This is a question I never really thought about until recently when I was reading Carl Sagan’s 1994 book, Pale Blue Dot. It was almost a throw away line while discussing the idea of populating other planets.
Even stranger is the argument that we have to send human beings into space in order to solve the world population crisis. But some 250,000 more people are born than die every day-which means that we would have to launch 250,000 people per day into space to maintain world population at its present levels.
We all know there are well over seven billion people on the planet and millions are born every year, but those numbers are too big to grasp intuitively. It’s all a little abstract. But something about reading that 250,000 net people are added each and every day to the planet made me pause in disbelief. That’s a number and a time period I can actually wrap my ahead around.
So this got my thinking about what this amount of people is analogous to. That’s way more per day than the entire city I live in, but what other comparisons could I make?
First thing I wanted to do was double check current statistics on this. According to Worldometers, the net amount of people currently being added to the world each year is about 82 million (140 million births and 58 million deaths). Again, this is a sufficiently large number over a long enough period of time that I can easily hear that and not linger on it. Broken down though, this means each day there are about 224,000 additional humans on the planet than the day before. This is a lower number than the one Sagan cites, which makes sense because the global growth rate has slowed down a bit since a few decades ago. It’s lower, but just as incomprehensible.
Ok, so let’s try to come up with some comparisons to grasp how big this number is. That’s like any of the following:
EVERY DAY (about 224,000)
- Adding an entire city the size of Richmond, Virgina or Boise, Idaho.
- More local to me, it’s like adding Rochester, New York plus 20 thousand additional people.
- Adding the number one and two largest stadiums in the world at full capacity, or four Yankees stadiums at full capacity.
- Adding the amount of people to the planet as the amount of worldwide tweets sent in 37 seconds.
- If you ran for 24 hours straight with heart rate of 150 bpm, adding a person to the planet for every heart beat (reasonable, yes?).
EVERY WEEK (about 1.5 million people)
- Adding another Philadelphia, PA to the planet, which is the 6th most populated city in the U.S.
- Adding another Munich, Germany to the planet, which is the 12th most populated city in the EU.
- Adding a person for every balloon in the doomed Cleveland Balloonfest of ‘86.
EVERY MONTH (about 6.8 million)
- Adding an entire Tennessee or Massachusetts.
- Squeezing in another major city the size of Madrid, Spain.
- Adding the amount of people employed by the entire US Department of Defense, China’s entire military, everyone who works for Amazon, AND everyone who works for the US postal service. (source)
EVERY YEAR (about 82 million)
- Adding an entire Germany, Iran, or Turkey.
- Adding the UK, Greece, AND Croatia.
- Adding a new person for every family in the US. (source)
- Adding the entire North American population of the year 1900.
The point of this isn’t to make a statement either way about overpopulation or if the planet can handle this many people. We’ve been wrong before and it’s impossible to predict what the future holds. If anything, it’s a way to put things into perspective. It’s truly difficult to hold in our heads how big the world is. It’s hard to wrap the mind around what exactly is going on when watching the population numbers on Worldometer rapidly tick up. It can all feel as abstract as the national debt.
You think about the immense joy of welcoming someone into the world and the immense sorrow in losing someone, and you multiply that by the numbers you see in the population meters, and it’s overwhelming.
You might also feel something similar to to sonder, that there are so, so many people in the world living lives just as complex as our own that you’ll never know.
But also, isn’t it just a little crazy and wonderful? As you go to bed tonight, there will be 224,000 more people inhabiting the planet than the night before. And the same the next night and the one after that. If our world economic systems don’t collapse, the most optimistic view might be that each days brings new chances of more geniuses to be born and help us steer the ship into the future.
Originally published at https://www.hurtyourbrain.com on September 10, 2019.