I WAS in form five at St Mary’s College in 1974 when the four billionth human being was born; last Tuesday, the eight billionth human being arrived. The population of the world has doubled in the time it took me to get my English O’Level and my son to start university.
Helluva thing, as Mr Biswas would have said.
But the numbers are even more startling if you get them in perspective.
Our species, homo sapiens – and, no, Trump supporters, that doesn’t mean you’re gay – has been around for about 300,000 years but it still took until the year 1804 for the world population to reach the first billion person mark.
In 1920, only 123 years later, our population doubled to the two billion; barely 100 years on from 1920, the human population has multiplied by a factor of eight!
Each billion-person addition has come at progressively shorter intervals, the third billion in 1960, when Marvin Gaye was singing Mercy Mercy Me (Ecology, Things Ain’t What They Used To Be). We hit five billion in 1987, three years before Jesus Jones sang about the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, six billion in 1999, when Prince had us partying like we were over, oops, out of time. The seven billionth human came along just ten years ago, in 2012.
One billion people have been added in one decade!
Think now of the old environmentalist riddle: you have a round pond, in the centre of which is a round water lily which doubles in size every day. It will take 30 days to cover the pond. One day, you notice the lily is covering half the pond. What day will that be? Everyone who hasn’t heard it before answers at once: day 15, half the 30-day time it takes the lily to cover the pond.
But the lily doubles in size every day.
It will cover half the pond, not on day 15, but on day 29.
You have one day to save the pond.
But there’s an even more troubling statistic.
In the year 1800, 90 per cent of the world’s population lived in the countryside and only ten per cent of us lived in cities. In 2008, according to the United Nations, for the first time ever, more than half the world’s populations lived in cities. By 2050, the UN expects two-thirds of us will live in cities. The 1800 figure is likely to reverse: in a too near future, only one in ten of us will live in the countryside.
And 90 per cent of us will live in megacities.
Trinidadians, more than Tobagonians, know firsthand what increases in population density does to the quality of life in small spaces and almost all our heavily populated spaces are limited by sea and mountains. In 1905 – 117 years ago – the Colonial Chief Engineer warned there should be no further development in the Maraval valley because, inter alia, it was grade A agricultural land that should be reserved for arable crops, the mountains were too steep to allow safe housing and, because the valley was too narrow, the only access road could never be widened to accommodate any increased human population and/or traffic.
Look at Maraval, which was overcrowded a century ago, now: where large single family housing units once stood, there are now multiple-dwelling apartment units, each adding at least 2.4 people and one car to the already snarled traffic.
The Cascade hills I roamed in as a boy, plucking overabundant mangoes from countless trees, are now covered, from main road to Lady Young Road on one side and Hololo Mountain Road on the other, in sprawling apartment complexes. People like ants. Apocalyptic traffic jams all over Port of Spain if a single lane is taken out of use around the Savannah on a school day.
Most of the next few billion humans will live in megacities in China, India and sub-Saharan Africa.
But it’s not going to make a difference to someone trying to do two errands on one afternoon in Port of Spain.
It makes you remember that, amongst its several meanings, the word “served” is also defined as “of a male breeding animal, to copulate with a female”.
We’re all more or less firetrucked.
If you want to be in the top ten per cent of humans enjoying any kind of quality of life, move to Brasso Seco this weekend.
BC Pires is crunching corn on the cob, not numbers, in the bush