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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

#26 - 7 Billion

No doubt you have seen articles around the newsstand and the internet that announce the recent arrival of the 7 billionth baby on this earth. (Actually, the number is 7,005,658,370 at the moment of this writing.)

It is probably somewhat misleading to say ‘7 billionth baby’ because the world’s population is a dynamic mixture of simultaneous births and deaths. But the idea still remains that we have passed a significant population mark.

A billion of anything is beyond the scope of our minds to intuitively grasp in the same way that we think about 10’s, 100’s, or 1,000’s. From an early age, our minds exploit regularities in our environment. Recurring number quantities acquire a meaningful ‘feel’ so that we can make qualitative evaluations and comparisons. But very large numbers that cannot be quickly evaluated visually or viscerally may not acquire deep meaning for most people. The earth’s population is one of those numbers.

Looking at various aspects of the world’s population growth can help us come to a more meaningful understanding of what the numbers signify.

Exponential Increase – So far, it has taken progressively less time to reach each billion mark.

Locations of Increase – ‘More developed’ areas have had reductions in fertility, while ‘less developed’ areas have maintained or increased fertility. The net result is that 82% of the world’s population lives in less developed regions as compared to 68% in 1950.

People ask where all of this is heading. The general idea is that worldwide population is supposed to level off at some point in the future and achieve some kind of equilibrium between mortality & fertility. Perhaps this is an accurate prediction, perhaps not. Perhaps Malthus will yet be vindicated.

A more relevant question might be – are the trends sustainable? As we wander into the future towards the predicted equilibrium or the predicted disaster, how much misery will be sustained by people in less developed regions? How much consumption by developed and developing regions can be sustained by the environment?

When we say ‘sustain’ in this context, we mean a couple of things. ‘Sustainability’ has become associated with the environmental concept of consuming renewable resources instead of non-renewable ones. This is a good thing; a responsible way of living and doing business. Because of their high rate of consumption, the developed and developing worlds definitely need to improve in this area.

‘Sustain’ also means to keep alive by nourishing. This is a rather fundamental thing. Can the earth keep us all alive for the foreseeable future? The answer is yes. The earth has plenty of capacity for billions of inhabitants. The issue is not one of population numbers, real estate, or resources. It is really an issue of better management and distribution that is more focused on the actual welfare of humankind. Best management practices in this case would undeniably be influenced by economics, but preferably without the greed component that is all too often present.

A more meaningful distinction between 'needs' & 'wants' is probably in order. The high rate of needless consumption in the developed world is already a serious environmental concern. If and when the non-developed and developing worlds adopt the same fascination with material trinkets, the situation will probably become a catastrophe.

Another component is education. Among the highlights of the 2008 World Population Data Sheet produced by the Population Reference Bureau, it was noted that in most regions, a mother’s education is key to children’s nutritional status and ultimately to their health and development.

There are many other factors to consider when evaluating the earth’s potential for human sustenance. We do not claim to be experts in this field.

At Nova, we make only a tiny contribution to environmental issues. We provide the analytical equipment required for measuring atmospheric gases such as oxygen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen, and others. We are happy to assist with syngas, gasification, and other renewable and recovered energy applications because these make novel use of non-traditional energy feedstocks. Ideas like this will hopefully contribute in a small way somehow to better care of the world’s growing population.

Give Mike or Dave at Nova a call, or send us an e-mail.
sales at nova-gas dot com
websales at nova-gas dot com

Population graphic & information taken from -

Graphs compiled based on information from the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations (ISCSC) -

World Population Data Sheet for 2011 -

World Population Data Sheet for 2008 -

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