While most of humanity celebrated the advent of the third millennium, very few co-habitants of this privileged blue planet realized that world population had doubled twice since almost the same date one hundred years back. At the begining of the 1900’s, world population was of 1,6 billion human beings, but that ammount rose, despite two world wars and the crack of 1929, to numbers rounding the 3 billion in 1960. By the end of the 20th century, there already were 6 billion of us living in this planet. Recent projections expect this number to increase by another billion by the begining of 2013, which would mean that us living in this world have come to a grand total of 7 billion human beings. According to our research, the next table shows how world population has grown in the last 500 years:
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It isn’t hard to imagine the effect of the 4,4 billion of human beings that were added to the 1,6 billion that already lived in this planet, during the 20th century. Is even more dramatic to observe that world population has multiplied itself by 10 since the begining of the 18th century to the end of the 20th, reaching the mark of 6 billion from an initial 600 million. This means that in 2000 the world had to be able to feed, dress, provide sanitary assistance, lodging, transportation, to employ and remunerate 10 times more people than at the begining of the 1700’s. On the other hand, there was now need of ten times more fertile soils and grazing land than 300 years before, at least in theory, because given the development of agricultural activities and the practice of scientific harvesting, the ammount of land needed was significantly reduced. Another interesting point is that 3 billion of the current world population arrived into this world in the last four decades of the past century. It only took 40 years, less than two generation’s time, to add to this world the same ammount of people the previous 40.000 years had, since the appearance of our direct ancestor, the Homo Sapiens Sapiens in Europe. The term “mass society” appeared in the 19th century. People started migrating from rural areas and began to settle in the existing cities that quickly became mega-cities. Very often this cities weren’t prepared to receive the enormous ammounts of people coming from less developed settlements, let alone being able to augment their population density at such a high pace, therefore, this cities grew in an anarchic manner that favoured the appearance of new problems, inherent to overcrowded cities with populations as large as 10, 15, 20 or even 30 million people.There aren’t any records of such a high population growth rate as that of the 20th century, unparalleled to any other period of time in at least the last thousand years, when you would never be able to find anything similar to the quadruplication, world population experimented since 1900 to the beginings of the 21st century. As the table above shows, such rate is completely abnormal if compared to other times in history. This demographic widening occurred due to the convergence of the effects of several external agents that have been sustained over a certain period of time. If we accept these premises, we may just be speaking about something that our work has given the name of a bubble, the bubble of population. According to our hypothesis, all four bubbles form a system; therefore none of them is independent of the rest.
What were the factors that made this demographic qualitative leap possible?
There were several different reasons for this demographic leap, the most important being the industrial revolution, the agrarian revolution in the US and the advances in medicine. Regarding the latter, very few people stop to think how life was before the invention of vaccines, antibiotics, among other discoveries in the field of medicine. Bacteria, for exmaple, was only discovered in 1861, when Lois Pasteur began to experiment with fermentation, giving birth to Bacteriology, which didn’t take long before starting to provide humanity with remarkable benefits. Before Pasteur’s discovery, it was a lot more likely to die of any unremarkable infection or any other common illness than to die an old person. Before the 20th century it was very common for a woman to give birth to 7 or 8 children, to be able to see only 1 or 2 of them live an adult life.
The case of tuberculosis, the disease that has taken the most lives in history, deserves a special mention. Hippocrates spoked in his time of Phitysis, that later derived in Tisis, the most common illness at the time. Galen of Pergamon described it as “the ulceration of lungs, thorax or throat also presenting constant coughing, fever and the spreading of pus throughout the body”. The first case of tuberculosis dates from the year 5000 b.c. During the 17th and 18th century 25 of every 100 men die because of “the white plague”. On March 24th 1882 humanity receives fantastic news: Robert Koch announces the discovery of the bacterium that produces tuberculosis, Koch bacillus or Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In 1890, Koch announces the discovery of tuberculin, a very important breakthrough that allowed the diagnosis of the disease. In 1921, Albert Calmette and Camille Gúerin, showing incredible patience and dedication, worked on a strain that they sub-cultivated every three weeks for 13 years. 231 passes later, they obtained the outstanding result BCG, the vaccine for tuberculosis, turned out to be. In January of 1944, the third big step in the battle against tuberculosis takes place: the microbiologist Selman Abraham Waksman isolates streptomycin, an antibiotic that proves to be very effective against tuberculosis. Waksman actually is the man that started using the term “antibiotics”. In 1981 the unimaginable occurs: a terrible new illness appears: AIDS, which main characteristic is to weaken or completely nulify the immune system of those infected by the virus, leaving them totally defenseless. This provides the perfect enviroment for the re-spawning of infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, that almost certainly would be eradicated otherwise. This isn’t the only consequence, as it makes treating such diseases harder too.
The era of vaccination began in the second half of the 19th century. In less than 120 years more than 24 vaccines were discovered, one every 5 years. Between 1879 and 1899 vaccines against anthrax, rabies, tetanus, diphteria and pest were discovered. Then, in the firs half of the 20th century, immunization against pertussis, yellow fever, tuberculosis and influenza were discovered. Then in the second half, the vaccines for polio, Japanese encephalitis, measles, rubella, mumps, chickenpox, pnuemonia, meningitis, hepatitis A and B, lyme disease and haemophilus influenzae. Back in 1796, Edward Jenner’s magnificent experiment with cowpox lymph took place, a fascinating story which roots date from ancient China and India, 2500 years ago.
In the decade of the 1940’s, Flemming isolates the key substance in bacterial inhibition, calling it Penicillin, a substance that proves to be highly succesful against ancient diseases such as pnuemonia, syphilis and other STD’s as well as diphteria, recurrent fever and many other syndromes of bacterial origin. This stage can be considered as the begining of the era of antibiotics.
We must also mention the building of hospitals, advances in anesthesia, the improvement of hygene during labour, X-rays, information and prophylaxis, pharmacopoeia, the begining of new specializations, new surgery and traumatology techniques, psychoanalysis, sophisticated diagnosis and treatment equipments, vitamins, the discovery of DNA, preventive medicine, the anti-epidemiological fight, the mother cell techniques and other important breakthroughs in medicine.
All these factors played a very important role in the extending of the life expectation for hundreds of million people around the world. Each of these factors has helped prevent early deaths, increasing population worldwide. Humanity assists to the colossal revolution in the world of medicine that has defeated diseases that have threatened mankind since the begining of times, causing a serious decrease of the mortality levels but also contributing to the birth of the bubble of population.
All of these improvements mean good news to us humans but not so much to other species as we are their fiercest predator. If the bubble of population continues to grow, it will be at their expense and at the planet’s expense as well. The planet that has spent millions of years knitting this marvelous carpet we call biosphere, a system formed by the grouping of living creatures and the enviroment that surrounds them, space that holds the development of life in this loving planet, but that we are so committed to destroy.
Sandor Alejandro Gerendas-Kiss
Translation Alvaro Arconada