Congratulations friends! Recently we became eight billion strong. Twelve short years ago, we were only seven billion, and I had my doubts about ever reaching this historic milestone. I mean, with the planet becoming a flaming orb of war, pestilence, and pandemics, our future seemed uncertain.
But then, presto!, you all came through.
Babies continued to be popular, albeit in smaller batches per family. Longevity increased. Poverty is on the wane. Medical miracles are saving millions that might have otherwise perished at the young age of 80. Thanks to your persistence, and a few replacement parts, 90 is now the new 70, and turning 100 doesn’t even elicit an atta-a-boy.
Although it seemed much longer, you survived four dog years of a Trump presidency and an additional two years (and counting) of a post-Trump presidency. (But will you survive the next two years of his 2024 campaign?) You have even somehow outlasted the recent midterms with the media’s dire predictions of the death of democracy.
Half of us live in only seven countries, the United States being one of them with its mere 338 million inhabitants.
In the last 12 years, when the earth had seven billion people, India added 177 million, and next year it will overtake China as the most populous nation. Africa is pitching in with its population boom, but famines and climate change remain a guardrail to sustaining that growth.
Time to Celebrate?
According to the United Nations, “More than half of the projected increase in the global population up to 2050 will be concentrated in eight countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and the United Republic of Tanzania. Countries of sub-Saharan Africa are expected to contribute more than half of the increase anticipated through 2050.”
“This is an occasion to celebrate our diversity, recognize our common humanity, and marvel at advancements in health that have extended lifespans and dramatically reduced maternal and child mortality rates,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said.
But is it a time to celebrate? Alarmingly, to me at least, someone who doesn’t particularly like people in general, in just 15 years from now, we will add another one billion humans, a slow-down of sorts, we are told by the United Nations: “The populations of 61 countries or areas are projected to decrease by 1 percent or more between 2022 and 2050, owing to sustained low levels of fertility and, in some cases, elevated rates of emigration.”
So why am I not reassured by this forecast?
When I was 20, in 1975, the planet’s population was only four billion. There was plenty of elbow room and restrooms were less occupied. OK, I know that’s a weird observation, but standing next to some random guy at a public urinal has never been a joy.
Back then, I lived at 9,000 feet in the Colorado mountains. Never saw a soul, but I did see a bear, a bobcat, and a whole bunch of chipmunks. The invention of cell phones and their annoying ring tones and speaker phones were decades away. You could still call collect from a pay phone and sometimes your parents might even approve the charges.
On a sweltering Friday night in April, I attempted to walk down a pedestrian-only street in the heart of Mexico City.
The manic crush of people was something I had never experienced: wall-to-wall urbanites on the hunt for food and drinks, and rendezvous with other hungry, horny, and thirsty humanoids. I had to remember that each one of my fellow strollers had a singular life full of hope, and perhaps like me, a dream of an unoccupied public toilet.
I stopped in the middle of the avenue and let my (mostly unmasked!) fellow earthlings swarm around me as if I was a tree trunk stuck in the mud of a raging river. Unlike a salmon, I dared not “swim” upstream in the opposite direction for fear of drowning.
As I stood there in the middle of a city with a metro area population of 22 million that sits precariously on an active earthquake fault, I realized I was observing the Earth’s future: teeming and congested hordes of men, women, and children clambering for their slice of this worn-out planet’s pie.
I needed to access an ATM but the line to the machines extended out of the bank’s entrance and around the block. It was all too much for this gringo to take in. So I wandered back to my hotel, grabbed a couple of beers, and retreated to my room.
Thankfully, I was alone at last, with my own bathroom, but even though the window was closed, I could hear a dull thrum, like the sound of bees — give or take a few hundred million — returning home to their hives.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.