World Population Day – 11 July 2015

Yesterday was World Population Day. The human population of Planet Earth was 7.3 billion.

There was one birth every 8 seconds and one death every 13 seconds. In other words our human population grew at 7.5 people/minute, and shrank by 4.5 people/minute … a net growth of 3 people/minute! The following are the figures for our population growth for the past 200-odd years, they’re fairly staggering …

• 1760 – Industrial Revolution
• 1804 – 1 billion
• 1927 – 2 billion
• 1960 – 3 billion
• 1974 – 4 billion
• 1987 – 5 billion
• 1999 – 6 billion
• 2011 – 7 billion
• 2015 – 7.3 billion

At the dawn of agriculture, about 10,000 years ago, the population of Planet Earth is estimated to have been just 5 million. It’s worth noting that there are one thousand million in one billion … so 5 million is 5 thousandth’s of 1 billion, and less than 1 thousandth of our current human population. That rather puts it into perspective!

Archaeologists guess the world population grew to 200 million in the following 8000 years, up to the first century AD, that’s a growth rate of under 0.05% per year. It took the next 1800 years for it to grow to 1 billion people. And then … a tremendous change hit Planet Earth with the industrial revolution.

Up to around 1800 it had taken all of human history for human population to reach 1 billion, the second billion was achieved in a mere 130 years, in 1930. We managed the 3rd billion in less than 30 years, by 1959, and the 4th billion in just15 years by 1974. It keeps on getting worse. We made the 5th billion in only 13 years by 1987, and the 6th billion in just another 13 years at 2000. We achieved the 7th billion in only 11 years at 2011, and are currently at 7.3 billion humans on Planet Earth. That’s a terrifying population explosion!

During the 20th century alone the human population grew from 1.65 billion to 6 billion. If cell-growth occurred at this rate in your body your doctor would diagnose cancer.

When I was born, just before 1950, there were about 2.5 billion people in the world. In just my short lifetime than number has tripled.

In 1970, there were roughly half as many people in the world as there are now.

Statisticians cheerfully tell us that the human population growth rate is slowing down so that it will now take over 200 years to double again … arrrggghhh !!! BUT we want it to shrink back to 1 billion again, NOT grow! Planet Earth (not human beings but our planet!) cannot cope with anything more than 1 billion humans – not if everything else is to live as well.

I recently wrote about wildflower meadows, and about bees. Both of these are intricately and inescapably linked to human population growth. I quote – “Over 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s, that’s a startling 7.5 million acres (3 million hectares). Species-rich grassland now only covers a mere 1% of the UK’s land area.”

And in that time, since the 1930s, our human world population has gone from 2 billion to 7.3 billion.

The decline and sickness in bees is similar … and similarly connected to the horrendous growth in human population.

We are using and wasting and desecrating the Earth because our numbers are increasing exponentially, we are becoming a cancer to her. So nothing else can live, not with us demanding more and more space and resources and food, as well as us desecrating and destroying more and more habitat. We are stealing from our brothers the animals and plants, we are killing them.

This is terrifying for many people to even contemplate. They hide, deny that it’s true, they run away. This even happens with world bodies that are supposedly there to think of what to do about this, like the UN. “Population policy has been abandoned in recent decades. It is barely mentioned in discussions on sustainability or development such as the UN-led sustainable development goals,” said Simon Ross, chief executive of Population Matters, a thinktank supported by naturalist Sir David Attenborough and scientist James Lovelock. [from The Guardian, Damian Carrington, Thursday 18 September 2014]

I suspect this abandonment has happened as a result of sheer fear, terror at the inability of anyone to name the only answer.

How has this come about? What is the thing most people fear most – death. Death is terrifying and horrendous to most people. It’s no longer a fact of life but a thing to be feared and dreaded and avoided at all costs … and yet it’s the one thing we can none of us avoid!

Prior to the industrial revolution people lived much more closely with the land, with nature. Life and death were part of the natural cycle that everyone knew. Indeed this was so even when I was growing up in the 1950s in a little village on the edge of Exmoor. I was fully aware of death, helped the local midwife lay out dead people in the village as did several of us children – we were aged about 8 years old when we began to help her. I can imagine the horror on many faces as you read this! But it was good, we weren’t kept apart from reality, we weren’t considered too young to understand, nobody talked down to us or wrapped us in cotton wool. We were part of everything, part of the family, part of the village, included and enabled. We learned how to grieve and how life goes on.

If we understand about death, how death is part of life, then we cease to fear it. Oh yes, we all hope it won’t hurt this time around but that’s a completely different thing! That is not fear of death but only fear of pain.

Nowadays people do their best to make sure other people don’t die – even to the extent of keeping them alive when their brains are gone although there is movement now, which is growing stronger, to allow people to die when they wish. There is an utter horror of children dying – yes, I’m going to upset people now – which has no base in reality. Very few people truly worry about bird-chicks not making it to fledge, about baby arctic foxes not all making it out of puppyhood, even about their pet kittens dying. But if a human child dies … shock-horror! Should never be allowed to happen. Must never happen again. But why …?

Humans are animals, mammals like arctic foxes, kittens, polar bears, so why is it horrendous for their babies to die when it isn’t for the children of other animals? What is so special about being human?

Ah … well … there we have another shibboleth that makes humans live in some virtual romantic world instead of reality. Many, perhaps most, westernised (and therefore powerful and controlling) humans consider human beings to be the be-all and end-all of creation. As the Rogers and Hammerstein song says, “It ain’t necessarily so …”

We need to get our heads right again on this subject, this issue. We lost the plot with the Age of Enlightenment and the industrial revolution which added to the daft things put about by the religions of the book – Judaism, Christianity and Muslimism. That whole “created in the image of god” and given “dominion over” stuff has melted our thinking abilities, making us live in some Disneyesque world where we are top-dog.

We really do have to grow up.

Planet Earth has been going for about 4.5 billion years according to the latest scientific guesses – that’s theories in posh-speak – and these guesses seem fairly reasonable. It’s one helluva long time anyway! As Lovelock said back in 1972 the Earth is a homeostatic and self-regulating organism – i.e. she is able to right herself when she goes out of balance and, boy, has she gone out of balance now with the hideous increase in human population over the past couple of hundred years.

How she will do this – has already begun doing this, I suspect – is a whole other ballgame. Watching the news gives lots of clues provided you do this from the perspective of population. Considering this may well be within the purview of the UN and organisations like Population Matters but they’re unlikely to talk about it publicly, that would cause terror and riots and whatever we do we mustn’t upset the horses, must we? I do think that more and more people are thinking about this though and that their number is increasing. Some will be terrified, some horrified, but some will approach the idea from reality even if they find it scary. And they will also be considering their fellow creatures and plants, the wildflower meadows and the bees, all of whom are many, many millions of years older as species than ourselves. It’s changing of our priorities, taking the focus off ourselves and putting it onto the whole. The whole, all the rest of life with which we share this lovely planet, is at least as important as ourselves, if not more so. If we must go at it from a selfish point of view then we need to realise that we cannot actually live without everything else!

Our incontinence, our massive population growth, is killing our elders and our ancestors … not a nice thought but one to take on board if we’re to achieve a proper view of ourselves and our place within (not on top of!) the scheme of things from the Earth’s perspective.

Ho hum! Well, I daresay I’ve loosed several kitties amongst the pigeons but that’s something we all need to do. We need to get real …

before and after shot: alberta tar sands photo tarsands-beforeafter.jpg
Fracking tar-sands …

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