November 6, 2011

Breathing room

Eeek! It's been nearly a month since my last post. I've left all you loyal readers little incentive to keep visiting my site. Essentially it came down to me spending too much time commuting to/from work, searching for new work, and trying to spark a social life in my new city.

I'm happy to report that I indeed found new work (that I love), my commute about half as long as it used to be, and my social life is starting to blossom... so that means I have no more excuses not to blog. Truth be told, I missed writing. The Farlang Lady has kind of become my alter ego and my way of working through the messiness of the world.

So much has happened since I  last logged on -- the leaves changed, the Occupy movement went global, in response China banned "occupy" in search engines, Trader Joe's got pumpkin butter back on the shelves, Herman Cain became the GOP frontrunner (uhh... WTF?), and the seven billionth person was born.

Phew. Told you a lot has happened.

Seven billion people. Seriously. That's almost two billion more people on the planet than there were when I was born in 1988. I found out where I rank in human population history with this nifty interactive graph The BBC put together; it also has a live clock of births and deaths for each country on the globe.

It's easy to feel the strain of population in places like Canal Street in New York City. On the edge of Chiantown, it's where all of the Asians pawn fake designer goods that snuck off the factory lines in China.

"Gucci gucci gucci! Prada prada! Handbag for you! Special price for beautiful girl!"
The chaos is inescapable.

Two years ago I was there with two of my friends, we were tired and hungry and not in the mood for people. I'll never forget the look on my friend's face once we finally reached the end of the road. It was like he had finally come up for air after being suffocated by the sounds, smells and lack of personal space.

Canal street is crazy, but it's got nothing on China or India. Meet the world's most typical person. I swear that he was my neighbor on at least 10 of the 16 floors of my apartment building in Hangzhou.

How did we get so crowded? Watch this visual from NPR, in three minutes it explains how and why we've exploded as a species in the last century.

It doesn't take statistics and scientific proof to know that being so crowded isn't healthy. When you're constantly crowded, you feel uncomfortable, dirty, and the air is more stagnant. Being on the short end of average, there's nothing more aggravating than standing at a concert or in a crowded bus with people armpits falling directly at nose level.

Population goes beyond discomfort and inconvenience. It's posing serious threats to all of our planets resources. We're straining to find enough water, oil, trees, coal, and space to sustain our greedy little selves. In our most basic nature, we humans want to do as little as possible with as great amount of comfort, (don't believe me? Watch this documentary, it's about food but talks a lot about basic human instinct).

In order to be comfortable, we need to use crazy amounts of resources to keep our houses warm, our cars driving, and to grow enough food to claim the title of the fattest era in history.

During my sophomore year at NDSU, my geology professor gave a lecture that has stuck with me. For years now, scientist have been doing population experiments with bacteria and micro-organisms in petri dishes to see what happens when things get super crowded. In every instance, the organisms begin to secrete a toxic substance when they have no more room. When ingested by their neighbor of the same species, the substance is deadly. The secretion is designed for self-defense, but when everyone's personal alarm goes off, the plan turns out to be suicide.

What will finally be the breaking point for humans? Surely we won't completely run out of space -- there will always be mountaintops and oceans. But I wonder what will finally push us to the brink. Will climate change negatively impact food production? Will we run out of oil? Will we run out of water? Or perhaps we'll mirror the lab organisms and start emitting a creepy substance with a phosphoric glow.

Personally, I'm betting on water and climate change.

At any rate, "happy birthday" to the seven billionth baby who was ceremoniously proclaimed to be so last week in The Philippines.

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