Seven billion souls in an ark in space

People fascinate me. Not in a Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa kind of way, but rather in the same manner in which populations attracted the attention of Thomas Robert Malthus. I like numbers. It keeps me occupied. And when there is a living, breathing, human being who is the potential repository for the spirit of the ages at the business end of such numbers, it's the maraschino on my café mocha.
Which is why some recent statistics in relation to Homo sapiens had me absorbed and interested. These bits of trivia were associated with the arresting reality that the number of people on the planet would soon total seven billion. Soon, as in tomorrow - October 31st; that's the projection.

The itty-bitty facts dished out by demographic experts is arresting in at least two ways. One, that it is a high multiple of a mystical, magical number: for seven features high in many religions' numerological symbolism. Two, that it's the largest number of people to date to be known to be alive in one place at one time. (Although, with the explosion in the discovery of exo-planets with earth-like conditions in our galactic near-neighbourhood, one waits with bated breath for the unprecedented news that we are not alone in the universe…)

But back to the res. Seven billion souls on a big blue marble somewhere out here in a non-descript arm of the Milky Way. Almost 20 per cent of who live in China. While 33 per cent of people on the planet are not so nominal in their professed faith as one might think (any guesses which belief system I'm on about?), who assume that human history is headed towards a destiny best described in terms of "the late great planet earth".

Also consider these facts while you put up your slippered feet and sip your Sunday cuppa. Men appear to be the better half… at present, at least - accounting for 50.4% of the total population. Urbanites also weigh in halfway along the scale, with 50.5% of everyone alive today living in a city or town… Although, on closer inspection, 'living' may be a description that's used in its loosest sense - You only have to take a stroll through a slum or shanty or 'watta' in our own increasingly beautiful metropolis (another term used lightly, tongue slightly in cheek) to get an idea of what a miserable and pathetic existence too many people for comfort are compelled to lead.

There is also an Internet-related mention in the statistics most recently released which boggles the mind… the at-first-glance counterintuitive truth that almost three-quarters of the world's population does not have access to the World Wide Web. A misnomer, then? Perhaps it would be better described as the Europe, North America, and (geeky nerdy parts of) East Asia Web. Somehow, "the ENA(gnpo)EA" doesn't have the same ring to it as "WWW", no?

Be that as it may, let us pause to consider a less trivial triad of facts-in-figures - if only for our spiritual growth and all-round wellbeing. Did you know that one in three people the world over lacks access to hygienic toilet facilities? Do you care that one in three people alive today lives in a slum or shanty-town? What is it to you and that one in eight men, women, or children is undernourished (looking forward to a gargantuan lunch or brunch, dears?)?

Sadly for us, and the rest of the human race, we may be more absorbed in the numerical trivia that is published with aplomb in the popular press. Such as the remarkable fact that the growth of the human population from six billion to seven billion took a mere 13 years. Or the strangely reassuring though no less ironic reality that the leap from seven to eight and eight to nine billion will take 14 and 18 years, respectively. The realization that the human population did not reach seven figures (1,000,000,000) until as late as 1804. That China and India combined accounts for 2.5 billion souls - and counting. These, and other useless bits and pieces; like the fact that the 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6-billion marks were all reached in the 1900s.

Yes, dears, we all like people - but at arm's length. Which is probably why we've put off our own population census (did someone say, 'taken leave of our senses'?). We cannot bear too much reality, especially if it is the truth about other people's suffering that we need to hear about. Such knowledge is not good for governments and good folks like us alike. Who knows what might be expected of us in terms of our hungry, thirsty, ill-clothed, sick, tired, naked, imprisoned fellow human beings in our neighbourhood, community, or society? We'd much rather skim through arresting trivia like the numbers above - and then turn the page…

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