By Samir Shukla
During an early November trip to the Florida Keys, while wading in knee-deep blue water, I gazed at the schools of tiny fish hovering around my legs, quickly swimming away at the slightest movement I made. In the distance I spotted a floppy pelican dive into the water and emerge with a mouth full of fish and salty water. I thought of the billions and billions, maybe trillions, of creatures lurking in the seas and bodies of waters around the globe.
Of course, I’m only talking about those visible to our eyes, forget about the microscopic life forms. It is an unfathomable number.
I waded a little further down the beach toward a clutter of black mangroves and another school of fish swam around my ankles and dispersed like shooting stars when I took a step forward.
The sun warmed my skin and the palm trees swayed in the sweet ocean breeze while I tried to wrap may brain around the potential numbers of swimming and crawling life forms in the water, just within my line of sight. So many creatures, so many life forms. Such a fragile ecosystem.
A speeding boat disturbed the water and left a wake of waves that dissipated into ripples as they approached me. The fish are used to it.
A few days later, after returning to a much cooler Charlotte, I turned the radio dial to the local NPR station and heard that the United Nations had announced the imminent arrival of the eighth billion human to our little blue globe.
It was hailed as the Day of eight billion. Of course, no one knows when that specific child was born exactly, but it was a reasonable calculation using available data and current birth rate trends. It is highly likely that child was born in India.
The Earth’s human population hit eight billion in mid-November 2022. It’s a staggering number that is expected to hit nine billion in about 17 years, give or take. This is within lifetimes of most people reading this. Think about that. Another billion humans will fill this planet before a child born today becomes a legal adult.
So many humans among so many other creatures, many shrinking in numbers while our numbers grow. There is a direct cause and effect.
The scientific consensus is that the human population will peak around 10.7 billion sometime toward the end of this century before it flatlines. Who knows? That is if we don’t wreck our own homes and ecosystems and make large parts of the planet uninhabitable.
Humans are filling in every nook and cranny and uninhabited as well as inhospitable places around the world. Stepping on each other’s toes in massively crowded cities. Living in trees, underground, in tin cans under water, and in tin cans in space.
There are now legitimate plans underway to build underwater cities. We are not too far off from creating habitats in space and the moon, and inevitably, Mars. Exo planets beware.
We are a restless species, always on the move, seeking familial and personal advantages in our movements around our cities, states, regions, the planet. Ever since our ancestors decided to start walking out of Africa, for food, for safety, or possibly, just to see what is out there, constant movement is in our genes.
We are also a cunningly adaptive species, seeking more elbow room while continuing to increase our numbers, subjugating this planet further for our wants and needs.
Mother Nature will on occasion throw us warning shots – massive storms, droughts, floods, pandemics. “Hey, you are not the only species on this planet,” she forewarns. More is on the way. Behave.
We sometimes learn from such motherly advice, make plans and policies for the next storm or pandemic, but as danger and crisis recede, we soon forget.
Here I am on one evening, walking around a crowded room thinking of the curious fish I encountered a couple weeks earlier, swimming in close-knit schools for safety and to help evade predators.
In the meantime, in this crowded event venue, filled with clusters of chatting, laughing, socializing humans, I’m seeking a corner, an empty spot, a break in the crowd, for just a bit more elbow room.