8 Billion

A new milestone in human history.

abstract image with silhouettes of all different people
Photo by ficio74 is released free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0 via PxHere

The good folks at the Washington Post note that there are now eight billion people living on the planet. That’s a lot!

The link goes to an interesting interactive feature that allows you to see how many folks from your age, sex, and country are currently alive. Among the factoids it gave me is one that I would otherwise have looked up:

When you were born, there were 3.4 billion people in the world. On your 100th birthday, there will be 10.2 billion.

You’ll have lived through a period of steep population growth.

Indeed. I’m about to turn 57* and, given my family history, the odds are slim that I’ll see 100–at which point the world population would have tripled in my lifetime.

Wikipedia has the following milestones:

  • one billion for the first time in 1804;
  • two billion in 1927, 123 years later;
  • three billion in 1960, 33 years later;
  • four billion in 1974, 14 years later;
  • five billion in 1987, 13 years later;
  • six billion in 1999, 12 years later;
  • seven billion in October 2011 or March 2012 (depending on different estimates), 12 or 13 years later;
  • eight billion in November 2022, 10 or 11 years later.

That’s quite the trajectory. While there have always been fears associated with population growth, it’s almost entirely good news: we’ve gotten a lot better at feeding people, supplying them with clean water, fighting diseases, and otherwise providing ever-improved medical care. To be sure, those advances are not evenly distributed; still, global poverty has been starkly reduced in my memory, much less my lifetime.

________

*Oddly, the WaPo feature estimates that there are 2 million 56-year-old men in the United States but 2.1 million 57-year-old men. Even curiouser, it stays at 2.1 through age 63, before it drops back to 2 million at 64. Presumably, this is a function of my being at the leading edge of Generation X, right after the end of the Baby Boom generation. The numbers, alas, start a precipitous decline at 65.

FILED UNDER: History, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Indeed. I’m about to turn 57 and, given my family history, the odds are slim that I’ll see 100–at which point the world population would have tripled in my lifetime.

    I was born in ’58. It’s already damned near tripled in my life time.

    While there have always been fears associated with population growth, it’s almost entirely good news

    Ummmm…. No, just no. This is unsustainable.

    We are in the middle of a mass extinction event the likes of which this planet has not seen in 65 million years. Global climate change is only going to make it worse. The conflicts which will arise because of climate change… well, I don’t want to sound apocalyptic but they will be for some, maybe all.

    Thankfully, I’ll be dead long before those chickens come home to roost. Sadly, I can’t say the same for my granddaughters.

    7
  2. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:
    I too was born in 1958.
    It was on…oh wait…it was today in 1958.

    5
  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @daryl and his brother darryl: Happy B’day! Mine is July 18, but I don’t celebrate it anymore, I mourn instead. 😉

    2
  4. gVOR08 says:

    Born 1946. More than tripled. I confess I do not understand how this is seen as anything but unmitigated disaster. We may, or may not, continue to be able to beat back Malthus. But life for us would unquestionably be better if there were fewer of us. And our grandchildren are doomed if we keep on like this.

    Thanos was an innumerate idiot. He thought the solution was to cut the population in half. That’s not a solution, only a hiccup. Our doubling time is like 50 years. Thanos needed to come back every fifty years, but the idiot destroyed the McGuffins Infinity Stones. He needed to find a way to stabilize the population. Cutting it in half only delays the problem.

    2
  5. Tony W says:

    Lifespans are increasing in most wealthy countries (the U.S. is the big exception due to our bad healthcare system, and our educational system that created a large number of COVID deniers) and that is a big factor in mitigating lower birth rates in those same countries.

    The US, Western Europe, and Australia have lived in an unsustainable way for decades now, and the rest of the world wants to join the fun. However, I’m not sure how we provide a car, a 1/4-acre lot, and a $15oK/year job for 8 billion people.

    Humanity is going to have to figure out how to live sustainably, or else Mother Nature will figure it out for us.

    4
  6. CSK says:

    @daryl and his brother darryl:

    Happy birthday!

    1
  7. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:
    @CSK:
    Now that I’ve given y’all my birthdate, here’s my social; 00…….

    2
  8. Mu Yixiao says:

    Remember how the world ended when we hit 4 billion? How about when we hit 5 billion? It was in all the newspapers!

    The thing is, most of the world is below replacement birthrate (2.1). China’s at 1.7, India’s barely above it at 2.18. The US is at 1.68. The EU is at 1.5!

    The estimates I’ve seen say–following current trends–world population will peak at 11 billion around 2100. In the next 20 years or so, we’re going to see the baby boomers die off in significant numbers.

    We’re feeding twice as many people as we did in 1974, and doing so on less land. In just the past 20 years, agricultural land use in only the US has dropped by 50 million acres.

    We’ll adapt and survive–just like we did every time the press screamed that we had “hit the population limit” (or whatever).

    3
  9. reid says:

    Interesting. I had the notion that maybe population growth had slowed in recent years, but that appears to not be the case. I suppose declining birth rates has only been a “concern” in some first world countries.

    I may be a bit more optimistic than OzarkHillbilly, but I fear he’s right. I’m glad I never had children.

  10. Mister Bluster says:

    @daryl and his brother darryl:..here’s my social; 00…….

    Here’s the password to my bank account…flatbroke
    (Don’t they tell you to use a phrase that you will never forget?)

    2
  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    Y’all are aware, I hope, that birthrates are dropping fast all around the world. You worry that this is unsustainable. You are right. And, it isn’t being sustained.

    Generally, as population moves into the middle class, they reduce their birth rate. This allows them to invest more in fewer children, to sustain that level. That has been happening, and will continue to happen.

    1
  12. Sleeping Dog says:

    Population maybe a problem, but it is not solvable as not a significant majority will agree that it’s a problem or agree on a solution. Heck, we can’t even agree on global warming.

    1
  13. Kathy says:

    It’s easy to make fun of the apocalyptic visions of the consequences of overpopulation from science fiction works in the past.

    Harry Harrison in “Make Room! Make Room!” imagined an impoverished America of 340 million in 1999 (not quite that many now). Lots of overcrowding (families of five in what would qualify today as one bedroom; toilets downstairs only). Food and water rationed or exceedingly expensive. Oil gone. Abandoned, useless cars turned into shelter, ditto useless merchant ships. the diet consisting mostly of oats, sea weed crackers, and occasional treats like a piece of fish or what we today call plant-based meat substitutes made of soybeans and lentils (the infamous Soylent, which in the book is actual plant-based meat substitute, not your uncle Sol).

    Change some details, and there are slums in overcrowded cities in third-world countries which fir the description. There probably were some just like that in the 70s when Harrison wrote his novel (the movie’s much better).

    Asimov imagined a far off future, maybe a couple of millennia* from now, where a global population of 8 billion forces us to live in underground cities (to conserve energy), and subsist mostly on synthetic foods based on yeast (grown from wood in vast chemical factories).

    It gets a apocalyptic in movies like Soylent Green, based on Harrison’s novel, where food is so scarce we must recycle dead people into food for the rest. Or novels like Logan’s Run, where everyone must euthanize themselves at age 21 (30 in the movie), or be killed by black-clad cops called Sandmen.

    there are many reasons why none of this happened. But things may get worse from here, or the consequences of keeping up with current living standards may be quite bad.

    Consider, if the population were still 4 billion, and all else were equal, then Bezos and St. elon would be trillionaires, and the rest of us would go on much as we do now. We just wouldn’t worry much about climate change and pollution.

    *Based on the stated lifetimes in the spacer Worlds, and an offhand thought from Baley that said Worlds had been Earth’s colonies a thousand years before.

  14. gVOR08 says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    We’ll adapt and survive

    We will. But how? Likely reduced standards of living, water wars, and razor wire and machine guns on our borders.

    1
  15. Mu Yixiao says:

    @gVOR08:

    We will. But how? Likely reduced standards of living, water wars, and razor wire and machine guns on our borders.

    Which is exactly what was predicted would happen at 4 billion. And 5 billion. It didn’t happen then, and it’s not going to happen now.

    As noted by the numbers I posted above, most of the world is actually going to shrink in population. The primary driver of world population growth is Africa. In the US, if it wasn’t for immigration, we would already be shrinking. Standards of living have risen across the world (with only a few rare exceptions, e.g., Iran) along with the rise from 4B to 8B.

    Water desalination is already a thing, and as renewable energy becomes more prevalent and cheaper, the cost of desalinization drops (and thus becomes more prevalent).

    The doomsayers were wrong in the 70s and 80s, and they’re wrong now.

    1
  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mu Yixiao: I love your misplaced optimism.

    @Jay L Gischer: The population isn’t the only issue (8 billion is unsustainable) what is the issue is what we are doing to our planet. Which while we haven’t gone over the edge yet, I see no sign we are capable of making the necessary u-turn.

    1
  17. Lounsbury says:

    @Mu Yixiao: As someone who invests in and is quite familiar with Sub-Saharan Africa: You are right broadly, however Sub-Saharan Africa along the Sahel belt (the southern edge of the Sahara) is worrisome as a potential non-adaptation disaster for multiple reasons related to binding environmental constraints of which:
    (1) reduced rainfall and thus desertification pressure even without human pressure
    (2) structurally fragile, old soils (geographically old) with tendency to hard to reverse degradation and compacting;
    (3) strong population pressure in over-intensive subsistance farming and barely-above subsistance farming on small family farm plots, heavy pressure on (2) with climate pressure from (1) to further degradation
    (4) ongoing poverty-birth cycle (northern Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso net birth rates and growth) and degrading stability making economic growth path highly questionable

    One has degradation on order of Central Asia except Central Asian birth rates are down and for whatever one can say about the Soviets, they did leave industrial infrastructure (as well as environmental disaster).

    (All the while I see US cooperation [USAID] with projects promoting smallholder farming which is completely bonkers and utterly unsustainable, but the small family farmer fetish leads to illogical and irrational focus)

    Coastal West Africa and East Africa do not give me the same pause and concern. Sahel however… hard to see how this does not export violent migration and instability to neighbours and extreme impoverishment.

    Bioengineering for productive crops has barely been exploited overall, as has renewable energy backed brackish water desal (rather more economical than seawater).

    @OzarkHillbilly: Her optimism is hardly misplaced, Asian development and even LatAm are direct refutations of the 1970s retreat pessimism.

  18. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Lounsbury:

    You are right broadly, however Sub-Saharan Africa along the Sahel belt (the southern edge of the Sahara) is worrisome as a potential non-adaptation disaster

    Yeah, but they’ve been walking the knife edge for at least as long as I’ve been alive. They’ll take a hit worse than elsewhere (nobody’s saying there won’t be hits, or that we’ll all get through it the same), but “the world” will adapt.

    Her optimism is hardly misplaced,

    {looks in pants} Nope. Still a him. 😀

  19. Lounsbury says:

    @Mu Yixiao: Sorry about that, for some reason I had a memory of she. My error.

    Re Africa, I will say broad Afropessimism is wrong, but the Sahel zone is right buggered and it’s hard to see a good exit – with a nasty risk to their neighbours (or for Nigeria, the northern risk to the South where regrettably there will be a confusion of religious reason for what in the end is climate catastrophe)

  20. Kathy says:

    I “blame” vaccines.

    Along with modern medicine, they’ve prevented hundreds of millions of deaths in infancy and childhood (if not more). This leaves more people who grow up to have children of their own.

    And spare a thought to Norman Borlaug.

    2
  21. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Sorry about that, for some reason I had a memory of she. My error.

    After six years in China, I’m used to it (They only have one word “ta” for he, she, and it. They constantly pick the wrong one).

  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: What’s going on with climate change is, more than likely, the key difference between the past and now (although, I fully expect someone to mention Silent Spring and note we’re not all dead yet), but not only do we have no signs of turning the corner, we’ve never had any and may be past the tipping point already and not realize it.

    And even past the tipping point, lots of “experts” are noting that it’s not that the world will become an uninhabitable wasteland, merely that poorer nations will suffer more from the problem–which, in fact, is why we can’t u-turn this flume ride. While it may suck to be them, we’re gonna be just fine; and isn’t that what really matters?

    1
  23. grumpy realist says:

    There’s also the supposed dwindling of sperm counts due to chemicals in the environment (although researchers seem to be all over the map as whether this is an actual problem or just a problem with the counting.)

    The other thing people on the right seem to get hysterical is Women Not Having Enough Children. To which I say: make it easier to raise them from an economic point of view and you’ll get them.

    (My own experience with the whole fertility thing was bizarre because the original stated cut-off for female fertility was 40 and then all of a sudden another report came out and presto-change they said 35. I at that point was between the two ages so reading the second report made me feel like a ghost plane had passed through me, taking me from being located on one side of an invisible barrier to the other side. Very weird feeling.)

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Lounsbury: I’m not saying it’s a clean line in one place or another, what I am saying is that we are reaching a climatic tipping point from which there is no return. When will we cross it? I doubt anybody will ever know until it is too late. I know that things have changed in my lifetime. This idea that many people have that we will be able to deal with whatever happens strikes me as hubristic in the extreme, considering the fact that we here in the US have taken zero steps towards dealing with mass shootings. (for one example)

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: While it may suck to be them, we’re gonna be just fine; and isn’t that what really matters?

    Until they come north because their lands are no longer productive.

    Here’s the deal: Why do people seem so ready to accept the idea that central Americans will accept death by starvation?

    eta: @Just nutha ignint cracker and I don’t mean you. Just clarifying my point.

    1
  25. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Either we come up with technological advances to squeeze more out of our overburdened and rapidly changing planet and population will stabilize as wealth increases, or we won’t and there won’t be enough food for all of us. In which case overpopulation still takes care of itself. Violently and miserably.

    1
  26. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Here’s the deal: Why do people seem so ready to accept the idea that central Americans will accept death by starvation?

    I doubt that most people proceed that far in their musings about the issue. They probably stop at “the US will have some changes in production, but overall…” and say “Whew! Glad that’s over.”

    Also that whole thing about Central Americans was probably why “THE WALL” [tm] was so popular. (You know, just in case…)