? Amazing, isn’t it?
At our current rate of growth, the UN predicts the Earth’s population will hit 10 billion around 2083. That’s three billion more mouths to feed, six billion more hands to put to honest labor, and 30 billion more sticky little fingers reaching for a slice of the global pie.
I’ll be 128 years old in 2083, and by then my personal carbon footprint should pretty much have been reduced to the size of Rick Santorum’s sense of humor.
Based on the date and place of my birth, I was the 2,779,695,139th person to inhabit the Earth.
That means that compared to me, four and a quarter billion of you are newcomers. Welcome to my world, newbies. Handle her carefully; she’s a bit rough around the edges and increasingly fragile, sort of like the rest of us.
The obvious question is whether we celebrate the birth of our seven billionth little brother or sister, or despair over it. The answer to that question may depend on where you stand, or think you stand, in the planetary pecking order.
On the one hand, it’s pretty impressive that we have managed to survive as long as we have given how many of us seem bent on destroying the world. You’ve got to marvel at mankind’s staggering tenacity.
As a species, we’ve survived nuclear bombs, world wars, poison gas, volcanoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, killer bees, Kahoutek the Comet, bird flu, swine flu, the Bubonic plague, ebola, AIDs, Legionnaire’s Disease, fluoride in our drinking water, E-coli in our hamburgers, tennis elbow, disco, Lite Beer, erectile dysfunction, male pattern baldness, Sarah Palin and the New York Yankees.
One might conclude that human beings and the Earth are both indestructible, which would be good news for us humans but disappointing news for the cockroach, which for years has been told that it will be the only thing to survive the inevitable global nuclear holocaust and subsequent nuclear winter.
Maybe I’m just an optimist, but I’m no longer storing food in my Y2K bunker for the Apocalypse, and I no longer think of the cockroach as God’s Chosen Insect.
On the other hand, one can’t help but wonder where our global population tipping point lies. The Earth seems remarkably resilient. And mankind, when it puts its mind to it, can be enormously adaptive and creative.
So maybe there’s hope yet. Maybe we’re not on an irreversible path toward turning our pretty little green and blue paradise into a brown and barren weed-and-insect sanctuary. (Again, sorry, cockroaches.)
The final history of our species has yet to be written. Some of those on high now will no doubt fall, and many of those who sleep in the dust will arise. In the meantime, maybe all we can do is tread lightly, live generously, and be brave.
Tom Tyner is an attorney for the Trust for Public Land. He is author of “Skeletons From Our Closet,” a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.