How the Human Population Reached 8 Billion: An Animated Video Covers 300,000 Years of History in Four Minutes

Hav­ing come out less than two weeks ago, the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry video above incor­po­rates up-to-date infor­ma­tion on the num­ber of human beings on plan­et Earth. But what’s inter­est­ing here isn’t so much the cur­rent glob­al-pop­u­la­tion fig­ure (eight bil­lion, inci­den­tal­ly) as how we reached it. That sto­ry emerges through an ani­mat­ed visu­al­iza­tion that com­press­es a peri­od of 300,000 years — with all its migra­tions, its grow­ing and declin­ing empires, its major trade routes, its tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ments, its plagues, and its wars — into about four and a half min­utes.

“Mod­ern humans evolved in Africa about 300,000 years ago,” says the video’s explana­to­ry text. “Around 100,000 years ago, we began migrat­ing around the globe,” a process that shows no signs of stop­ping here in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry.

The same can’t be said for the way our num­bers have increased over the past few hun­dred years, at least accord­ing to the pro­jec­tion that “glob­al pop­u­la­tion will peak this cen­tu­ry” around ten bil­lion, due to “aver­age fer­til­i­ty rates falling in near­ly every coun­try.” For some, this is not entire­ly unwel­come, giv­en that “as our pop­u­la­tion grows, so has our use of Earth­’s resources.”

It’s been a while since the devel­oped world has felt a wide­spread fear of over­pop­u­la­tion, which had a cli­mate change-like pow­er to inspire apoc­a­lyp­tic visions in the nine­teen-sev­en­ties. Nowa­days, we’re more like­ly to hear warn­ings of immi­nent glob­al pop­u­la­tion col­lapse, with low-birthrate coun­tries like South Korea, where I live, held up as cau­tion­ary demo­graph­ic exam­ples. From anoth­er per­spec­tive, the pat­terns of human­i­ty’s expan­sion thus far could also be used to illus­trate calls to explore and col­o­nize oth­er plan­ets, not least to secure our species a path to sur­vival should some­thing go seri­ous­ly wrong here on Earth. How­ev­er our pop­u­la­tion graph changes in the future, we can rest assured that we’ll always think of our­selves as liv­ing at one kind of deci­sive moment or anoth­er.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hans Rosling Uses Ikea Props to Explain World of 7 Bil­lion Peo­ple

How Humans Migrat­ed Across The Globe Over 200,000 Years: An Ani­mat­ed Look

Buck­min­ster Fuller Cre­ates an Ani­mat­ed Visu­al­iza­tion of Human Pop­u­la­tion Growth from 1000 B.C.E. to 1965

Col­or­ful Ani­ma­tion Visu­al­izes 200 Years of Immi­gra­tion to the U.S. (1820-Present)

Who Is the World’s Most Typ­i­cal Per­son?

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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