1 – 2 – 4 – 8 – 16 – 32 – 64 –

1 October 2002

Earlier this year I found myself saying to a retired Professor of Arithmetic, “You know how 1,2,4,8 becomes a very big number, very quickly, especially if you start in millions?” I could tell by his body language that he already knew this fact and had known it for some time. (As my reward, he kindly explained Fermat’s Last Theorem to me in two minutes flat.)

It is this dramatic increase that enables a tiny cell to develop into a young foal or calf galloping around a field within a year, or makes the tiny emission of energy released when an atom is “split” into a world changing bomb in a few seconds. One, two, four, eight is important in demography as well. Here are two examples:

In Zambia, this started in 1900 when the population was 1 million. Three doublings brought it to 8 millions around 1990. A fourth doubling would have brought it to 16 millions in 2015, but AIDS supervened. Without AIDS it would probably have reached 32 millions by 2050. The only people to suffer from this repeated doubling are Zambians.

In the countries around the Middle East, this started (for those who of us who need to keep our arithmetic simple) in 1950. At that time the population of the Islamic countries from Syria and Egypt to Pakistan was just over 100 million, a little less than the population of Germany and France. There have been two doubling since then and the population is now 400 million, rather more than the population of Western Europe. By 2050 a third doubling will have occurred bringing the population to 800 million, substantially greater than the population of all Europe plus all Russia. Because of this huge increase, deprivations of all sorts are inevitable and this will affect not only these countries, but the rest of us as well.

Islam is a religion of peace but – human nature being what it is – when a mainly young population of 800 million people live in poverty, short of good food, water, housing and medical care, and over the border they see a large land mass with a smaller population of rather elderly people loaded with fertile land, plenty of water, good housing, and luxuries of every type, Islamic teaching may not have enough influence to prevent them coming across to share these good things, even though this may endanger peace.

Few people connect these demographic changes with the poverty and frustration we see in the areas involved. Over the next few days I will send two failed attempts to interest people in demography, one dealing with Africa the other with the Middle East.

Gerry Danaher