Our astronomer’s analysis of the population on Earth’s continents

At Home In The Universe Essays > Science, IT, Nature

Article 44: Your human population has been growing continuously since the end of the Black Death, around the year 1350, although the most significant increase has been in the last 70 years.

You will need each other to combat the many threats to your collective existence, threats which can’t be solved on the level of the nation. That’s why I have said that your concept of an independent state is – already for a long time – outdated and inefficient.

To the Earth’s atmosphere, for example, it doesn’t make any difference if carbon dioxide and methane have their origin in the East or in the West, in the North or in the South, in rich or in poor countries: it just covers up the whole Earth with a thick, warm blanket and raises temperatures worldwide.

Keeling curve
The Keeling Curve: Atmospheric CO2 concentrations, measured in the monitoring station at Mauna Loa, Island of Hawaii

The state of your planet is in your hands and is dependent on with how many and how you inhabit the Earth. The withhow-many-of-you is the overpopulation, mainly in the hands of the poor, the how-of-you is the overconsumption, mainly in the hands of the rich.

How many of you are right now and how many of you are expected soon to be living on the Earth’s seven continents?

Estimated and projected populations of the world and its inhabited continents from 1950. The shaded regions correspond to the range of projections by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs; for example, it estimates that the world population will reach 8 billion between 2022 and 2035

Your human population has been growing continuously since the end of the Black Death, around the year 1350, although the most significant increase has been in the last 70 years, mainly due to medical advancements and increases in agricultural productivity.

There is no estimation for the exact day or month the world’s population surpassed the one and two billion. 1804 may have been the year of one billion, 1927 the year of two billion.

Shanti inhabitant document
I, Shanti, born on a Saturday, 10 March 1945, have been counted as inhabitant number 2.406.135.953

The days of three and four billion were not officially noted, but the United States Census Bureau places them in July 1959 and April 1974.

The day of five billion, 11 July 1987, was designated as the approximate day on which the world population reached five billion.

The Census Bureau estimated that the world population reached six billion on 21 April 1999.

The “Day of seven billion” was targeted by the Census Bureau to be in March 2012, while the Population Division of the United Nations suggested 31 October 2011. The latter date was officially designated by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) as the approximate day on which the world’s population reached seven billion people.

Today, 9 January 2016 – the day of writing this – the world’s human population is estimated to be 7,295 billion by the United States Census Bureau and over 7 billion by the United Nations.

World population

By the way: watch the world population clock for today’s numbers and see how fast they are growing!

Most contemporary estimates for the carrying capacity of the Earth under existing conditions are between 4 billion and 16 billion. Depending on which estimate is used, human overpopulation may or may not have occurred already. Nevertheless, the rapid recent increase in human population is causing great concern. The day of eight billion is estimated to happen in 2026, the day of nine billion around 2050 and the day of ten billion before 2100.

Six of Earth’s seven continents are permanently inhabited on a large scale.

Asia, the largest and most populous continent
Covering an area of 44,5 million square kilometers (17,2 million square miles), Asia is the Earth’s largest and most populous continent. With 4,4 billion people, Asia accounts for 60,5 % of the world population. The world’s two most populated countries alone, China and India, constitute together about 37% of the world’s population. China has a population of over 1,35 billion people, India of over 1,2 billion people.

Though Asia covers only 8,7% of the Earth’s total surface area, it comprises 30% of Earth’s land area, and has historically been home to the bulk of the planet’s human population, currently 4,4 billion people or roughly 60,5%. The population in 1950 amounted to 1,396 billion people.

The boundaries of Asia are traditionally determined as that of Eurasia which is not Europe. Eurasia is the combined continental landmass of Europe and Asia. The most commonly accepted boundaries place Asia to the east of the Suez Canal, the Ural River and the Ural Mountains and south of the Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian and Black Seas. It is bounded on the east by the Pacific Ocean, on the south by the Indian Ocean and on the north by the Arctic Ocean.

Africa, the cradle of humankind
Africa is the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent. At about 30,2 million km2 (11,7 million sq. mi.) including adjacent islands, it covers six percent of Earth’s total surface area and 20,4 percent of its total land area. With 1,1 billion people as of 2013, it accounts for about 13,4 % of the world’s human population. The population in 1950 amounted to 229 million people.

Africa’s population is the youngest amongst all the continents; the median age in 2012 was 19,7 when the worldwide median age was 30,4.

Algeria is Africa’s largest country by area and Nigeria by population: the United Nations estimate that the population of Nigeria in 2009 was almost 155 million people, about 18% of the continent’s total population.

Africa, particularly Central Eastern Africa, is widely accepted as the place of origin of humans.

Europe, the birthplace of Western culture

Europe is a continent that comprises the western-most part of Eurasia. Europe is the world’s second-smallest continent by surface area, covering about 10,2 million square kilometers (3,9 million sq. mi) or 2% of the Earth’s surface and about 6,8% of its land area. Europe is the third-most populous continent, after Asia and Africa, with a population of circa 740 million or 11,9 % of the world’s population. The population in 1950 amounted to 549 million people.

Of Europe’s approximately 50 countries, Russia is by far the largest by both area and population, taking up 40% of the continent (although the country has territory in both Europe and Asia). Figures for the population of Europe vary according to which definition of European boundaries is used. Europe has a climate heavily affected by warm Atlantic currents, tempering winters and enabling warm summers on most of the continent, even on latitudes that have severe climates in North America and Asia. Europe, in particular ancient Greece, is the birthplace of Western culture. The Renaissance, humanism, exploration, art and science has led the ‘old continent’ – and eventually the rest of the world – to the modern era.

Latin America, the ‘Latin speaking America’
Latin America

Latin America consists of twenty sovereign states and several territories and dependencies, which cover an area that stretches from the southern border of the United States to the southern tip of South America, including the Caribbean. It has an area of approximately 19,2 million km2 (7,4 million sq. mi), almost 13% of the Earth’s land surface area. As of 2015, its population was estimated at more than 626 million or 8,5% of the world’s population. The population in 1950 amounted to 112 million people.

Latin America designates countries in the Americas south of the United States, where languages derived from Latin predominate. Spanish and Portuguese are the predominant languages of Latin America. Spanish is spoken as first language by about 60% of the population, Portuguese is spoken by about 34% of the population and about 6% of the population speak other languages. Portuguese is spoken only in Brazil, the biggest and most populous country in the region.

Northern America, consisting of Canada, the United States of America and Greenland
Northern America

Northern America has an area of approximately 21,7 million square kilometers (8,41 million square miles). It has a population of around 357 million people or 5,2% of the world’s population. The population in 1950 amounted to 227 million people.

Canada is covering 9,98 million square kilometers (3,85 million square miles), making it the world’s second-largest country by total area and the fourth-largest country by land area. About four-fifths of the country’s population of 35 million people live near the southern border.

The United States of America are covering a total area of 9,86 million km2 (3,80 million square miles) and a total land area of 9,16 million km2 (3,54 million square miles). Its population is estimated at 322 million.

Greenland is the world’s largest island. Over three-quarters is covered by the only permanent – 2,3 km thick – ice sheet outside of Antarctica. It covers a total area of 2,16 million km2 or 836,109 square miles. With a population of 55.984 it is the least densely populated country in the world.

Oceania, the least-populated continent

Oceania has an area of approximately 8,5 million square kilometers (3,3 million square miles) and has about 36 million inhabitants (2010) or 0,5% of the world’s population. The population in 1950 amounted to 13 million people.

The continent primarily sits on the Indo-Australian Plate. Because of its central location on its tectonic plate, Australia doesn’t have any active volcanic regions, the only continent with this distinction. The lands were joined with Antarctica as part of the southern supercontinent Gondwana, until the plate began to drift north about 96 million years ago.

For most of the time since then, Australia–New Guinea remained a continuous landmass. When the last glacial period (from approximately 110.000 to 12.000 years ago) ended in about 10.000 BCE, rising sea levels formed Bass Strait, separating Tasmania from the mainland.

Then, between about 8000 and 6500 BCE, the lowlands in the North were flooded by the sea, separating New Guinea, the Aru Islands and the Australian mainland.

Antarctica, the unpopulated and icy continent

At 14 million square kilometers (5,4 million square miles), it is the fifth-largest continent in area after Asia, Africa, North America and South America. For comparison, Antarctica is nearly twice the size of Australia. About 98% of Antarctica is covered by ice that averages 1,9 kilometers (1,2 mi.) in thickness, which extends to all but the northernmost reaches of the Antarctic Peninsula, the northernmost part of the mainland of Antarctica.

Antarctica has a small, fluctuating international population, based mainly in polar science stations. It is not permanently inhabited by any fixed population. This population tends to rise in the summer months and decrease significantly in winter, as visiting researchers return to their home countries. The population of people performing and supporting scientific research on the continent and nearby islands varies from approximately 4000 during the summer season to 1000 during winter (June).

World Population by Region
World Population Distribution by Region, 1800–2050. Credit to UN

Continental Population Shift
Continental Population Shift; Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2013).

All credit goes to the UN Population Division, to Wikipedia, and to ZME Science

ShantiShanti is a regular contributor
All essays of this series can be found in: At Home in the Universe
All articles by this author on Osho News

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