In 1995, I received an MFA in Illustration from ETSU in Johnson City, Tennessee. As part of this program, I developed an installation addressing the issue of the logrithmic growth of the human species, and its impact on the environment, culture and the lives that our children will live.
The exhibit has four parts. First, a timeline circles the gallery, showing the growth from 1 AD to the present time. The timeline continues around the 88 feet of gallery space, beginning with the population of about 200 million, which is the best estimate we have for the earth's population for thousands of years. It doesn't begin to increase until the 1700s, when we began to develop machines and find other sources of fuel to grow our food, to move goods and to heat our homes. It reaches 1 billion about 1850, increasing rapidly to 5.3 billion, at the time this piece was made. But the graph increases, and as we have just reached the 7 billion mark in the 17 years since this work was done, you can see that the graph could continue to increase until some sort of brake is put on this growth.
Malthus predicted that this would happen, and said that there are three controls on our growth: war, famine and disease. As a species, we have begun to have wars where fewer and fewer people are killed. Unlike the dreadful slaughter of whole generations of men in the American Civil War and World War I, we now have wars where many fewer lives are lost, though an increasing proportion is made up of women and children. We invented fertilizers and developed irrigation systems to increase food production, and we use giant machines to plant and harvest, rather than the back breaking labor of people. And we have vaccinations and medications to fight disease, to save many more children from disease and infirmities, and to prolong life well into old age.