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The Wonderful World of One Billion
December 10, 2018
by William P. Meyers

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One Billion

One billion sounds like a magic number. That is a product of our human use of a 10s based, or decimal, counting system.

It is also the point, in dollars, where a person becomes that near god-on-earth thing, a billionaire. It is one-thousand times one-million. It is how much Congress can spend on a minor program, or give away with a tax break, without the average person noticing much.

One billion is also about how many people were living on earth as late as about 1800. Between 1804 and 1927 the global population doubled to 2 billion. Today it is estimated at well over 7 billion.

Some things were not wonderful in 1800. There was poverty and war. Racism and patriarchy were so prevalent they seemed natural. There was already some severe environmental impact caused by humans, and greenhouse gas emissions were accelerating along with the Industrial Revolution. Diseases that are easily treated by modern medicine often swept away children and adults.

But in retrospect we can see that environmental destruction was relatively minor in 1800, compared to today. There was no reason in 1800 to think that just 200 years later humans would have pushed the earth to the edge of ecological collapse.

If we set out to do a scientific study of human population and long-term global sustainability, it seems highly likely that one billion people would be ecologically sustainable in the long run. It might be more.

A Future of One Billion People

In a one billion person future everyone can be upper middle class. Everyone can have a nice house, heating and air conditioning, a car, and the usual appliances. First class medical care and education could be available to all.

Consider housing and the current class structure. There is no universal definition of a nice house, or a middle class income, but the OECD estimated in 2010 that 1.8 billion people can be considered middle class. Taking the upper class and the better-off half of the middle class we could have 1 billion people. For most people around the world today a house from the top half of the middle class would probably rate as "nice" if not excessive.

I see no reason that appliances and cars can't go with the nice house.

However, perhaps a billion people living at this level, which would be truly impressive by 1800 standards, would not be sustainable.

I believe improvements in technology have already made this level of wealth sustainable, if there are only a billion people to worry about. In any case the level of wealth could be adjusted as necessary to maintain sustainability.

No new housing would need to be built between now and the time a population of 1 billion is reached. House maintenance and repair would remain a major industry, but as populations shrink people who lived in smaller, less well maintained housing, or less desirable places, would be able to move up to better quarters.

No new houses would mean much smaller industries creating cement (a major source of CO2), steel (another CO2 source), wood, roofing, copper, or other building materials.

Agriculture is a major source of environmental destruction. Farming crops displaces forests and other natural places. Modern agriculture can be very productive on a food per acre (or hectare) basis, but that productivity depends on inputs of fuel, fertilizer, and machinery that also contribute to global warming and pollution.

Feeding one billion people, worldwide, with modern agriculture would be much easier, with very little environmental damage. Acres returned to natural ecosystems would start taking CO2 out of the air, helping us return to a healthy global temperature range.

In a world of one billion people, every child who wants to will be able to go to university. Most toilsome jobs would be mechanized, or people could be highly paid to do work that cannot be mechanized.

Health would benefit without today's air pollution and toxic debris getting into everything.

Birds, bees and butterflies would return. Whales would prosper. All sorts of animals nearing extinction could rebound.

By planning now for a world with one billion people in it, we can start healing both the environment and those who have been damaged by our sometimes brutal system of struggling for resources. The wonderful world of one billion would be a gem of a planet with high standards of living for all humans and plenty of room for the earth's animals and plants

Next: Getting to the Wonderful World of One Billion

United States in Wonderful World [December 28, 2018]

Please share this concept or this essay, but contact me for permission to republish in commercial outlets. Thanks, William Meyers

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