I’m the 4,364,485,758th person. Who the hell are you?

Im the 4,364,485,758th person. Its official.

Well according to the BBC that is.

You’ve got to love those people at the Beeb. With news that the world’s population is about to hit 7 billion in the next few weeks (that’s right, 7 billion !!) the BBC have decided to illustrate that fact with one of their funky little graphics pages.

It calculates (from your date of birth) what number person you are in the worlds population history. Click here if you’d like a go.

So, having been born in 1979, I’m the 4, 364, 485, 758th person who has ever lived.

Population Issues

Or so I thought because if you go to the UN’s ‘7 Billion & Me’ website then you find out that the BBC’s figure is actually ‘alive at that moment’. In fact in the entire history of the world, as far back as the first Homo sapiens, 78,903,730,288 people were born before me. So actually I’m the 78,903,730,289th person who have ever ever lived. Give or take a few.

Scarily though if you delve a bit deeper into the UN’s ‘7 & Billion & Me’ website the data gets a whole lot scarier

In 1979; 4,364,476,959 people were alive

Since June 1979 (to today, October 2011) another 4,311,748,285 have been born. That’s almost as many as existed 32 years ago meaning the worlds population has nearly doubled in three decades!

And since 1979 a grand total of 1,677,049,073 have died, meaning, as a result, the population today is 6,999,176,171 people and rising fast.

What strikes me about those figures is the issues that come attached. The population growth isn’t occuring in the ‘old / developed’ world, thats well chronicled as slowing down to stagnent growth levels, but rather the ‘new / developing’ world.

But then again that assumption is not quite a straight forward as is may seem. Take a moment to have a look at the population growth map I made in Google Public Data Explorer.

The worlds highest growth rate is in Qater, of all places, with a 44% rise. But now look at those countries we associate with having large populations and most of them are experiencing real slow downs in their growth. Russia’s has almost become negilable whilst China’s is only 0.5% whilst the USA is 0.9%  (even though thats still alot of people). Only India keeps some degree of growth with 1.3%.

Regionally the strongest growth rates are in those countries termed ‘developing’ but who perhaps do not yet have fully developing economies like China, Brazil, South Africa or India’s do (countries who already have gone through significant population growths). Unsurprisingly the African and Asian sub-continents dominate the current figures.

Of course data in this way can be misleading. Look around the map and you will notice that many of the countries with high growth rates are pretty small in terms of size and population. What is a concern though is what all this represents. Population growth represents a world with increasingly better living and social conditions. Admittingly most of the world’s conditions are extremely poor by European/American Western standards but they are still better than 100 years ago. Better quality medical care and food provision means most countries have a positive reduction in the number of childhood deaths and the life expectancy has proportionately increased.

So in a nutshell the global population is growing because more people are living into adulthood and then living proportionately longer lives.

But this in turn is causing a whole host of interconnected problems that we, as a global population and economy, are struggling to face up to, accept and deal with.

The Race to Control Finite Resources

The BBC resource this blog post started with gives a scary piece of information – ‘the UN estimates that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us.’

Think thats scary, then try this quote for the Guardian newspaper in 2005 ‘the human race is living beyond its means. A report backed by 1,360 scientists from 95 countries – some of them world leaders in their fields – today warns that the almost two-thirds of the natural machinery that supports life on Earth is being degraded by human pressure.’

So who can we, the average man or woman in the street, turn to for help? Government? The State? Big Corporations? Community Groups? Charities?

Its a tough question and one that every country in the world is having to battle with.

Ask an average cross-section of people on the street why the USA and Britain are in Iraq or why the USA and Europe believed intervention in Libya was necessary, and the majority response will probably raise two issues; regime change and oil.

The two are of course mutally connected. In a world where the population is growing and consuming and much needed natural resources are finite, then control over those areas with an abundance of resources becomes vital in the eyes of societies and governments. That is what has been happening in terms of Western foreign policy for a number of years; control the resources and you control their supply. Control the regime and you guarentee the resource flow.

A few years ago Blair and Bush were happy to deal with Gadaffi and welcome him back into the international community because Libya controls 2% of world oil supplies. Its potential gas reserves are even higher.

Fast forward a decade and Libya has an increasingly paranoid, violent and intolerant regime, rising youth unemployment, brutality and the Arab Spring revolutions on its doorstep. The result is civil war with the uprising being backed by western regimes. Why? Well perhaps the answer is more apparent now the conflict is over and the scramble begins to service Libya’s oil and gas.

Traditionally Italy and Italian businesses, as the ex-colonial power in Libya, have serviced the Libyan economy. Now both Britain and France are seeking to replace her as reward for their involvement in the ‘liberation’.Thus there is an economic reward for intervention.

This scramble to secure both the business contracts to service the resources and the actual flow of supply into your home markets is not unexpected. Much the same happened after the invasion of Iraq. French contracts, as Iraq’s former colonial master, were thrown out and American and British contracts brought in.

For any nation state the need to have control over the resources you require is crucial. What is alarming is that in an increasingly globalised world, the bigger developed nation states (who are thus the bigger consumers per head of resources because their economies have developed consumerism) are increasingly looking to directly control the resources. That means conflict and intervention, in one form or another.

Resource conflict is the future. How far it is unavoidable is debatable. What is certain is that a finite amount of natural resources in a world where consumption, be it developed world consumerism or developing world industrialisation, is on the rise, then conflict is just around the corner. For whoever controls the resources has real global power.

Currently conflict centres around energy resources. Oil and the desire to control its supply has been well documented, yet the resource that is more fascinating and more likely to cause future unrest is gas. In 2009 Russia turned its gas supply to the Ukraine off over a political dispute. The result was a week of gas shortages in the European markets. This sort of reliance results in a massive amount of political power for a major supplier like Russia. And thats only going to increase now that Chinese industrialisation is gathering even more pace and her demand for resources further increases.

Traditionally the UN has highlighted water and its access the next major source of resource conflict. Most of the world population does not live close to major water resources yet it is a basic requirement for life, food production and manufacturing processes.

In fact the political and diplomatic power that comes from being a major supplier, be it resources or manufacture or agriculture, is reshaping the world whether we like it or not. In 1992 demands began for reform of the UN Security Council. With only 5 permanent members (UK, USA, Russia, France and China), all of whom have the power of veto, it no longer represents where economic and diplomatic power sits in the world today, with the likes of India, Brazil, Germany, Japan and South Africa all, quite rightly, demanding a greater seat at the international table.

Ultimately then resources are becoming the central issue for any nations foreign policy agenda. In the west the need persists to control resources, directly or indirectly, through a variety of mechanisms (I’ll talk about globalisation and neo-colonialism another time) to maintain living standards and capitalist/consumerist societies that have to expand to survive. In the south and east the demand is rising as nations there either emerge from or embark on industrialisation and modernisation. Increasingly the major powers in these regions are becoming significant players on the world stage, whose voice the west are having to hear.

But back in the western world, society is not necessarily looking that rosey.

Who pays for your old age?

Lets take me as an example. I’m 32, male and living in the UK. By the BBC’s estimates I have an average life expectancy of 77.4 years (not quite as good as a man in Japan’s but a whole lot better than anyone in Africa). I have a full time professional job in the Education sector earning sound money. I have a public sector final salary pension scheme that was compulsory to take out when I started my career in 2002 (but don’t even get me started on the Government and current debates over public sector pensions!). In theory I should be able to retire after 40 years of service on a final salary scheme that pays me a lump sum and a yearly pension of 2/3rds of my final salary. In theory (having to use that word alot here) I should be able to retire with a full pension in 2042, aged 63. I could, like a lot of my older colleagues are currently doing, accept a reduction in my pension and go earlier.

Worryingly though, according to the BBC, by the time I retire in 2050 (which even more worringly means I would be 71 !) there will only be a ratio of 2 working people to non-working to support me in my old age. I’ve called them Dave and Andrea and frankly they better work their arses of because I wish to retire in the comfort I’ve become accustomed to. Of course in the UK we have a state retirement pension. A woman can retire and claim it aged 60 and a man aged 65. The current goverment are proposing to put these ages up though, with both sexes needing to be 65 to claim it. From December 2018 the State Pension age for both men and women will start to increase to reach 66 in 2020.

I’ve just done my pension forecast calculation and, worringly, the BBC weren’t far wrong. It tells me I will be entitled to my state pension of £105 (its currently £97 per week, so thats not really keeping up with inflation is it) in 2048, when I will be aged 69. So clearly the pension profiler knows something that the Government is failing to mention; retirement age will continue going upwards after 2020.

As a teacher thats both worrying and hopeful in equal measures as, currently, the average life expectancy for a teacher post retirement is 2 years! So raising my retirement age does at least increase my life expectancy. Does make me think though that paying into both the state and public sector pension schemes may not turn out to be very beneficial to me.

But then me is not the crux of society is it.

It is society that is struggling with these issues. Now I have to hold my hand up and say I’m not totally against these sort of retirement proposals. Healthcare has improved and we are living longer. Thats a simple fact. And as we live longer we will need more income to see us through. Ultimately it should be our, not the States, problem to provide for old age. Ideally the State should aid and help, especially those poorer and more vunerable sections of society.

I believe passionately in the British Welfare State, it is to my mind one of the greatest models of social development seen. But it is hugely expensive. Its a well known fact that the NHS needs yearly funding increases above the rate of inflation, just to stand still. And of course we increasingly place more demands on the service, thus creating more costs. As Frank Dobson summed it up when he became Health Minister in 1997 ‘Its all about dosh, dosh, dosh’.

So retirement costs are understandably something the government is worried about. Personally I can’t imagine a world in which I just retire, stop, sit and wait. My form of working, as long as I’m compus mentus, doesn’t necessarily have an age restriction. But if you do a manual labour job or a job requiring physical exertion, then how are you going to keep going until you are in your mid-60’s? And who really wants a 70 year old teaching their children? Is a 70 year old really going to relate to kids?

Thats not the only problem with the current proposals. At the moment, in the UK, unemployment has cleared 2.5 million, with over 1 million of these being young people aged 16-24. In fact this figure is, in real terms, worse as a significant number of young people who cannot find full time employment are taking part time jobs to try and fill the gap. They have been termed ‘the bad luck’ generation, with some estimates suggesting that 50% of young people globally are unemployed and facing bleak life prospects. Its no wonder we have seen a year of demonstrations and riots across the globe.

The future is looking extremely bleak indeed for you and me, not just the younger generation.

Just consider the issues. Currently the working population pay, through national insurance and so forth), for the non-working population (young, old, unemployed, sick). With people living longer and the younger generation struggling to find work the ratio worsens. More people are older or unemployed whilst the working population is shrinking at a time of global recession and manufacturing job movement into cheaper, developing economies.

You don’t have to be the world’s greatest mathematician to work out the issues there.

Add to that we are now living in a resource finite world. We can all see that by the fact its getting more and more expensive to live. Petrol and energy prices have increased dramatically along with the costs of almost every other essential service. Food costs are creeping upwards.Whether we like it or not, resource conflict is having a direct impact on our costs and standards of living and will increasingly do so in the future.

But there are problems of our own, social making.

Housing rents are massively up, with the current overall national average rental for a 3 bedroom house standing at a wopping £1430 p.m. Yet most of my generation and below are stuck in a property trap; the massive property price rises of the last decade have now put house ownership out of the reach of the majority of people. Lenders are not reacting to the issue and some are barely lending. The old 3.5 multiple of salary borrowing criteria still applies. Yet we continue to pay rents that would equate to mortgages 4 or 5 times the size of our salaries.

Yet its not in the current home owning generations interests (and by that I mean the 40-retired age bracket) to see prices go down because too much capital and ‘profit’ is tied up in their homes.

Yet who are going to be the home buyers of the future if the current generation cannot afford the prices and the younger generation coming through are blighted by unemployment, poor job prospects and if they were some of the ‘luckier few’ the burden of education fees debts? Who is going to buy the houses of the future and how many of the younger generation are, realistically, going to be able to afford them?

Surely its a calamity waiting to happen? Any capitalist free market system requires a flow of capital (money) and product (in this case houses). To stimulate that you need new buyers entering the market…

The outcomes of these problems are not going to be good for society as a whole.

The LIbetarian Alliance Think Tank believes that in the next 50 years we will see the further withdrawal of the state from welfare services and its replacement by private provision.

This has already happened in education with the introduction of increased Higher Education fees and the withdrawl of the Educational Maintainence Allowance for low income family 16-19 year olds. At a time when youth unemployment is rising to all time highs, overall education funding is being cut by 25% and these reductions are the biggest seen for 50 years. The government has clearly signalled its belief that society, sorry the Big Society, should shoulder a far greater burden for costs than before.

In healthcare, Andrew Lansley’s proposed NHS reforms are hugely controversial but do clearly show the current conservative government’s desire to withdraw the State from sole healtcare provision (if you can read it and understand the proposals that is! The Telegraph had a go but not with much success. The FT has a nice explanation of the issues associated).

Of course reduced Welfare funding by the State has been off set by a reduction in taxation. Hasn’t it? Hmm, maybe not….

…Well at least we are seeing more real terms pounds in our pay packets to help pay for it all. Aren’t we?

I don’t know about you but currently one third of my salary is deducted before it comes to me (for N.I. contributions, tax and pension). From this year the N.I. percentage goes up, the 40% tax threshold (the point at which you start paying tax on earnings above that magic figure) has already been reduced and they are suggesting that pensions contributions should go up to 8-10% of salary.

By my reckoning, add in the tax I pay on fuel, goods, services and so forth (including many stealth taxes brought in by the previous labour government) then around half of my pay packet, at least, is going direct to the government in one form or another.

Thats a lot of money isn’t it. And do we have a society to be proud of resulting from it?

I’ll leave that question with you……


One response to “I’m the 4,364,485,758th person. Who the hell are you?

  1. It’s a great article! Nicely done – captivating subject.

    I didn’t have time to read all of it. ‘Saved’ it for later.

    (note: spelling error – it’s Qatar – not Qater) “The worlds highest growth rate is in Qater, of all places, with a 44% rise. But now look at those countries…”

    Professional courtesy and all that.

    Regards, JBS

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