The U.N. marks today as the date when the Earth is weighed down with 7 billion humans. There’s some error bars in this, so it could be off my tens of millions at this instant, but I’m still looking at the globe and considering it to be officially over burdened. I recognize that I’m part of the problem, and, in fact, I’m taking up more than my fair share of resources as an affluent American who drove to work to type on this computer and eat leftover, microwaved cheese ravioli for lunch.
The BBC was helpful enough to allow us each to calculate our approximate number — where we are on the list from 0 to 7 billion, from oldest to youngest, in the current class roll. According to my birthdate, I’m in the 5 billion-ish part of the long line of living folks who’ve lined up to be born in the last 100-ish years. More interesting to me was the other piece of data that the calculator spit out: your individual number for total people ever born on earth. For this total human odometer, I’m 78,057,730,981. That is, as we continue to be born and be dead, my contribution of total human impact is something that’s just a little more than one in one hundred billion.
If we want to keep score, the question then becomes whether or not your one human’s worth of contribution made everything better or worse. In the last few days I’ve been making mental notes of things that score in or against my favor:
- I hosted a workshop for 70 preschool teachers, which I’d hope will help a little bit in the education of their respective future citizens. Score: +1
- I use a variety of resources to host workshops, including a wide variety of lubricants in soap bubble recipes. This adds to my footprint, I suppose, but also the overall awkwardness in social settings. (e.g., when a woman playing with the bubbles clearly stated to all around that she “can really feel the KY-Jelly in this stuff.”) Score: -1
- I worked with 10 sixth-grade teachers for most of Saturday, and we tried to figure out how to figure out the scale of the universe and our place in it. We measured the size of the sun with a meter stick and a pinhole. +1
- After the workshop, I drove 80 more miles to head home, first stopping off to watch a football game with 45,000 other people, eating a hamburger, drinking hot chocolate, and leaving the litter behind. -1
- I haven’t yet read enough Dickens or other great works that would make me a more thoughtful member of the population. -1
- I’m reading Great Expectations. +1
- On my iPad. -1
- And will discuss it over a hot lunch with meat and cheese. -1
- I have to finish the last 38 of 59 chapters in the next day and a half. +0 for the world; -5 for me.
- I followed the advice I wrote down on my sticky note today that, among other things, listed “write anything” as a task to check off. +0 for the world. +1 for me.
Very presently I can no longer keep score. I’ll try to work with more teachers, spend more time with my family, read a little more Dickens (quickly! with the threat that my book group is headed by a colleague with a British accent), and maybe eat a little less cheese and a few more lentils. Mostly I blunder along, trying to make my contribution, as little as it is, a little more positive than not.