Late in 1999 humankind entered a new demographic era with our worldwide population numbers
reaching SIX BILLION – after which our numbers kept right on growing. Historically, just forty years
had been required (from three billion in 1960 to six billion in 2000) to DOUBLE our numbers from
three billion to six billion.

And by 1999 we had just multiplied our
numbers six-fold in less than 200 years

Think for a moment of recent economic bubbles and
then contemplate the trajectory depicted in this graph.
It is not a business entity or an economy that may be
obliterated when this bubble bursts, but civilization,
natural systems, and much of the Earth’s BIOSPHERIC

Notice that we are rocketing upward along the y-axis
of this graph. Also notice that almost all of our growth
has taken place just since 1930.

Recent United Nations medium projections estimate
that we will be somewhere near NINE BILLION by
2041 and with their recent medium and high fertility
guesstimates pointing to between eleven and 16.6
billion by 2100.

So humankind’s worldwide population graph
(shown left) exhibits an extreme J-curve – which
should be at least somewhat disquieting perhaps,
since prior to now the two most famous J-curves in
all of human history have both been atomic
detonations at the close of World War II.

Those two J-curves of WW II, however, were at least relatively localized events, whereas the
pronounced J-curve shown above is unfolding on a global scale in. the middle of the only
planetary life-support machinery so far known to exist anywhere in the universe.

The World War II generation who began their lives in a world shared with only two billion other
persons, now, in their older years, find themselves in a world that is three times as crowded as that
of their youth. And now just since 1930 we have grown from two billion to seven billion, and seem
to be on-track toward eight billion and then nine-billion by 2041 added to an already-crowded planet.

And our worldwide numbers seem set upon exploding still further to still MORE billions, again and
again in the decades between now and the end of this century, with medium and high-fertility
projections toward gigantic worldwide numbers of 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, or 16.6 billion by 2100.

Key to appreciating the full implications of this topic is the question: How LARGE is a billion?
Quick answer: Imagine that you are hired as the Editor of a one-billion-page Encyclopedia of
Theoretical Physics that requires you to review, edit, and publish its volumes at a rate of 500 pages
a week 52 weeks a year. Working at that rate, how much time will be needed for you to finish your
project? (Hint: The answer is 38,461 years.) are hired

If you began the above project 20,000 years ago (e.g., ice-age, caves, wooly mammoths) and you
worked endlessly from then until now – for all 20,000 years – you would still have 18,461 more
years to go before finishing your project. THAT is how large one billion is, and that is how many
additional people we have been adding to our planet every twelve years.

Demographically speaking, where are we now? And
what milestones have brought us to this point, in his-
tory? And what are the humanitarian, civilizational,
and environmental implications of these enormous
and continuing numbers? The next two pages consti-
tute a quick snapshot that outlines: (a) Our demogra-
phic history, and (b) where our trajectories and mo-
mentum are now taking us.

Beginning with a worldwide population of TWO Bil-
lion in 1930, we reached Seven Billion in 2011 (FIVE
additional billions in less than a single human
lifetime), with still MORE billions (numbers eight and
nine) on-track to arrive by 2041, and with new U.N.
medium-and-high-fertility projections carrying us
toward 11-12-13-14-15-or-16.6 billion by 2100.

Along with our enormous increase in numbers, of
course, there have been the corresponding eradica-
tions, wastes, and ever-widening dismantlements that
we inflict upon Earth’s biospheric life-support ma-
chinery, as well as our consumption and ever-accu-
mulating societal and industrial wastes.

In this article we trace the major milestones in the
demographic journey that our species has traveled
over the past 10,000 years. And as we survey our
demographic past, we will see that: (a) For most of history, our population was QUITE SMALL com-
pared to today's numbers; (b) That our numbers began to rocket sharply upward in the 1800s, thirdly,

Most of our population growth has taken place suddenly
and explosively in the lifetimes of persons now living.
8000 B.C.

Let us begin by visiting an early sunrise of civilization. If we travel back ten thousand years,
we find ourselves in the year 8,000 B.C. Here and there are scattered small settlements where
our forebears are experimenting with a new way of life called agriculture.

At this time, human population worldwide amounts to perhaps FIVE MILLION persons. We
don't have to be exact about the year or the number. It is enough to understand that approxi-
mately five million people inhabited our planet sometime around 8000 B.C. This is approxi-
mately one-third the size of many of our large cities today.

One A.D.

We now jump forward in time. Thousands upon thousands of years go by and we find ourselves in
the Mediterranean basin in the year one A.D. Sometime around this period our worldwide numbers
climb to about 250 MILLION. This number is smaller than the population of the U.S. or Europe alone
in the modern world.

As we board our time machine for the next section of our journey, we will travel forward to the year
1650. As the centuries peel away, we see the fall of Rome followed by the Middle Ages with their
castles and plagues. We also see the splendor of the Renaissance and the great voyages of Magellan
and Columbus. Finally we arrive in 1650, and find ourselves in the times of pirates and Spanish
treasure fleets. The world is still largely wilderness, but human population now reaches a new historic
high – we now number approximately 500 MILLION. It has been 1650 years since our last stop, but
in the intervening centuries, our numbers have doubled from 250 million to 500 million. (Notice the
“doubling time” that characterized our species during this period, when we needed nearly 1,700 years
to double our population.)


Our next leap brings us forward to 1830. This is a striking milestone because, for the first time ever,
world population amounts to approximately ONE BILLION human beings. By this time, of course,
founders of the United States such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin
are all dead, and the United States is waging war against the Seminole Indians of Florida. At this
pause in our journey, however, we notice that our numbers have once again doubled. This time,
however, our doubling has taken place in less than two hundred years.
(* Interpolated from U.S. Census Bureau and U.N. Population data.)


On this stop we find ourselves in the year 1930 and our numbers rush past still another critical
milestone. Here we are and the roaring twenties have ended, the stock market has crashed, and
families everywhere are battling to make ends meet during the Great Depression. World War II and
the music of Glenn Miller are only a decade away, and baseball games and radio broadcasts are the
social threads that tie Americans together. And in this year, we find ourselves in a world that is home
to approximately TWO BILLION people. Some persons still living today were alive to witness the year
when we first reached this unprecedented level.


We need to make another observation involving 1930: Even though it took all of human history until
1830 for us to reach our first billion, we have just added our SECOND billion in only one hundred
years. Something of utmost importance is happening: A species whose population had taken
millennia to reach one billion has taken only one hundred years to add a second billion.

Something about our journey has changed, and our rate of population growth has begun to accelerate.
And this time, our doubling time has fallen to only one hundred years.. What has happened to cause
this? Did families suddenly begin to have larger and larger numbers of children? No.

The great demographic acceleration that began in the 1830s resulted from:
(a) advances in agriculture, (b) the industrial revolution,
and most-importantly (c) from ADVANCES in MEDICINE

In the world of the 1830s, families had large numbers of children but death rates were high. By the
1930s, however, families still had large numbers of children, but advances in medicine dramatically
lowered the death rate so that more of these children survived. The number of births did not decline
much, but death rates fell sharply. Fertility rates did not decline much, but
unexpectedly mortality rates fell sharply.


By now our demographic journey has brought us all the way forward in time to 1960. John F.
Kennedy is elected president of the United States. The cold war between the Soviet Union and the
United States is underway and the two superpowers have just begun a space race. And, with the help
of antibiotics, pesticides, oil, and a post-World War II baby boom, world population has surged to
THREE BILLION. This time it took only thirty years, from 1930 to 1960, to add the newest billion.


It is significant that the stops on our journey are now becoming more and more frequent. By 1975
we find that human numbers continue to rocket upward. This time just fifteen years have elapsed
since our last stop, and yet we have suddenly reached FOUR BILLION at a time when Gerald Ford
is the president of the U.S. and the Vietnam War and NASA's Apollo moon missions have ended.
By 1987 our population continues to hurtle upward. In terms of sheer numbers, our rates of growth
between 1975 and 1987 are unprecedented. Nothing like it has ever been seen in history. This time
it has taken only twelve years to add still another billion to our numbers. Many people begin to not-
ice that our roads, schools, and parks are increasingly crowded. Actually, we shouldn't be surprised
since there are, in 1987, FIVE BILLION of us calling planet Earth our home.

On the world stage dramatic changes are underway in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. And
elsewhere, more and more nations must strive frantically to find food and employment for their
rapidly-growing populations. In the poor and developing countries of the world, even leaders who
are competent, honest, well-meaning, and effective find themselves sitting atop a potential powder
keg. As populations in these nations continue to grow explosively, supplies of food and water, along
with jobs, social conditions, infrastructure, and services begin to deteriorate, helping to fuel chaos,
dissatisfaction, radicalization, instability, lawlessness, turbulence, and unrest.


Late in 1999, our journey carried us to an unprecedented milestone. As we neared the year 2000,
we reached our SIXTH BILLION – and then kept right on growing. For all intents and purposes, just
forty years have been required (from three billion in 1960 to six billion in 2000) to DOUBLE our
numbers from three billion to six billion.

And now (2015) just since 1930 we have grown from two billion to seven billion, and seem to be
on a trajectory toward eight billion and then nine-billion by 2041 added to an already-crowded

And quite disquietingly, perhaps, humankind’s worldwide numbers appear set to explode still further
toward still MORE billions, again and again in the decades between now and the end of this century,
with medium and high-fertility projections ranging toward never-before-seen worldwide numbers of
11, 12, 13, 14, 15, or 16.6 billion by 2100.

That is where our momentum is taking us, and those are numbers that constitute the
demographic and biospheric equivalent of a collision trajectory with a near-Earth asteroid.

So humankind’s worldwide population continues to grow as we continue to skyrocket
upward along the vertical axis of one of the most dangerous J-curves in all of human history.

What are we looking at here? Up until now the two most-famous previous J-curves in all of human
history have been the two atomic detonations that brought a close to World War II. (Those two J-
curves, however, were at least relatively localized events whereas the pronounced J-curve shown in
humankind’s population graph is unfolding right now - on a global scale - and in the middle of the
only planetary life-support machinery so far known to exist anywhere in the universe.)
Thus, while nature and Earth's natural systems had all of human history until 1830 to adjust to the
impacts of our first billion, we now demand that they make the same adjustments (and more,
because we are industrialized) – repeatedly – every twelve to fifteen years.

Joel Cohen summarized our current conditions this way: "the size and speed of growth of the human
population today have no precedent in all the Earth's history before the last half of the twentieth
century” (Cohen, 1995).

Today's overpopulation and our continuing tsunamis of additional growth now qualify as what is
surely the most dangerous trajectory in all of human history, and now constitute one of the premier,
most dangerous, and defining characteristics of the times in which we live. In the face of this
explosion, far too many writers seem either clueless or complacent. But for many others, including
some of the world’s top scientists, the potential consequences are worrisome enough to elicit terms
such as "catastrophic," "urgent," and "collision course" when discussing it.

Recent warnings from the scientific community include the following:
“If current predictions of population growth prove accurate and patterns of human
activity on the planet remain unchanged, science and technology may not be able to
prevent... irreversible degradation of the environment.”
Joint statement, officers of the U.S. National Academy
of Sciences and Britain’s Royal Society, 1992

"The earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive effluent is finite. Its ability to
provide food and energy is finite. Its ability to provide for growing numbers of people is finite.
And we are fast approaching many of the earth's limits."
An urgent warning to humanity (1992)
Signed by 1500 top scientists, including
99 recipients of the Nobel Prize

“Any population-economy-environment system that has feedback delays and slow physical
responses, that has thresholds and erosion mechanisms, is literally unmanageable. No matter
how brilliant its technologies, no matter how efficient its economy, no matter how wise its
decision-makers, it simply can't steer itself away from hazards unless it tests its limits very,
very slowly. If it constantly tries to accelerate, it is bound to overshoot."
Beyond the Limits
Meadows, Meadows, and Randers, 1992

Thus, at today’s hinge-point in history, we find ourselves as participants in a gigantic experiment:
How many people can the Earth support in the near term and over the long run without suffering
irreparable damage? How much ongoing, non-stop, ever-widening, and ever-accumulating damage,
wastes, dismantlements, and eradications can its razor-thin films of life-support machinery endlessly
endure and still continue to function?
In May 2011, the United Nations had toRAISE its newest world population projections for 2100 from
their estimates
Either of thsystems
such natural e past decade. Their newest
will continue “medium
to function -and-high-fertility”
or they will not. If naturalguesstimates show our
systems are stressed
now,billion arriving
what can earlieras(by
we expect we2041)
add ,more
and then proceedingbillions
and additional to 11-12-13-14- 15 or morejust
in the half-century than 16 billion
by century’s end.
Unfortunately, young people living today are likely to find out.

sking Natural Systems to Adjust
If worldwide fertility rates averagejust ½ child per
Thet woman HIGHER than the U.N.’s “medium -fertil-
ity” estimates, humankind will find itself on -track
toward 16.6 BILLION by the end of this century as
shown in the graph.

If we have poverty, hunger, chaos, environment-
tal destruction, lawless militias, and failed states
now, what is going to happen as we add more
and more and more additional billions in the dec-
ades ahead?

Since Earth’s planetary carrying capacity for
an industrialized humanity (with everyone
raised to a Western European standard of liv -
ing) is on the order of two billion or less , our
graph shown left and the magnitude ofeach of
the numbers it depicts make it virtually im -
possible to achieve those high living standards
for everyone on Earth and, at the same time,
to prevent destruction of its natural life -sup-
port machinery and ensure that it continues to
function as it has always done in the past

Notice that humankind’s worldwide graph is an extreme and pronounced J-curve which constitutes
the greatest risk in the entire history of our species.to humankind, civilization, and to
the ONLY planetary life-support machinery so far known to exist anywhere in the universe

As citizens we can debate among ourselves important societal questions involving foreign policy,
education, economics, politics, and the environment. However, no matter the outcome of our studies,
talk-show discussions, and congressional debates,

The functioning of the only planetary life-support machinery so far known to exist anywhere in
the universe cares nothing about all of our talk – but requires protection of its component parts,
and for their capacities for self-maintenance, self-perpetuation, and self-repair.

Courtesy of
What Every Citizen Should Know About Our Planet

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