Earth is in the midst of a population crisis, and extremes are heading in both directions. While countless species have seen their numbers plummet in recent decades, with more than a few going extinct entirely, humans have seen theirs grow and grow — and the two trends are hardly unrelated. But incredibly, when considering the indelible impact we’ve had on the planet and the creatures we share it with in our brief time here, everyone alive today accounts for a whopping 12 percent of all the humans that have lived, ever.
Looking around today, it’s hard to imagine a time when people didn’t inhabit every remote corner of the globe, a time when we were counted among the countless creatures we so often presume dominion over — but for a long time, that’s the way things were.
It’s quite clear though that those days are long behind us.
Nowadays, there are just about 7 billion human beings on the planet, and that number is expected to rise dramatically. According to estimates by the UN, by the end of this century there will be well over 10 billion human inhabitants alive on this increasingly crowded little planet.
To put these figures in a purely anthropological context, Jonathan Good of 1000Memories poses a fascinating question: How many people have ever lived?
The answer: 56 billion.
In other words, you, me, and everyone else alive today accounts for 1 of 8 human beings that have been alive, ever. And what’s perhaps equally as astonishing is just how rapidly we reached that number, rising from a small group of bipedal primates to our present condition — all in about 200,000 years.
But the explanation behind our rise isn’t entirely about our propensity for making babies, as Good notes:
The world population is driven not only by more people having more children, but also the fact that we’re living longer. In fact, despite the fact that birth rates have been falling in recent decades, the population has continued to rise as those already on the planet lead longer, healthier lives, thanks to modern medicine and improved nutrition introduced in the centuries following 1800. World population growth is essentially birth rate minus death rate – thus, as life expectancy rises, death rates decrease, and the population will continue to rise.
For as surprising as this fact may be, it presents an opportunity for those of us around today, part of the 12 percent of the entire human species, to redefine our relationship with the world we live in, to make up for our predecessors’ misguidance. In truth, over the course of our rise to 7 billion members, more than a few other species have seen their numbers plummet, and in no small part because of it.
Humans are now consuming 25% of all plant life growing each year and climate change and water shortages are making our existence on this planet even more precarious. Perhaps it is time for more people to choose to be ‘GINKs‘.
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