12 August 2010


Once the island of Britain was heavily forested. No wonder that we have inherited pagan tales of "green men" like Robin Hood who lived deep in the woods. Look at just about any British landscape today and it's hard to imagine that once those hills and valleys were wooded. Wisps of smoke appeared above the canopy, rising from clearings where villagers were living cheek by jowl with the forest creatures. Simply surviving from one year to the next. Paths and rough tracks wove their way to other settlements and it was upon these tiresome lines of communication that all news travelled.

In 1066 when the empire-building Normans arrived at Hastings there were an estimated 1,100,000 English people. That's about the number of people who currently live in the city of Birmingham alone. Now there are over fifty million of us. Fifty times more than William the Conqueror "conquered"! Imagine that. Apart from anything else this population explosion has required the building of millions of extra homes and the development of food production methods that would have astounded our ancestors.

As you know, I live in the city of Sheffield. Currently it's population is 535,500 but back in 1801 it was only 60,095 more than an eightfold increase in just over two hundred years! And if we look across the pond at the USA we see that in 1790 their population was just 3.9 million but by 1890 it had risen to 62.9 million and by 2000 - 281.4 million. What an amazing increase! So just what have those Americans been up to between their burgers, milkshakes and baseball games I wonder?

On to the planet as a whole. Demographic experts judge that in 1798 there were less than one billion people living on Earth. Now in 2010 the figure is estimated to be seven billion! A sevenfold increase in two centuries. That's an awful lot of people all needing food, water, shelter and reality TV programmes. And there seems to be no cessation - the numbers just keep getting bigger. When our friend Mr Brague was born, the population of the USA was literally half of what it is today.

During my brief research for this post I came across several websites that consider this question - "What if the world were only one hundred people?" Some fascinating figures emerge. For example:-
61 would be Asian, 12 European and 13 African - only 5 would be North American
17 would speak Chinese as a first language but only 8 English
76 would have electricity in their homes but 24 would not
Only 1 would own a computer so 99 would not
34 would have mobile phones so 66 would not
82 would be literate but 18 would be unable to read and write
31 would claim to be Christian, 21 Muslim and 16 would declare no religion at all

Statistics! Statistics! Damned lies and statistics! If I'm hoping you'll draw anything from this post it's to imagine a world where there were far fewer people, living much more harmoniously with Nature. Population growth was slight - even sometimes reducing as at the time of The Black Death in Europe. The rivers and seas must have teemed with fishes. Tigers would have been plentiful in the jungles of Asia and buffalo would have roamed the plains of America in herds as uncountable and endless as the wildebeest of Africa. Regarding population growth, in modern times, it has seemed like a snowball enlarging as it rolls down the hill and nothing will stop it? The question mark is deliberate.


  1. Excellent post YP.

    The future will be different from now. And that, when taken across the time humans have been on the Earth, is very unusual.

  2. No one wants to comment on this depressing reality, do they? With all the pollutants we've managed to spew into our water supply, you'd think at least one of them would inhibit reproduction. But no. The poorest places, with the most polluted water, seem to have the highest birth rates. It kills the fish, but the people thrive. Go figure.

  3. These statistics really bring home the extent of the problem of the world population explosion. Worrying reading!

  4. JAN - "No one wants to comment on this depressing reality, do they?" Good point - I was wondering why comments weren't arriving. Your remark might as easily apply to world leaders who continue to hope this problem might just go away. In the end neither you, Katherine, Jenny or I will be around to see the inevitable final consequences of this unfettered population explosion.

  5. The most amazing statistic, to my way of thinking, is 1 owns a computer, 99 do not!

    So are you and I just a fluke, then, or a harbinger of things to come?

  6. Those Americans, by the way, have "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" (from poem on base of the Statue of Liberty) and also millions of illegal (and apparently fertile) immigrants pouring through the floodgates of our ill-thought-out unprotected borders.

  7. The Population Institute (Washington DC), is gathering a large community of scientists, scholars, writers and other concerned citizens to “Speak Out” publicly on human population as a fundamental sustainability issue this February, 2011. You are all urged to participate.



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