Are there are more people alive today than have ever lived? Earth’s population reached seven billion in October. We need to figure out how that compares with the number of people who have lived before us. The problem is, how do you figure out how many people have ever lived, and where do you start?

The normal starting point is when Homo sapiens first walked the earth, about 50,000 years ago, so you have a starting point and an end figure, but it’s the time in between that’s the problem. In BBC News, Wesley Stephenson quotes demographer Wendy Baldwin as saying, "For 99% of that time there is no data.
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The population of the United States is now over 300 million. Can we sustain a rate of growth like this?

Economically, no: Andrew Buncombe writes in the Independent that “the average US citizen uses far more than his or her fair share of the planet’s resources?consuming more than four times the worldwide average of energy, almost three times as much water and producing more than twice the average amount of rubbish and five times the amount of carbon dioxide, a major contributor to global warming.” We have to hope that rapidly developing countries like China and India don’t follow our example.

Even at 300 million, we have only 5% of the world’s population, yet, according to Buncombe, we use “23% of its energy, 15% of its meat and 28% of its paper.”
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People around the world are having fewer children and living longer. The U.S., Europe and even large parts of the developing world are becoming aging societies without enough social services.

In many countries the old are neglected and abused, even if they?re still productive, and many don?t have enough health insurance or pension money to live decently, according to a United Nations report to the Second World Assembly on Aging. “In Africa, when an old man dies, a library disappears,” says UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. “Without the knowledge and wisdom of the old, the young would never know where they come from or where they belong.”
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