7 Billion...

So… we just passed the 7 billion people mark. Is it a bad thing? It is going to get worse, but is it going to get better?

It’s a terrible thing.

It is what it is.

I’m scared…how many more people are expected?

McDonald’s has sold approximately 245 billion hamburgers. This averages out to 35 burgers each for every single person on Earth.

When you add a roommate or ten, is it a bad thing?

If the world population were changed to 1 billion, we’d each have 7 times more of our share of the planet. Would you feel happier if your money increased seven-fold?

What if we go to 100 million and a 70-fold increase? This is how Bond villains get started.

The world population is expected to level off at around 9 billion in the year 2050, as increasing affluence, access to birth-control, etc. lower the birthrate. So the situation isn’t so grim as one would expect from just assuming endless exponential growth.

Consider it took about 12 years to reach 6 billion after reaching 5 billion, and 13 years after that to reach 7 billion, so growth is slowing.

But yea, its still going to be a lot of people to support with limited resources, especially if large chunks of them don’t want to live in grinding poverty.

I for one welcome our new overlords.

Nice iPad app: 7 Billion.

Why kill people off? We could just increase the minimum wage to $1000 an hour. Then everyone would be rich!

This. We are beginning to be able to see that it’s a logistic growth curve instead of a straight exponential like people thought in the 70s. A lot of people, yes. Challenges to feed and clothe those people, yes. An infinite problem or a Malthusian nightmare scenario, no.

I suppose each person’s share of the real estate would increase (on average) seven-fold, but that doesn’t mean the money would, in any meaningful sense: Ultimately, what money represents is the ability to get people to do things for you, which means that the total supply of inflation-adjusted money would also shrink by approximately the same factor.

Besides, it’s only 7-fold on average. Some folks would end up with the lion’s share of the benefits, and some would see almost no change in their situation.

I think it’s wonderful.

I guess I’m alone in that, but I like people, and I’m happy we’re succeeding as a species. I’d be concerned if we actually started filling the planet up, but we’re not even close to that.

Were we richer when there were only a billion of us? Of course we weren’t. It doesn’t work that way. Wealth is a product of human work and ingenuity. With more people we’ll have more Edisons, more Einsteins, more Jonas Salks. Maybe baby #7 billion will cure cancer, or AIDS, or develop sustainable fusion power. Who knows? Our problem isn’t that we have too few people, but that we underutilize the ones we have (which is a percentage thing and wouldn’t be fixed by having fewer people.)

I wish I could know which baby number seven billion is, find her, and hug her. Welcome aboard, kid.

I think this is a misconception. If we had fewer people on the planet, we’d still have the innovators. It’s just that they would appear at a more measured pace.

What’s the hurry anyway?

The problem is we have real-world limits for how fast resources are renewed. Yes, with more farmers, we can plant more crops - until we run out of fertile land. With more fishermen, we can haul in more fish - until the oceans are fished out faster than new fish can spawn.

I’m all for it. It’ll be a far scarier alternative if the headlines were reporting declining global population.

OK. Now on my mark, everybody jump… 3… 2… 1…

“It’s people!”

If your measurement of success is purely numerical superiority, bacteria and protists have vastly exceeded any other species in those terms of success. However, I think most evolutionary zoologists would define success in less gross quantitative terms and more in the ability of a species to endure radical changes in environment and predation. An evolutionary sociologist or transhumanist would characterize success in terms of the socially cooperative ability to improve the overall quality of life of the human species, and incidentally all domesticated species.

As far as “[not] filling the planet up”, we may still have enough physical real estate and be able to produce adequate amounts of food using intensive agricultural methods, but that doesn’t mean that such means are equitable or sustainable. The real fact is that about 15% of the world population has a standard of living that meets the standard of “lower middle class” or better, and more than 70% of the worlds population lives at a near-subsistence level or less. We could improve that, but only at the cost of using even more scarce resources, the most obvious of which is petroleum but the more critical and incapable of substitution is fresh potable and irrigable water. The same “Green Revolution” that has permitted such dramatic population growth has also accelerated the use of slowly replenished “fossil water” to factors that are orders of magnitude greater than the natural replenishment rate, and also served as the impetus for massive irrigation projects that have dramatically interfered with the existing hydrological cycle.

There are practical solutions to this, but they involve reducing the wastage of water for irrigation and processing, moving to less intensive agricultural methods and products, and of course, reducing the demand by encouraging birth control and family planning. The Earth can support more than a population of seven billion people, but it can’t do so indefinitely at the same subsistence level, even given the current inequality in resource use.

The people you cite are outliers (or, at least are presumed to be). Assuming that such ingenuity appears in a Gaussian-type of distribution, increasing the amplitude of the distribution doesn’t ensure that significantly more notables will appear at the long tails of the distribution, any more than breeding twice as many white swans will give you more black swans. What will increase the incidence of such geniuses is providing greater educational opportunity to a larger and more diverse population. For every Einstein, it is almost certain that are dozens or perhaps hundreds of nascent intellects who simply don’t have access or encouragement to develop their particular talents.

Again, more equality in resources and education will help provide for opportunities to a greater number of potential innovators. Contrarily, spreading the resources more thinly or distributing more inequitably will result in fewer potential geniuses having the opportunity to develop.

Ultimately, our success relies on extending our habitation off of the surface of this planet and eventually beyond the gravitational grasp of Sol. Although the conventional notion of this is members of genus Homo sapiens dressed in spandex, running around in metallic spaceships, and zapping each other with phasers, the reality will likely be a transformation of the species into a spaceborne form of life or merging with our own tools so that the current hazards of vacuum, radiation, free-fall, et cetera are no longer significant limitations. Once we have spread our grasp beyond a single fragile world, we’ll have achieved a true threshold of success, albeit one that will probably result in creatures that look nothing like human.


Will the Earth spiral out of orbit because of the weight of too many people? I know it sounds bad, but everytime there is a disaster where 1,000’s of people are killed or a lot of people killed I feel relief that we got some weight off the planet.

No. Not even if there were 21 Billion would that in anyway effect the earth’s orbit. Also just because a bunch of people die in a disaster, like in Japan earlier this year, their weight didn’t get subtracted from the earth.

Unless those thousands of people were being launched to Jupiter (which would be awesome, in the abstract), all of their mass stayed right here.