Humanity is not an exclusive club. No secret handshake required. November 15e, the UN predicts that we will add our eight billionth (living) member.
This is an alarming milestone for some, not just because of the scale of the numbers – imagine The 90,000 seater Wembley Stadium in London, squared — but also because of the dizzying speed at which we have reached it. After all, it took us all of human history up to 1804 to reach our first billion. And then it only took us 123 years to get to the second.
Quadrupled in less than a century
That was in 1927. Less than a century later, that figure has quadrupled. But population growth is not a runaway train. The global fertility rate is falling since 1964, going from 5 births per woman to just under 2.5 today.
Consequently, the the rapidity population growth has already plateaued. Since 1960 – when we reached our third billion – we have added billions at a steady interval of about one every 12 to 14 years. The United Nations Population Division predicts that these intervals will lengthen again after billion number eight, and that humanity will reach its peak – at least numerically speaking – by the end of the century, at just under 11 billion.
The ensuing demographic crisis will of course bring with it a host of worries and problems of its own. Still, knowing that the curve will eventually tilt down is welcome news. This marks a refreshing change from other, more intractable threats to our continued existence, such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, and resource depletion.
It all serves as a long-winded introduction to a remarkable achievement: instead of preludes to disaster, cards like these can become objects of future curiosity. In a century or two, our successors, inhabiting a less populated planet, might study them and marvel: “Look how many we once were!”
Why Bangladesh is bigger than Russia
They are not cards in the strict sense; they are actually complex circular diagrams, showing the relationship of the populations of nations, regions and continents to each other and to the whole.
Alternatives to purely territorial maps, they offer surprising insights. A classic example is the fact that Russia, the largest country in the world, has a considerably smaller population than Bangladesh, that relatively small country wedged between India and the Bay of Bengal. However, as simple snapshots, these graphs say nothing about the growth or shrinkage of the cake and its pieces. Russia’s population is shrinking, while Bangladesh’s continues to grow, so the gap between the two will continue to grow.
Perhaps more relevant to the geopolitics of the future, India and China – now roughly equivalent to around 1.4 billion each – will shrink, but at a very different pace. Around 2100, the UN predicts there could be as few as 500 million Chinese, while there would still be around a billion Indians.
So what do these snapshots tell us of the world’s population at the dawn of our eight billionth member?
an asian planet
Globally, it is an Asian planet. All the other continents combined don’t even come close. Asia alone (4.7 billion) represents 58% of humanity. In second place, Africa (1.4 billion) represents 17.5%, followed by Europe (750 million, 9%), North America (602 million, 7.5%) and the South America (439 million, 5.5%). Oceania at 44 million is barely 0.5%.
The DRC, soon 100 million inhabitants
This graph makes a sharp distinction between North Africa (257 million in total), predominantly Muslim and largely Arab, and the ethnically and culturally distinct sub-Saharan part of the continent (1.2 billion in total). Egypt (107 million) dominates the north (and indeed the whole Arab world). Ethiopia (118 million) and Nigeria (218 million) are the population hotspots under the Sahara.
These three countries are the only ones with more than 100 million inhabitants, but as Africa is the continent that is expected to carve out the lion’s share of future population growth this century, this club is likely to expand. DR Congo (96 million) is the most likely first candidate.
Asia’s regional superpowers
Asia is vast, allowing for regional demographic superpowers like Turkey (86 million) and Iran (87 million) in the Middle East (373 million in total) and Indonesia (280 million) and the Philippines (113 million ) in Southeast Asia (686 million). in total). But the longest shadows are cast by not-so-neighboring neighbors India and China (about 1.4 billion each). What will happen when, as mentioned above, their population sizes begin to diverge towards the end of this century?
Germany + France = Russia
Russia (146 million) is the most populous country in Europe, but not as populous as China in Asia (or the United States in North America). Together, Germany (84 million) and France (66 million) have more inhabitants. These two countries represent most of Western Europe (198 million in total), with Italy (60 million) and Spain (47 million) dominating Southern Europe (152 million in total) and the United Kingdom (69 million) Northern Europe (107 million in total). total). Together, these so-called “Big Five” countries represent 44% of Europe’s total population and most of its economy.
For once, Mexico is bigger than Canada
Representing well over half of the continent’s population, the United States (335 million) dominates North America (507 million in total) — just like on a “normal” (geographical) map. For once, however, Mexico (132 million) is much larger than Canada (37 million). Guatemala (19 million) has the largest population in Central America (52 million in total), and Haiti (12 million) is the demographic superpower of the Caribbean (44 million in total), ahead of Cuba and the Dominican Republic (11 million each). ).
Why does Brazil sound familiar to you?
Oddly enough, this map of South America looks a bit like the map of South America. This is because Brazil (216 million) occupies about half of the continent, both in terms of area and population. Colombia (54 million) is the second most populous country in South America, but by far. Only Argentina (46 million) is roughly in the same league.
Australia, the biggest fish in Oceania
Oceania is the least populated continent (44 million, about as many as Greater Tokyo). In this small basin, Australia is the largest fish (26 million, or almost 60% of the total). Second? Not New Zealand (5 million), but Papua New Guinea (9 million). No other country or territory in the Pacific has more than one million inhabitants; Fiji (911,000) comes closest.
8 billion strong, but tiny
Are these 8 billion people added to a world overflowing with humans? Let’s correct the navel-gazing so typical of our species and appreciate the broader perspective.
The graph on the left represents the entire biomass of the Earth (i.e. the total weight of all living organisms), which totals 545.2 Gt C. (“Gt C” stands for gigatonnes of carbon, and 1 gigatonne is worth 1015 grams, 1 billion metric tons or 2.2 trillion pounds.)
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Most of our planet’s biomass is made up of plants (450 Gt C, or 82.5%). Bacteria (70 Gt C or 12.8%), followed by fungi (12 Gt C or 2.2%). Animals (including us) represent only 2 Gt C (0.2%). The map on the right isolates the animal kingdom, half of which is made up of arthropods (1 Gt C). The second largest phylum is fish (0.7 Gt C, or 35%). Humans (0.06 GtC) only represent 3% of animal biomass (and 0.01% of total biomass).
It is less than half compared to all the molluscs in the world. But then again, not all of these molluscs want a car, a fridge, and a million other things all wrapped up in plastic.
Strange Cards #1174
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