Mark your calendars! It turns out that in 2037, for the first time, the world’s population will reach nine billion people. Rumor has it that the earth’s nine billionth person will be born on June 26th at noon in Lizard Lick, North Carolina. Well, that last sentence might need a little fact-checking.
But it’s good news that this will also be the first time that the earth’s population growth is actually slowing. It took only twelve years to grow from seven to eight billion (from 2010 to 2022), but it will take fifteen years to grow from eight to nine billion (2022-2037).
And isn’t it remarkable that it took until the year 1804 to attain one billion living people on earth and then another long 123 years to reach two billion in 1937? But now, less than one hundred years later, we have quadrupled from two to more than eight billion people. We were told “Be fruitful and multiply” and, my goodness, have we ever done so.
I think we have all heard these amazing population growth figures at regular intervals. Demographists tell us there have been 117 billion people who have lived on earth during these last 200,000 years. And 109 billion of them have died.
We, of course, are among the other eight billion who are still here. Maybe a few of us foolishly fantasize that somehow we might be the first exception to the ironclad demographic rule that those who are born here must surely die here too. I know I’d sign an immortality pledge, as long as there was a clause in it stipulating that I’d never lose my cell phone again. We do have the great privilege of being able to multiply, but at the great cost of knowing that one day we shall be subtracted.
Since anatomically modern humans first arose, the earth has seen about 750,000 generations of people. As widely varying as human experiences have been from generation to generation, might we still have something psychologically that connects us all with all those who have gone before? I can think of two.
Isn’t it true that all of us who have ever lived were alive in the most current age that the earth had ever seen, living at the furthest edge of time? And at least for the last five hundred years or so, all of us in Western culture have enjoyed the fact that, as opposed to our “old-fashioned” ancestors, we have been able to avail ourselves of the most modern advances that the earth has ever possessed.
Take medicine, for example. Some of us were born with the best obstetric assistance known to man, and we shall die only after our physicians have done everything they know to prolong our lives. Isn’t it endearing that our ancestors who lived in the 1600’s justifiably felt the exact same way? Perhaps mankind has always had a bit of a superiority complex in feeling oh-so-modern and lucky, compared to people in the past.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule of inevitable progress. An Ancient Roman governor who lived in the British isles in 100 AD would have actually had hot and cold running water available from his bathing faucets. That’s how sophisticated Roman plumbing was 2,000 years ago. But after the fall of Rome in 500 AD, the next time a Brit could enjoy hot and cold water taps in his bathroom would have been around 1860!
The second link that unites us is that so much of humankind has had the comfort of knowing and loving others who are older and therefore more experienced than they are — parents, grandparents, chiefs, mentors. And which of us wasn’t told of distant ancestors, making us aware that we are connected to something far-reaching from the past and something also far-reaching — either through direct or indirect family ties — going forward in countless generations of future descendants? Not only has no man ever been an island, as John Donne so aptly phrased it, but, through our unique but still 99.9% similar DNA, we have always been just one colossal continent of family.
I’ve always thought of myself as a “family man,” one who truly enjoys home life and needs to be with those I love. But not all of us are lucky enough to have our own families or have them in close proximity. So it gives me comfort to believe I can also be a “family-of-man” man. Since we’re all here for such a comparatively short time, it behooves us to love not just a chosen few family members and friends but instead to broaden our love and embrace all humankind — past, present, and future.
Of course, this task is way easier in theory than in practice. Just ask Linus, who famously stated, “I love humanity; it’s people I can’t stand!”
Now let's narrow our wold view down to our good ol' USA. If you can stand just a few more demographics:
For every 100 babies born in the U.S. today:
52 are white
24 are Hispanic-Latino
10 are Black
7 are Asian/Pacific
3 are Native American
Yes, I realize I’m 4% short. Please do not ask me why. I’m an English professor. I’m not good with percentages.
Now let’s look at 1960, a year much closer to most of our birthdates.
For every 100 babies born in the U.S. in 1960:
85 were white
4 were Hispanic-Latino
11 were Black
Less than 1 was Asian/Pacific
Less than 1 was Native American
Hey, I didn’t lose anybody this time.