Providing for a crowded planet

More people are living today than have died in all of humanity’s existence on earth.

That’s a line I heard on a television show the other day and, as it turns out, it is far from the truth.

Apparently that statement has been around a long time. Fortunately with today’s era of information in a second, statements like that can be debunked quickly.

Depending on when you consider the start of mankind, the total number of people to have lived is somewhere between 105 and 77 billion. With just over 7 billion people on the planet today, that means between 70 and 98 billion people have already died. That means more than ten people have died for every person now alive.

It was science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke who actually clarified that point, before it was even brought up. Clarke wrote his famous novel 2001 in about 1968 and in it he states that every living person has 30 ghosts walking behind them. His numbers were probably fairly accurate because in 1968 the earth’s population was about 3 billion.

I only bring this population thing up because the point the first statement was trying to make is that yes, indeed, our population has been on a very steep incline in the past century. It took 50,000 years to hit one billion in 1830. We hit 2 billion between 1920 and 1930. It took another 30 years to hit 3 billion, 15 more years to hit 4 billion, 14 more to hit 5 billion, another 10 years to hit 6 billion and then 12 more to hit 7 billion in late 2011.

That trend is slowing, but even so we could see 8 billion by 2025 and 9 billion by 2045.

Yet while the earth becomes home to more and more of us every day, the amount of ground available to feed those new faces continues to shrink.

It is only through technology and good farm practices that farmers and ranchers continue to find ways to grow more product on less acreage. We should be proud that we live in the middle of an area where farmers are among the most productive in the world.

And technology plays its part. Using genetically modified plants helps grow more and heartier plants, and reduces use of pesticides and herbicides. Scientists are even going so far as to create new meat sources through stem cell advances (although it’s going to be a while before you find me eating a fake hamburger). I’m sure there are other advances coming, not only in food production but in energy consumption as well.

The majority of human population growth over the next century will come from developed countries, but those are the same countries producing more of the food and other resources.

What it tells me, though, is that we are all one global economy. No one country can stand alone. It will take all of us working together to provide land, technology and education to grow the crops, reduce the human growth rate, and properly provide for an ever-more crowded planet.



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