Thomas Klutznick '61, Chair, Oberlin Board of Trustees
in the fall of 1999, probably early in October according
to the best guess of demographers, the 6 billionth living
human was born. Statistically speaking, the person who holds
this ultimate Guinness Book of World Records distinction
was most likely the son of a farm worker in India with two
siblings and a life expectancy of 62.3 years. Given this
historic and momentous event, the subject of population
seems a logical place to begin.
Consider the following:
20th century has witnessed an unprecedented population
explosion. It took all of prehistory and most of history
for the human race to reach the 1 billion mark, which
occurred about the year 1800. Since then the billions
have come faster and faster: 2 billion in 1930, 3 in 1960,
4 in 1975, 5 in 1987, and now 6 billion.
of the planet's carrying capacity are between 7.7 billion
and 12 billion persons--a range we will enter sometime
in the next 50 years.
where will these people live?
about half of all the people on Earth live in urban areas,
and this figure will increase as millions upon millions
continue to be drawn to cities like moths to flame. Today
41 cities around the globe have populations of 5 million
persons or more. By 2015 this number will increase to 64
cities, only 11 of which will be in the industrialized world.
with regard to population, since 1950 the number of human
beings has more than doubled, and in the developing world
the average life expectancy has increased by more than 50
percent--from 40 years to 63 years. So there are more of
us, and many of us are living longer, which only intensifies
the pressures on the planet's resources--my next subject.
each year an additional 80 million people draw on Earth's
resources, we finally are beginning to push up against some
limits. One example is water, which is suddenly becoming
known by another name: blue gold.
use more than half of all accessible renewable fresh water,
and this is expected to increase to 70 percent in the next
25 years. Today nearly one-third of the Earth's population
lives in countries where water supplies are stressed. In
India alone, for instance, some 8 million wells have been
sunk to irrigate fields where double-cropping is used to
increase food production.
other things you should be aware of regarding water:
fresh water equals less than one-half of 1 percent of
all the water on Earth. The remainder is sea water or
planet's supply of fresh water is renewable through rainfall
at a rate of some 40,000 cubic kilometers a year. This
is a phenomenal amount of water, but our usage is equally
phenomenal. The absolute minimum a human being needs for
domestic use is estimated at 1.5 gallons a day; a more
realistic figure is five gallons. In the developed world,
per-capita usage approaches 30 gallons daily, and when
industry is added this jumps to 130 gallons.
the United States, the High Plains Ogallala aquifer,
which stretches 1,300 miles from Texas to South Dakota,
is being depleted eight times faster than nature can
replenish it. The story is similar elsewhere in the
world. In Africa, the aquifers barely recharge at all.
The water table under Beijing, China, has dropped 121
feet in the past 40 years. The land under both Mexico
City and Bangkok actually has sunk because of overpumping.
more than 5 million people, mostly children, die each
year from drinking contaminated water.
life-sustaining resource, of course, is energy. Despite
dire predictions a few years ago that we would exhaust
our proven oil reserves by 1990, there seems to be an
abundant supply for as far into the future as we can peer.
But energy consumption patterns underscore the glaring
disparity between the world's haves and have-nots.
United States, with 4 percent of the world's population,
consumes 25 percent of the world's oil. Together, the
U.S. and Canada use about twice as much energy per capita
as Europeans, ten times more than Asians and 20 times
more than Africans.
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