Monday, October 31, 2011

Welcome aboard Julian, person number 7 billion

Last week my friend Dylan wrote, "We're about to reach 7 billion beautiful human beings on this planet."

Well put, old bean.

This week the estimates finally added up to 7 billion. Humanity has reached an amazing milestone, but all I can hear on the subject is the familiar cry of the doomsayer. Harold Camping is a nut for making his Biblical prediction that the world would end earlier this month, but the people claiming 7 billion is too many get a pass in polite society.

It's been 200 years since Malthus predicted the world would be crushed under the weight of human beings, and the cranks just keep delaying the date every generation. People like Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren should be court jesters or lead around on a leash, not placed in academia or made presidential science advisers.

There's no way to know who this 7 billionth person really is, so I will refer to him as "Julian" after economist Julian Simon . The doomsayers believe that people will keep eating resources at a constant rate until the supplies run out, then starve. They have not considered that as a resource runs low, the price will rise and people will be forced to reduce consumption and look for alternatives.

We will not stop at 7 billion. The United Nations predicts the human population will peak at 11 billion in 2050 and then fall. I wish to challenge that view.

As long as we have science and reason, as long as we have innovation and discovery, we will continue along our path of finding new ways to make life better for the many people of this glorious world. We can all live longer, fuller lives, and what's more, I think we will.

I welcome Julian to our world with open arms and I hope to live to see another 7 billion standing next to him.


  1. I agree with the UN (don't tell anyone I said that) that we will eventually reach a plateau, but I agree with your view that as long as innovation and discovery and such continue, that won't happen.

    We have reached regional plateaus before, where an isolated population reaches equilibrium and grows no further. (due to... well an endless number of things but assume that it was food that restricted these populations.) Future advances allowed population to once again grow.

    I would add solid economics to your list of things we need to continue our growth. Humans are just intelligent enough to destroy ourselves if we aren't careful.

    Twice as many people = twice as many problems solved.

  2. I'm inclined to agree with the U.N. that the world population will plateau, but not because we will become too numerous to feed ourselves in some Neo-Malthusian dystopian universe. It seems more likely that as people get healthier, they will have fewer children, as has been the trend for the last half century. Here's the correlation with the data as it stood last year:

    On the other hand, I'm with you guys: The more people there are to innovate and serve one another, the better off we're likely to be. Two hundred years of improving health worldwide and increasing prosperity make me very hopeful for the future.

  3. Well it seems that the prediction is developed countries actually see a resurgence in births per capita after a certain point. I don't think we will plateau because of a lack of feeding, but because we will reach a natural optimum level for the resources available.

    There is no reason to think that economically speaking there is a limit to production, but there is a limit to other things not related to production. I for one am moving to Mars as soon as we figure that shit out.