I loved the XKCD “what if” last week. It reinforced something that I’ve been trying to explain to city-dwellers for a lot of years, and it goes a little something like this:
We are not overpopulating the Earth. There really aren’t that many of us, and despite the fact that you’ve lived on a 2 x 13 mile concrete island your entire life, and struggle to gain a concept of this, there are a metric shit-ton of places on Earth where the touch of human endeavor doesn’t exist at all, or is so light that you’d never notice it. More of the worlds surface than not, in fact. In the XKCD hypothetical, if you were to randomly teleport to coordinates on the Earth, what sign of humanity would you be able to see?
“The surface of the Earth is about 70% water, so you'll usually plop down into the ocean.”
I would think it safe to assume that the vast majority of the time you plopped into the ocean you’d see no sign of man, at all. If you did, it’s be fleeting and all about luck – a tanker or ocean vessel of some sort, or plopping down in sight of a settlement on land. But that’s unfair, because we’re talking about overpopulation, and at least right now, mankind only lives on the surface of the Earth, so let’s narrow it down to land, only:
“Most of the points were over open ocean, out of sight of any land. Once you get away from the major ports, the odds of having a ship in view are not that good, so I continued sampling until I had 50 land coordinates.”
Fair enough? Let’s see what he found out with his sampling of 50 random land-based coordinates:
“Based on Google Earth imagery… …would definitely see clear signs of human activity in about 10 of those 50 points.”
10 out of 50. 1/5th. 20%. If you randomly teleport to anywhere on the land portion of Earth (which, I remind you, is only 30% of the surface!), you only have a 1 in 5 chance of seeing any sign that humans exist.
Not feeling particularly overpopulatey, anymore, are we? But it continues:
“that artifact (of humanity) will usually be either a field of crops or a dirt road.”
So we’re not exactly talking houses, domiciles, or even structures at all. We’re talking dirt pathways and cropland. So what are your chances of seeing actual structures and development? Considerably less than 1 in 5, I can tell you that. I’ve been in places in Kansas where all you can see are crops, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Washington where all you can see is forest, and the XKCD author discusses one site where he randomly landed in Louisiana that fit the bill, also. So we aren’t even talking about Antarctica and Siberia, here. There are a huge amount of places inside the most advanced and developed nation on Earth where you could land and see no sign at all, or the only sign being a crop or a dusty road.
Our world is one of wilderness with interconnected nodes of civilization. Because most of you never leave those nodes of civilization, you don’t quite understand what all is out there beyond the ‘burbs. Yeah, it might feel a bit crowded in Seattle, but inside of a 2 hour drive from downtown, you can find yourself in a place that feels pretty goddamned lonely.