American Pi

Population Growth Gets 
Going Around in Circles

The U.S. population reached a landmark of sorts, yesterday at 2:29 p.m., according to the Census Bureau. Statistically speaking, we’re now about 314,159,265 souls. The announcement has caused enormous excitement in some quarters, since it could be put as 100 million times 3.14159265, which is the number pi.
Somehow we fail to fully appreciate such bubbly cheers about ‘the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter,’ if we think about what it really means: we’re multiplying way too fast. Wasn’t just the other day when we reached 300 million? So we thought about what happened during Halloween, last year.
In fact, we’re republishing our post about that even bigger landmark, announced by the U.N. last October: the world’s population reached seven billion. Then, as now, we had a hard time finding reasons to celebrate the hardly-tangible but very real event. And it’s not that the world’s got so much better ever since.
You may say that we’re coming a bit too hard on the American innate sense of turning most of everything for its ‘entertaining’ value. So the news coverage made sure to include, with some dubious sense of pride, that ‘U.S. residents account for about one out of every 22 people on Earth.’ Whoopee, Ms. Goldberg.
Being half-empty cup kind of people, we instead zoomed elsewhere on the official announcement. Right where it says that at every eight seconds, a baby cries for the first time, and most likely for food, while someone dies every 14 seconds. In other words, more of us are born than departing.
Specifically about the U.S., the census reported last year that the 46.2 million Americans living today below the official poverty line represent the highest number in the bureau’s 52 years of statistics. Over 16 million of those are children, and it’s possible that such number also includes the one supposedly born yesterday.
So, even though we’re all advised to ‘go out and celebrate’ by the jolly folks at the census, we’re not popping out the cork of our cheap apple cider just yet. But we understand if you do. And while at it, stay clear of any demographic stats too; they have a way to spoil all the fun. That’s our job, by the way. Enjoy it.

Scarier Than A Ghoul Is
Another Mouth To Feed

A truly frightening thing happened during Halloween last year: The United Nations said that Earth welcomed its seven billionth human.
Even if the date is as fictitious as any zombie you may have come across during that time, the weight of its numerical value is real and spine tingling.
Despite the lack of cameras documenting the historical birth, this mathematical projection is as accurate as most hurricanes can now be predicted.
In the same token, it may be easier to find a ghost and take it to Fox News to be interviewed on October 31th, than to catch the precise
moment when the balance may be broken and we simply are too many people for too few resources to support us.
History moves by leaps and so can we. Back in the 12th century, there were less than 400 million of us. We reached our first billion in the first decade of the 1800s. Five generations later, we’ve doubled that.
But when we’ve added another billion between the 1920s and the 1960s, the race was on. According to U.N. estimates, we’ve been adding roughly a billion people every decade or so.
Worse: even though the world produces food and consumer goods faster now than at any time in history, most resources are under the control of far fewer people than ever.
The irony about using billion as a measure stick is that it can serve to count people and money, with utterly divergent results.
While there are more super-billionaires than there’s ever been, they’ll remain an insignificant percentage of the close to 10 billion people that are expected to be alive less than four decades from now.

There are already roughly a billion people close to starvation living today, according to the World Hunger organization. Trapped in extreme poverty, this growing army of dispossessed is unlikely to be around and counted when the next billion is added.
But unless we’re expecting a gang of zombies to suddenly break our door, ready to feed on our flesh, we’d better stop droning on and on about it.
Despite such a cruel analogy, the idea was not to preach to the converted, for everything stated above is common knowledge. It was just some dark-laden reality adding a few blotches to the feast of fake blood that goes on every October.
Risking reading too much into it, there may be a connection between so much prefab ‘horror’ and the real bone-chilling fright, lurking underneath, that we may be destined to join hordes of the famished and of the destitute.
Maybe the present popularity of phony ghouls and gory is a way of coping with the fear of a rupture of a minimally balanced social contract and a catastrophic collapse of the planet’s resources. Just like the Atomic Age bred the paranoia of the Cold War and multiple fictional monsters and superheros.

In these context, last year’s destruction and chaos following Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, for example, could serve as a preview of sorts of an earth out of balance.
For a few weeks, the world’s second-largest economy seemed on the verge of regressing to the stage of development it was a century ago.
If such a natural disaster can affect so severely one of the most resilient and technologically advanced societies of the globe, what hope can Africa, Asia and large parts of South America have facing similar conditions?
Except that many of these places are already living in such chaotic environment.
So either we find this seven billionth baby and his or her huge family right away, or we may as well invite a group of the undead to finish us all off.

* Original post published on Oct. 2011.

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