Grain Rain: Pigeons flap their wings

November 1st, 2011
by Jo Law

In this pentad, Spring session ended at the University of Wollongong on Friday October 28th, that night Hollis experienced his first thunderstorm, and the United Nation marked Monday October 31st to be the day when the world population reached 7 billion that is: 7,000,000,000 people.

ABC Radio National ran special programming discussing this event at length. Opinions and figures vary but most reports focus on how the growing population must exist on decreasing finite resources. It took around 50,000 years for the world population to clock up the first billion in 1804. This figure doubled in 123 years and it took another 47 years to double again reaching 4 billion in 1974.  There were 6 billion people on Earth only 12 years ago. It is currently projected that we will grow to 8 billion by 2027 and 9 billion by 2043. The prevalent image is of a very crowded planet.

I was born in a highly populated city that currently ranks fourth in the world’s population density with an average of 6,349 people per square kilometre. I now live in a country that is ranked 235th and averaged at 3 people every square kilometre. Australia with a population of 22.6 million is the most populated country in Oceania with Sydney as its most populous city. Antarctica is the least populated continent with a varying population of around 4,500 people.

A global population upwards of 7 billion puts pressure on land, water, fuel, food and other resources; there are the issues of equity and access, not to mention the challenges this will bring to environmental sustainability and protection of ecosystems. Conversely, in countries with birthrates falling below replacement level, such as Japan, there is anxiety over the economy. The general view is that this growth rate will slow as different regions go through demographic transitions, but this will not happen before the world population ticks over to 9 billion.

It is rather poetic that the ‘Day of 7 billion’ fell on All Hallow’s Eve (Hallowe’en). In 12th century medieval Europe, it was custonmary to attend to dead souls in purgatory this night. The Population Reference Bureau based in the U.S. estimated that 108 billion homo sapiens had ever lived on Earth and that makes the current world population 6.5% of all people who have ever lived. So in Hallowe’en 2011 we can think about these 101 billion souls, that is: 101,000,000,000.

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