How many people have lived on planet Earth?
Researchers estimate how many people have ever lived and died to give us a unique perspective on our place in the world's history.
It's easy to think that our lifetime and the world around us is unique and definitive. But thinking about how many people have ever lived on this planet can add some perspective to our instinctive self-centeredness. And it's not only a matter of how many people lived before we appeared, but how many have died.
So what's the answer? According to estimates by demographic researchers at the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), as of 2015, there have been 108.2 billion who have ever been born. Taking away the roughly 7.4 billion who are alive today, we get 100.8 billion who have died before us.
There are almost 14x more people dead than alive! That would make for one massive army of zombies, ghosts and White Walkers. Or, if you prefer to be more optimistic, you can think that the living are about 6.8% percent of everyone who'd ever lived. For the sake of simplicity (and to take into account the people born in the past year), lets round up the percentage to 7. We are the 7%. Let's make the most of it!
How do the researchers come up with these estimates? The starting point that the Population Reference Bureau takes for the beginning of what it considers human history is 50,000 BC, when the modern Homo Sapiens appeared. This date in itself is debatable as early hominids walked the earth millions of years ago. The date of 50,000 BC is taken from the United Nations Determinants and Consequences of Population Trends.
Coming up with how many people were born after that is certainly based on informed speculation. Plagued by low life expectancy (up to 10 years during the Iron Age) thanks to lack of medicine, food supply issues, climate changes, killing each other and other problems, human population grew at a slow rate. Early infant mortality was as high as 500 infant deaths per 1,000 births or higher.
Here's a chart from PBR estimating how population expanded (at least until 2011).
Interestingly, you can see how the rate of growth was lower from 1AD until 1650 AD, mainly due to such events as the outbreak of the plague, known as Black Death. You can also see the great population expansion from about the time of the Industrial Revolution to our current day. From 1850 till now, the planet's living population increased by about 6 times!
Certainly, some of these numbers are to be argued. The researchers made guesstimates on the birth rates and set a constant rate of population growth, which surely fluctuated. Still, this estimate gives us a useful perspective on our place in the life of our planet.
Here's Carl Haub from PRB talking about his methodology:
Giving our solar system a "slap in the face"
- A stream of galactic debris is hurtling at us, pulling dark matter along with it
- It's traveling so quickly it's been described as a hurricane of dark matter
- Scientists are excited to set their particle detectors at the onslffaught
Bernardo Kastrup proposes a new ontology he calls “idealism” built on panpsychism, the idea that everything in the universe contains consciousness. He solves problems with this philosophy by adding a new suggestion: The universal mind has dissociative identity disorder.
There’s a reason they call it the “hard problem.” Consciousness: Where is it? What is it? No one single perspective seems to be able to answer all the questions we have about consciousness. Now Bernardo Kastrup thinks he’s found one. He calls his ontology idealism, and according to idealism, all of us and all we perceive are manifestations of something very much like a cosmic-scale dissociative identity disorder (DID). He suggests there’s an all-encompassing universe-wide consciousness, it has multiple personalities, and we’re them.
Firefighters in California are still struggling to contain several wildfires nearly one week after they broke out.
- Hundreds of people are still missing after three wildfires spread across Northern and Southern California last week.
- 48 of the 50 deaths occurred after the Camp Fire blazed through the town of Paradise, north of Sacramento.
- On Tuesday night, a fourth wildfire broke out, though it's mostly contained.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.