The Stats Guy: The simple graph that puts humanity in perspective

Photo: TND

Your friendly neighbourhood Stats Guy is still on parental leave for another four weeks. So instead of my weekly data-driven column I am going to share some of my all-time favourite maps.

Today I am stretching the definition of “map” to show you one of my favourite data visualisations.

A surprisingly stubborn piece of misinformation that occasionally resurfaces online claims that more humans are alive today than ever lived before.

This feeds beautifully into a fear-mongering narrative about humanity destroying itself, but it’s simply wrong.

The team at Our World in Data created a simple graphic that visualises just how wrong these claims are.


Source: Our World Data

Currently around 8 billion people live on this planet – that means less than 8 billion people must’ve ever lived before the current 8 billion were born.

Well, that is just dead wrong. Depending on when exactly we decide to count people as human (in this scenario 200,000 years ago is the cut off), around 109 billion humans already died.

This makes you and I less special than we might think we are.

Narratives about “the last generation” imply that the world, or at least humanity, is coming to an end very soon. More likely humanity as a whole has hundreds of thousands of years (some say over a million years) left in the tank.

Is that an invitation to squander our natural resources? Far from it.

The actions we take today, the speed at which we advance the human condition, the universal rights that we extend to as many humans as possible, trickle down to potentially 100 trillion kids in the coming 800,000 years.

This type of long-term thinking is hard to comprehend but at the very least a fun intellectual exercise while slurping a cup of coffee.

Demographer Simon Kuestenmacher is a co-founder of The Demographics Group. His columns, media commentary and public speaking focus on current socio-demographic trends and how these impact Australia. His latest book aims to awaken the love of maps and data in young readers. Follow Simon on Twitter (X), FacebookLinkedIn for daily data insights in short format.

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