"The pattern of human population growth in the twentieth century was more bacterial than primate." — E.O. Wilson, biologist

Hap­py World Pop­u­la­tion Day!

Today is the day of the world pop­u­la­tion, mean­ing all of us. At the moment, we are liv­ing togeth­er with 7.1 bil­lion peo­ple. The world pop­u­la­tion is grow­ing expo­nen­tial­ly since about the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion (1770). This will have an effect on the geol­o­gy of our plan­et, for exam­ple through the high CO2 lev­els. A Dutch sci­en­tist invent­ed the name Antropocene for the cur­rent geo­log­ic epoch.

Onvoorstelbaar oud fossiel in real life, whaaah!

1.75 bil­lion year old fos­sil in real life, whaaah!

All the more amaz­ing when con­sid­er­ing our hum­ble begin­nings. Last week­end, we were at the Nation­al Muse­um here in Nairo­bi. Among oth­er things, it con­tains the most impor­tant col­lec­tion of hominid fos­sils in the world. These fos­sils are hard to find, and just as hard to clas­si­fy into species.

It was a spe­cial expe­ri­ence for me to see the skulls of ear­ly hominids that have been exca­vat­ed in Kenya. His­to­ry comes close and is almost touch­able, like walk­ing through the ruins of Rome. Just as for some Chris­tians in Hol­land, this is also a hot issue in Kenya, see ‘Kenya’s human fos­sils dis­turb church’. I myself do not expe­ri­ence faith and being impressed by our ori­gin as a contradiction.

But where do we all live at the moment?

In an inter­est­ing exper­i­ment some­one drew a world map where the inhab­i­tants of the coun­try with the largest pop­u­la­tion have moved to the coun­try with the largest area. The sec­ond-largest pop­u­la­tion migrat­ed to the sec­ond-largest coun­try, and so on. The result is the world map below. The Nether­lands would end up in Japan. We see that Bangladesh is dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed, because it is now in India.

Klik op de kaart om het origineel te zien.

Click on the map to see the original.

World Pop­u­la­tion Day inspires fas­ci­nat­ing maps, but is main­ly a call to reflect on the down­side of pop­u­la­tion growth. This growth is main­ly tak­ing place in ‘devel­op­ing coun­tries’. In a sit­u­a­tion of pover­ty, preg­nan­cy and birth come with a lot of health risks. This is espe­cial­ly true for ado­les­cent preg­nan­cy. A lot of these preg­nant ado­les­cents in the devel­op­ing world are mar­ried, often with­out choos­ing them­selves. One of the con­se­quences is that their edu­ca­tion is cut short.

This day is for all of us. From a past that is shroud­ed in mys­tery, we have come a long way. Let us strive towards a future where every preg­nan­cy is want­ed, every birth is safe, and every young person’s poten­tial is ful­filled.