The clock below, that I’m showing in a number of pages, sort of sums up the situation of the people of Earth.
In the 14-15th century, it is estimated that the world’s population was about 500 million. That was at the end of the Bubonic Plague that killed 25% of people in the West. Of course it’s hard to know accurate numbers for sure, as census statistics were not kept - except for taxes! Also remember that while mathematics was lost in the West (see Romans), it was not lost in the East. China and India had an amazing trading route through to the Mediterranean called the Silk Route, and even in Roman days, there was a trade for spices, silks, and other goods, in exchange for gold and silver.
But by the mid-19th century, the population of the planet reached 1 billion people. That means that it took 400 years for the population of the world to double. Only 100 years later, in 1950, the global population had doubled again to approximately 2 billion. This was due to better health care emerging in the West, and more live births, resulting larger families. In my parent’s generation in the 1920s and 30s, it was common for families to have 7-9 children. And this happened despite global wars.
50 years later, (in 2000) the world’s population has tripled from 2 billion to about 6 billion. According to the UN Population Fund (click image), we reached 6 billion on October 12, 1999. This was only 12 years after we reached 5 billion. Clearly, we have a problem if we continued this way. The rate of growth has slowed as countries have adopted policies to encourage family planning, some reasonable, some harsh.
However, despite global pandemics, (AIDS, Maleria, etc), the dawn of awareness about population limits, the impact on the environment, health and social issues, according to the United States Census Bureau, we reached 6.5 billion people only 5.5 years later, on February 25, 2006 and already rapidly approaching 7 billion. We expect the global population to jump to between 9-11 billion people in the next 40 years. You must understand too that many countries do not conduct a census, so these numbers are likely understated. There may be many more of us.
In the US, the population has gone from 80 million in 1900 to more than 300+ million today.
The tough thing is that the major increase in population has taken place in countries that could not afford the growth. They did not have the food and or water resources to support their people, and this obviously creates conflict. In these countries, many people live on a minute income. Have a look here.
You can get involved. There are several expressions that come to mind. The first is: “There, but for the grace of God, go I”. That means, you or I could have been born into squalor or extreme poverty. We were not, so it is our duty to help those who have been.
The second expression that comes to mind is “Give a person a fish and they will eat a meal. Teach a person to fish and they will eat every day”.
That’s ok when the land is arable and there is water, but in many parts of the world, both are an increasing problem.
And what happens when people are hungry, there is not enough good water -- and they see others in the world (through television?), living well? Well, anger and resentment build. And those are the seeds, not of human growth, but of revolutions, war and significant environmental problems.
For more information on Global Population growth, to download fact sheets, and to find ways you can get involved, have a look at the Population Institution.
Essentially, we have tried two ways - neither very effective to control our populations. Either through land grabs -- aka wars. where one people try to take the land and subdue or murder people living there, or by trying to control and/or encourage birth control.
Controlling our population growth through education, good farming practices, better health care and nutrition, and using high-tech resources, such as satellites to find new resources, is one of the major challenges of the 21st century.