Recently, the human race achieved a major milestone.
According to the United Nations, the human population of this planet exceeded 8 billion for the first time.
It became official on November 15, 2022. That’s not to say the measure was precise. We are talking about global population here on a chaotic world. The best we can ever do is reasonable, educated guesses. And using that standard and the limited tools available to us, we can confidently determine that we’ve crossed that special 8 billion threshold.
We’ll probably never know who was the 8 billionth human.
We’ll probably never know where they were born, what their circumstances were, or whether they were aware of their importance.
But whoever they are, they got us to that milestone and beyond. What it means for us, as a species, is hard to quantify, even for exceptionally smart people. I don’t consider myself exceptionally smart, but I’m still going to try.
Now, it’s easy for the cynical crowd to see this milestone and say to themselves, “Just what we need. More humans on this overpopulated planet to suck more dwindling resources.” Believe me, I get that mentality. I’ve certainly shared my own growing cynicism from time to time. I think it’s largely a byproduct of getting older and being more aware of just how complicated and messy people can be.
However, as cynical as I often feel at times, I have not completely abandoned hope for humanity or our collective future. I’ve come close a few times. The events of 2020 certainly tested me. But for the moment, that hope is still intact and I think this milestone offers perspective, as well as encouragement.
For one, it definitively shows that, as bad as the COVID-19 pandemic has been these past two years, it hasn’t been apocalyptic. It did disrupt our society, our world, and our lives. But it didn’t send our entire population into a death spiral in the same mold as the plagues of the past. In another time and another era, it might have really hit our species harder, so much so that we might be in far greater danger.
But we endured. We adapted, innovated, and survived. While there are still some who insist on dragging their feet with respect to progress and modern medicine, that hasn’t completely dragged down the whole of humanity. More than anything else, it reveals just how complicated, erratic, and diverse we can be.
It’s easy to focus on the worst of humanity and get lost in the horror. I know I have. Anyone who has picked up a history book probably feels that way, too. But that just makes this milestone all the more impressive. The fact that we’ve lasted as long as we have on this planet and grown our population to this level definitely counts as an accomplishment.
On top of that, much of that growth is actually quite recent. The human species, in their most modern form, is only about 200,000 years old. And for much of that history, our population never exceeded more than a few hundred million. We didn’t cross the billion threshold until around 1800. Just 200 years later, we’ve increased that eightfold. Numerically speaking, that’s incredible growth.
If that weren’t impressive enough, consider one other factor. For the vast majority of human history, women endured the rigors of pregnancy and childbirth without the aid of modern pain killers and medicine. That’s right. We were humping and birthing millions of humans in dirty, unsanitary conditions for centuries on end. If you’re a woman who has given birth, take a moment to think about how our ancestors endured. Also take a moment to consider how many women and children died because of those challenges.
It says a lot about humanity, especially women, that we made it to this point. You need only look at some of the natural disasters this planet is capable of to appreciate what we’ve been up against during our reign on this planet. We managed to survive, thrive, and birth our way towards 8 billion people through it all.
And if you’ve got an exceptionally dirty mind, it might also belabor just how horny the human species can be. Now, I’ll try not to get too explicit.
If I had a truly dirty mind, I could joke about how the orgasm has single-handedly endured the survival of our species.
I could joke about how great sex has to be for women to endure the rigors of pregnancy and childbirth before the advent of modern medicine.
I could joke about how nature’s wrath and constant disasters hasn’t kept people from getting horny, hooking up, and birthing more equally horny humans.
I could even joke about just how much sex we, as a species, had to have in order to get to 8 billion people.
But I’m not going to. I have as dirty mind as any straight guy who writes sexy stories, but not that dirty. Instead, I’d like to offer one simple message to this mass of humanity that we’ve created.
We made it. We’ve succeeded on a planet on which 99 percent of all the species that have ever existed are now extinct. We may not have been on this planet for very long, relatively speaking. But we’ve certainly left our mark, literally and figuratively.
We’ve achieved great things.
We’ve done things no species has ever done before.
We’ve literally made islands within the sea, traveled into space, and reshaped entire landscapes to our whim.
Yes, we have been irresponsible and reckless, at times.
And yes, we still have much to learn. Being a fairly young species, we’re still maturing. We’re still charting our own path. We will encounter more obstacles. We’ll also endure plenty of setbacks, some of which will leave future generations distraught and distressed.
But we are still in position to achieve so much more. We may very well be capable of succeeding in ways no previous species on this planet has ever succeeded. We may take control of our own evolution, transcend the limits of biology, and build greater wonders than we can possibly imagine.
Those reading this may not live to see it, but you will still have played a role in helping this vast species we call humanity succeed. That’s something to be proud of. But it should also grant us perspective.
We are still very vulnerable to so many dangers, some of which we create ourselves and some of which are inherent to the universe we live in. But let’s not shy away from these dangers or the challenges they bring. Let’s also not dwell incessantly on the morbid past, but let’s not forget it either.
Every individual is so complex in their own sense of being. Add 8 billion of those individuals to the mix and the complexities become exponentially greater.
But through it all, we’re still here. We still made it this far.
There’s so much more ahead of us. Let’s make our way towards it. While one human alone can only ever achieve so much. The possibilities for 8 billion humans and counting promises to be so much greater.