80 Million

5 min readMar 10


Image from 1969 Star Trek episode titled “The Mark of Gideon”

I have written several articles about the unsustainable nature of Human population and activities. I often say, “There are too many of us, and we are doing too much stuff.” You may wonder why I keep writing these articles. Well… If you were walking down the street in your neighborhood and saw a house on fire, would you just keep walking without a second glance. Probably not.

I jump up and down, yelling and making a big fuss… “That house is on fire. DO SOMETHING!” Some people say, “Yeah, I see it. No worries. We’ll just build another one.” Others say, “What? Oh, forget it… I gotta get to Walmart before it closes.” The point is, we often look at things strictly within the context of our own lives.

Life has existed on our planet for billions of years. Multicellular life has been around for 600 million years. Over the span of those years there have been several catastrophes that have had devastating impacts on life. In more than one case, nearly completely wiping out all life.

The human species has existed for about 300 thousand years. A tiny fraction of the time since complex life began evolving. About 70 thousand years ago the human species nearly went extinct. Only a few thousand individuals survived, possibly after a cataclysmic event, like the eruption of Mount Toba. It took a long time for the total world human population to recover.

Below I am going to provide some figures about world population. If you research this you will find, as I did, there are many differing estimates of world population over time. Precisely what the world population is and has been is not the point of this article. It is the change in world population, and more specifically, the rate of change. That is, the world human population is changing very rapidly today. Much more rapidly than it ever has in the past. The present world population, consumption of resources, and production of waste is unsustainable.

By 10,000 BC the total World Human population had recovered to almost 5 million. When the Great Pyramid of Khufu was built in 2570 BC the total world population was about 50 million, about 10 times what it had been 7500 years earlier. At the beginning of the iron age, 700 BC, during the great Olmec civilization in Central America, the time of Siddhartha (Buddha) in India, and Confucius in China, the total world population reached 80 Million. That figure, 80 Million, is the title I chose for this article. Allow me to explain the significance I see in that number.

It took about 70,000 years to accumulate 80 million humans on the planet. For most of that time basic survival was a real struggle. The figures are somewhat different based on gender and global region, but until about 1870 the worldwide average human lifespan was only 30 years. Europe and the Americas averaged somewhat better than the worldwide average, about 35 years. At the same time Africa and Asia averaged only 27 years. Of course, some people lived much longer than those figures, but child mortality brought those average figures down.

One of the major causes of death was disease. Louis Pasture demonstrated that many diseases are caused by germs. This inspired better hygiene practices, which in turn lead to better average longevity. By 1913, the average lifespan in Europe and the America had risen by more than 30%, from 35 years to 46 years. The African and Asian lifespan stayed around 27 years, holding the worldwide average down to 34 years. Starting in the early 20th century, improving hygiene, better food production, and medical advances caused average life expectancy to increase by more than 4 months every year until the present day… worldwide!

It took tens of thousands of years to accumulate 80 million people on planet Earth. Then it took just another 600 years to add the second 80 million. Then 80 million were added every 2 or 3 centuries. When Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492, we were adding 80 million people to the planet every 100 years or so. By the time of the American Civil War in 1860, we were adding 80 million people every 10 years. One hundred years after that, in 1960, we were adding 80 million people every year… and we have done that every year since, to this day.

Right now, we add more than 200,000 people to the planet every day. 150 people every minute, 2 ½ people every second of every day. If it took you 5 minutes to read this article, there are 750 more people on the planet now than there were when you started reading.

This graph illustrates the sudden rapid increase in population.

As I said at the beginning of this article, I have written about this many times. Making all of this so much worse than simply a too many people problem, each and every one of us is using too many resources and creating too much waste.

After reading this you may ask, “Okay smarty-pants… What do you think we should do?” To be perfectly honest, I don’t have any good answers. I suppose it would help if we started doing less. There are many people who are doing their part to do less and be less wasteful. I applaud their efforts. I don’t think that is likely to turn the tide. Even so, more power to them.

One more thing… This point is a pretty painful thought. But it is perhaps the most pertinent point I have to make. I am 72 years old. I will likely die before everything gets apocalyptically bad. When I see young adults carrying a newborn, or kids playing at the park, I wonder what horrors those children will see before they die. They are innocent. They have no idea what is coming.

Thanks for taking the time to read my article. I’ll let you go. If you hurry, you can probably make get to Walmart before it closes.




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