Birthday parties are more fun when they feature a jar full of jelly beans of a certain number that must be guessed. Does it have 50 or 300 or 2,000 jelly beans? Most people are way, way off from the actual number of 253. Visual math has clearly not been vital to the survival of humanity.
Now we are told to visualize 7 billion people, because the planet’s population has reached that milestone. But even one human can hold a lot o’ beans. What’s more, they constantly eat them and procreate more eaters. So now the question becomes: have we filled up earth’s jar? How many more “human beans” can the planet hold before it bursts?
To date, the answer is 7,000,000,000 people and counting. Need some help visualizing that? Imagine a city with 1 million residents (such as Detroit), and multiply that by 7,000. Or take the City of Miami Beach’s population at around 88,000 residents. So the world has the equivalent of 79,500 Miami Beaches.
Still not getting it? I try to imagine 7 billion fires burning at once and lasting for about 65 years each, because each human cooks and drives and lights matches and buys electricity throughout a lifetime. So really we should multiply 7 billion times 24,000, an average number of days a person lives, breathes, and consumes. That number is moving towards unfathomable.
Unfathomable is one way to describe the impact of humans on the planet. Because we can’t see everyone and everything happening around the world, we have trouble appreciating how much pollution we create, even on a daily basis. But there is a new number that we should grasp: 393. That number is shorthand for the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, currently calculated at 393 parts per billion.
Historically that is a very high number, and we have been told that 350 may be a manageable level for humans. Hence, the environmental leader Bill McKibben has organized a global movement called 350.org. Check it out.
We passed the 350 level in 1988, and the addition of greenhouse gases continues to accelerate. That’s a real party pooper. Does anyone know how to play the game “dial back the clock?”