Monday, October 31, 2011

7 Billion for Halloween

"The Mark of Gideon"


Happy Halloween dear readers. It is my honor to share this day with you.
"The Mark of Gideon," was first broadcast on the 17th of January, 1969, during the original Star Trek's 3rd season. It deals with the problem of overpopulation.
Gideon, of course, must be referring to the world’s premier global infectious disease database, "the solution for diagnosis, treatment and teaching of infectious diseases and microbiology" which may have something to do with overpopulation if this database helps to rid the world of infectious diseases which otherwise will kill millions of people. It's weird though because GIDEON Informatics was founded in 1992, which means... well I don't think the writers of "The Mark of Gideon," George F. Slavin and Stanley Adams could have known about it back in 1968 when the episode was written. Odd. Mr. Adams was an actor as well as a writer, and he did once play a time traveling scientist and a bartender on The Twilight Zone. That probably is the explanation.
Or Gideon could refer to the biblical name for a Hebrew judge, from the Old Testament's Book of Judges who had 70 sons from the many women he took as wives. He also had a concubine who bore him a son that he named Abimelech, and another one after that. This could have something to do with overpopulation, except it is said that Abimelech killed off those first 70 boys, so the total population explosion after this incident results in a total increase of two.
Gideon could also refer to the name of the planet where all of the action takes place in this episode, but what the hell is the "Mark?" I don't know. Maybe I should watch it again.
I'm getting a headache. You know what? I don't think the name Gideon, in itself, has very much to do with overpopulation at all, which is what this post concerns itself with, and Slavin and Adams just used that name because it sounded kind of cool, that's what I think.
I also think this whole conversation isn't germane to the subject at hand. How about you?
Anyway, that particular episode did deal with overpopulation. We'll come back to it.
It is believed that sometime today the world's population will reach a new milestone. 7 billion of us will be alive on this planet all at the same time. 7 billion! That's a lot of people. More than I'd like to count, that's for sure. (The good folks at Population Action International claim it already happened six hours ago at almost exactly 1:00AM EST. I watched their population counter as it clicked over from 6,999,999,999 to 7,000,000,000. Very exciting...sort of)
207 years ago there wasn't even a billion people on the Earth.
There were only about 2.5 million people in America during the Revolutionary War, and 20% of those were slaves. The American population more than tripled during the 20th century—at a growth rate of about 1.3% a year—from about 76 million in 1900 to 281 million in 2000. It reached the 200 million mark in 1967, and the 300 million mark on October 17, 2006. As of yesterday it is estimated that the population in the United States was 312,481,573 and 2/3rds.
Back during the time of the Garden of Eden there were only two people alive. Fortunately for us they consisted of one man and one woman who were both heterosexual. They got busy.
In 1805 the world's population hit the 1 billion mark for the first time. 122 years later, in 1927, it reached 2 billion. It only took 33 years to get a billion more, that would be in 1960. Because of all of the hippies around at that time, and their lose ways, the world's population reached four billion in 1974, five billion in 1987, and six billion in 1999. That's a billion in 14 years, 13 years, and 12 years. And another 12 years since 1999 to reach the 7 billion mark.
Demographers, (people who study human population) project a range of possibilities for future population growth, with the most commonly cited figure being a world population of 9 billion by 2043. I don't know what happened to the 8 billion mark, I guess they thought that didn't matter so much, but 9 billion! That's 2 more billion in just 32 years, or another billion every 16 years or so.
Asia is the most-populated of Earth's continents, with its over 4 billion inhabitants accounting for over 60% of the world's population. The world's two most populated countries alone, China and India, constitute about 37 percent of planet's total population. Africa is the second most populated continent, with around 1 billion people, or 15% of the world's population. Europe has about 733 million European people in it making up 11% of the world's population, while the Latin American and Caribbean regions are home to 589 million (9%). Northern America has a population of around 352 million (5%), and Oceania, the least-populated region, has about 35 million inhabitants (0.5%).
We share the Earth with other living things, plants and animals. Although there will be 7 billion of us today, human beings represent only 1/2 of 1% of the total bio-mass that exists on the Earth at this time. We are trying our best to kill off as much of the other 99.5% as fast as we can, but we still have long way to go.
Some of that bio-mass are plants that we ourselves grow for food, like wheat and corn. And avocados. We grow a lot of food. In fact for being only 1/2 of 1% of the total bio-mass, we use up about 31% of the total photosynthesis on the planet. Which means? Well it means that there is only a certain amount of energy available to the planet Earth because there is only a certain and finite amount of energy that comes to us from the sun, our main source of energy. Furthermore, only a small fraction of the sun's radiation is actually used in the photosynthetic reaction in plants at the Earth's surface. Of the total amount of sunlight striking the Earth's outer atmosphere, about half of it is reflected back to space by ice, snow, oceans, or deserts, or absorbed by gases in the atmosphere. For example, the atmosphere's ozone gas layer absorbs nearly all ultraviolet light, which makes up about 9% of the sun's radiation. Of the light that reaches Earth's surface, only about half of it is in the wavelength range that can be used by plants in photosynthesis, and we use up 31% of that energy, while the other 99.5% of living things use 69%.
That hardly seems fair, does it?
But we humans aren't known for our fairness. Just ask the Atlantic cod and orange roughy which are being over fished by us humans so much that their populations are crashing to the point that several of their species may never recover. Advances in human technology have allowed us to fish farther, deeper and more efficiently than ever before. Some scientists estimate that we have removed as much as 90% of the large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish and those cod from the planet's oceans. Some people, like the Pew Oceans Commission, have warned that the oceans are in a state of "silent collapse," meaning the food supply for people is already threatened with just 7 billion of us, let alone 9 billion in another 32 years.
As a practical matter, it is interesting to note that Consumer Reports and other recent studies show some 20 to 25 percent of seafood around the world is mislabeled when purchased. In other words the next time you think you're buying some nice fresh lemon sole for dinner, you might actually be getting a rattail bottom feeder instead. How would you know for sure? The Consumer Reports people had to have the fish's DNA tested to distinguish the species. Not all of us can do that. I certainly can't. We don't know for sure if this mislabeling is done by accident or intentionally. If intentionally, this may be a result of over fishing and a lack of conventional fish stocks.
The point I'm so laboriously trying to make here is... well it's a question actually. Can we feed 7 billion people? Do we have enough energy for them? Will their accumulated carbon output add to climate change? Will there be enough water? Will we be able to sustain this increase, and projected increases in the world's population?
The answers to these questions are as follows: Nope, nope, yes, no, and no. Not if we keep going the way we have been.
We couldn't even feed, or take care of the people we had on earth before we hit 7 billion. 40% of the folks on this planet live on less than $2 a day, a large percentage of that 40% live on considerably less.
According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”
Wow, that's pretty harsh.
Around 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. The two regions that account for the bulk of the deficit are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, with 3 million deaths in 2004. Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities: Africa accounts for 90 percent of malarial deaths and African children account for over 80 percent of malaria victims worldwide.
There are 2.2 billion children on Earth. 1 billion of them live in poverty. For those of you trying to keep up that would 1 in 7 people on the planet is a poverty stricken child.
For the 1.9 billion children from the developing world, there are 640 million without adequate shelter (1 in 3), 400 million with no access to safe water (1 in 5), and 270 million with no access to health services (1 in 7). Worldwide, 10.6 million children died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (same number as the total population of children in France, Germany, Greece and Italy put together), and 1.4 million die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.
On and on.
13.1 percent, or almost 1 in 7 people are hungry right now. Approximately 19 million in developed countries like the United States, 37 million in the Near East and North Africa, 53 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, 239 million in sub-Saharan Africa, and 578 million in Asia and the Pacific.
On and on.
As a planet we don't know, or haven't bothered with taking care of the least fortunate among us. Out of sight, out of mind. A good Christian value.
There are answers to these difficult situations. We can cut down on the number of unwanted births in the world by the effective use of contraceptives. 215 million women around the planet want to prevent pregnancy but lack contraception. In nations such as Yemen, Afghanistan, and much of sub-Saharan Africa, women continue to have an average of more than 5 children because of this. Worldwide, 40 percent of pregnancies are unintended because millions upon millions of women lack the basic human right of access to birth control, either through family planning, or contraception. This condition is exasperated by governments who claim to value life beginning at conception, often for political gain, and then forget about these children after they are born. Men's attitude toward women around the world as possessions must be changed, as well as education for women. Many real factors, practical factors, need to be dealt with in a pragmatic manner if we are to seriously deal with these important issues that will affect each and every one of us.
The people of Gideon in that Star Trek episode had a similar problem that we do now. Their whole planet was covered with people. They made up the entire bio-mass of Gideon. That's pretty tough. I can't imagine how everyone was fed, or how they kept clean... on and on.
And they supposedly were an advanced civilization which were about to be invited into the Federation. If they couldn't solve the problems associated with overpopulation then how can we be expected to?
But I wonder. Why didn't they colonize other planets, and shift a significant percentage of their citizenry off to another world thereby relieving some of their population pressure?
Maybe it didn't occur to them.
We could do the same, and shift some people off to Mars let's say, like the Republicans. They could then screw up that planet as much as they wanted to and leave the rest of us alone.
Oh, such dreams.
But that will take a while. We haven't even gotten one guy there yet.
Capt Kirk explained to Hodin, the Gideon leader, that there were effective means of sterilization and contraception that they could utilize to lessen their population burden. But Hodin explained that since Gideon didn't have any germs their lifespans were really long, giving them remarkable regenerative abilities as well which foiled attempts at said sterilization. Bummer.
And he also explained that the people of Gideon loved life so much that they couldn't use contraception. Also a bummer, and somewhat analogous to circumstances we face here on Earth. The people of Gideon were willing to put up with excruciating misery in order to revere life whenever it occurred, so much so that the answer to their problem, that they finally worked out, was to kill themselves off with a deadly virus.
I don't understand really how their reverence toward life carried over to mass suicide, but that's just me.
Hopefully we on Earth can wave ancient legends and myths, and political expediency in order to improve the lives of those already living without having to undergo any more "excruciating misery" than we have to.
The famed oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau once said that we can live with a population of 10 billion or more and survive. And we probably could with scientific advances in agriculture, water conservation, reduction of greenhouse gases, and other measures.
Cousteau made the following stipulation though, 10 billion is fine, but we can't have more than 700,000 Americans.
What he meant by that is we consume too much here in the United States. We use up a disproportionate amount of the world's resources considering the size of our population. For example, the United States, with less than 5 % of the global population, uses about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources—burning up nearly 25 % of the coal, 26 % of the oil, and 27 % of the world’s natural gas.
Hey, guess what? We're running out of oil, coal, and natural gas. Those are finite resources, which means they will run out! And until they do they are destroying the environment we will eventually bequeath to our children and grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren.
The 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60% of private consumption spending, while the one-third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent.
Sounds like massive income inequality to me. Something the Occupy Wall Street people are dealing with at this moment.
So what do we do. One of the answers is to consume less. Unfortunately right now, considering the general uninformed state of our populace, telling voters they must do with less is tantamount to political suicide.
We must eventually overcome this obstacle if we are going to effectively and pragmatically deal with this problem, as well as the problems of unwanted pregnancies, family planning, climate change, and a host of others.
We have to grow up. As the great writer Arthur C Clarke said, it time for "Childhood's End."

According to Population Action International I was the 2,768,131,364th person alive at the time of my birth back in 1955. My sister was the 2,967,950,231st. My niece Keri was the 4,788,658,042nd in 1984 when she was born. My lovely ex-case manager, Erin, was the 4,813,147,344rd in 1984 as well, although she disputes this. "But how can they account for what time I was born??" she astutely points out. "For all they know, I could be the 4,813,147,379th person to be born!"
I replied: "Due to the continued use of Bush's Patriot Act, the Population Action International people know what time everyone was born. In your case it was 3:27PM, just after the 4,813,147,343rd baby, and 43 seconds before the 4,813,147,345th. If your birth certificate says something different they're lying to you. You know how it is in New Jersey."
She replied too: "Well then I’m half a day younger than I thought!"
I replied again: "It's better than being half a day older!"
Which is true.
Odds are that the seventh billion baby will not be born here in the United States, but rather somewhere in India, or sub-Saharan Africa, ( because they have more sex there than we do.
America... we have to catch up.
I jest.
If however, we continue to ignore the tremendous problems that the world faces, as is our custom, and are going to continue in this pattern of unrestricted population growth, I need to point out that we need more cheerleaders. They bring nothing but joy and happiness into the world... and cheerfulness, as their name would imply. Less politicians, pizza CEOs, bankers, Republicans, Tea Baggers, war profiteers, hedge fund managers, Texas governors, Representatives from Minnesota, reality show TV contestants and hosts, and more cheerleaders. They're much more energetic and easy to get along with than Mitch McConnell for instance, who's always causing trouble.
My friend Mike after reviewing this post, said he likes cheerleaders too. This pretty much proves my point.
I walked outside yesterday morning and saw a whole bunch of cheerleaders practicing across the street in preparation for the "Rock and Roll Marathon," They ran right past my box... twice... the marathon runners, not the cheerleaders. Once up the 6th Street bridge, and once down the 6th Street bridge. I don't think the cheerleaders ran at all.
When I saw them yesterday morning they made me feel jubilant, as they often do, and we need more of that in the world today.
So remember... more cheerleaders... and nurses... they also can be very helpful at times.

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