Wednesday, July 1, 2015

That Makes No Sense

Over the years there have been many statements that just made no sense when I heard them and many of them have simply been accepted at face value by others because they either sound like they should be correct or they’ve been repeated so often by enough people that it must be true. I’ve certainly fallen for both on more than one occasion. It’s easy when I know enough but the underlying technology or have other experiences that a statement just doesn’t ring true. While I can site many examples, I think the following is one that everyone has enough background to appreciate.

We’ll start with a statement that I’ve heard many times, and certainly you have too, that one day made me stop and say to myself, “that makes no sense”.

“The world is overcrowded”.

Now I’ve flown over much of the USA and some of Europe to know that most of what I see is farms, fields and forests.  Some big cities, some not so big, but mostly it’s pretty empty. So I had my opinion, but I wanted to calculate something based on known facts that would help me grasp exactly how crowded the planet really is. So I decided on the following calculation.

“If God decided to start over and bury all living human beings in their own 3 foot by 8 foot casket buried next to each other, how much space would it take”.

Now that might be an odd, maybe even a gross, thing to calculate, but it’s easy to grasp and to calculate. Each human would need 24 square feet of land and we know reasonably closely how many people in the world there are. So I did the simple equations, obtained the number of square miles it would take and then found a land mass that I would recognize that’s about the same size. The answer is:

“The state of Hawai’I”.

That answer was so startling I must have missed some zeroes somewhere. So I did them again.  Same answer. No way. Again. Same answer. After racking my brain to figure out where I went wrong, I came to the realization that the calculations were indeed correct. Everybody, in their own casket, fits in Hawai’I and the rest of the world is void of humans.

I’ve told this story to several people and their reaction has always been that I’m wrong. Way wrong, just like I did. You’re probably thinking I’m wrong also. Here’s the math. Tell me my error.

  • A square mile is 5,280 feet times 5,280 feet. That’s 27,878,400 square feet.
  • Each person needs 24 square feet. Divide that into 27,878,400. That’s 1,161,600 people per square mile.
  • There are about 7.3 billion people living on the planet. Divide that by 1,161,600 and that’s 6,284 square miles.
  • Hawai’i, the fourth smallest state and just a dot on the map, has 6,459 square miles. Only Rhode Island, Delaware and Connecticut are too small.

In case you’re wondering, the Earth has about 57,510,000 square miles of land, albeit some of it much prettier and habitable than others. So if we all spread out evenly, that’s about 127 people per square mile, or just over 5 acres per person.  

The point of all the above is to have you challenge these kinds of statements, gather some data, do a few calculations and decide for yourself what you believe. Personally I now don’t think the world is overcrowded. Parts of it are, but a lot of that seems to be by choice, not necessity.

“All those people really don’t have to live in New York City, do they?”