Statistics made simple: Global Village of 100 = World of 7 billion

The Earth is one, but the world is not...


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.

FIFA World Cup 2010: Media Conquering Planet Football!

Most Earthlings have just spent a month on this!

“If you’re an alien planning to invade the Earth, choose July 11. Chances are that our planet will offer little or no resistance.

“Today, most members of the Earth’s dominant species – the nearly 7 billion humans – will be preoccupied with 22 able-bodied men chasing a little hollow sphere. It’s only a game, really, but what a game: the whole world holds its breath as the ‘titans of kick’ clash in the FIFA World Cup Final.

“Played across 10 venues in South Africa, this was much more than a sporting tournament. It’s the ultimate celebration of the world’s most popular sport, held once every four years. More popular than the Olympics, it demonstrates the sheer power of sports and media to bring together – momentarily, at least – the usually fragmented and squabbling humanity.”

This is the opening of my latest op ed essay, which appears in several print and online outlets this weekend. It’s timed for the finals of the FIFA World Cup 2010 – the most widely followed sporting event in the world, which will be played in Soccer City, Johannesburg, South Africa today, 11 July 2010. The Netherlands will meet Spain in this culmination of international football that has been distracting a good part of humanity for a month.

This sporting event is tipped to be the most-watched television event in history. Hundreds of broadcasters are transmitting the World Cup to a cumulative TV audience that FIFA estimates to reach more than 26 billion people. Some TV channels offer high definition (HD) or 3-D quality images to enhance the mass viewing experience.

The essay was written a few days ago, after the FIFA World Cup 2010 had reached the semi-finals stage. To be honest, I’m not an ardent football fan. But as an observer of popular culture, I’ve gladly allowed myself to be caught up in the current football frenzy. I just love to watch people who watch the game…

It’s a light piece written to suit the current global mood, but I acknowledge that the World Cup is really more than just a ball game. The basic thrust of my essay is to comment on the powerful mix of fooball and live coverage: “For the past month, the winning formula for unifying the Global Family seemed to be: international football + live broadcasts + live coverage via the web and mobile phones.”

The Times of India, 11 July 2010: Planet Football: Sports unites a fragmented humanity

The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka, 11 July 2010: Conquering Planet Football

Groundviews.org: Beam Me Up to Planet Football

United Colours of Football, courtesy FIFA

The essay builds on themes that I’ve already explored on this blog – for example, how President Nelson Mandela used the 1995 World Cup Rugby championship to unite his racially divided nation, as told in the movie Invictus.

I also touch on FIFA being a wielder of formidable soft power in the world today, arguably more influential than the United Nations.

Here’s my parting thought, on which I invite reader comment: “On second thoughts, those invading aliens don’t need to worry too much about the Earth’s political leaders or their armies. Without firing a single shot, the globalised media have quietly taken over our Global Village — and now it’s too late to resist! We can argue on its merits and demerits, but the facts are indisputable.”

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