As I wrote the other day, during 2011, human numbers will add up to 7 billion. That is 7,000,000,000 living and breathing people.
But how many of us can grasp such a large number? I can size up a gathering of a few hundred people, or at the most, a couple of thousand. After that, I lose count…and I’m not alone.
That’s why the idea of a Global Village of 100 is so very useful. It’s based on a simple yet profound premise: if we could reduce the world’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all existing human ratios remaining the same, what would it look like?
The idea was the brainchild of Donella Meadows, a pioneering American environmental scientist, teacher and writer. She is best known as lead author of the influential book The Limits to Growth (1972).
It was first published in May 1990 with the title “State of the Village Report”, and Meadows originally envisaged a village of one thousand people. This approach to showing the global disparities was so refreshing and accessible that it soon spread among educators, journalists and activists — in today’s Internet terms, we would call that ‘going viral’.
David Copeland, a surveyor and environmental activist, revised the report to reflect a village of 100 and single-handedly distributed 50,000 copies of a Value Earth poster at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero.
What happened after that is recounted in this brief history by Carolyn Jones, adapted by Bob Abramms.
The analogy has been revised every few years to reflect the changing demographics and global development trends. The practice is now sustained by the Miniature Earth Project, whose latest animated video version for 2010 runs as this:
There is also the 100 People Foundation (www.100people.org) which is “committed to simplifying and humanizing complex global statistics by looking at the world as a community of 100 people”. They provide media and educational tools to teachers around the world to help them teach a global view, and inspire their students to learn more about their global neighbors. Here’s their own video:
100 People: A World Portrait Trailer
Here’s another variation on the theme, set to John Lenon’s ‘Imagine':
If the world were a village of 100 people…
This cartoon animation uses the same approach, but with emphasis on linguistic and cultural diversity.