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Human population has exploded since 1 A.D., animation reveals

During the past 200 years, the human population exploded – a new animation from the American Museum of Natural History aims to show just what that looks like.

The animation, posted on YouTube, follows humanity from Africa as it spreads around the world. Then, beginning in 1 A.D., the video shows the rises (and very rare falls) in human population across the globe.

The population in 1 A.D. was 170 million; today, it’s 7.2 billion, according to the museum, which worked with Population Connection, the U.N.’s World Population Prospects, Worldometers and NASA on the project.

As it follows the population explosion, the American Museum of Natural History points out specific events that encouraged population growth, such as the advent of farming, travel and trade on the Silk Road, and the development of modern medicine. It also highlights occurrences that reduced the global population, such as the bubonic plague epidemic known as the Black Death.

Cities and areas with more than 1 million residents appear and, less often, disappear from the map as the animation travels along the timeline from 1 A.D. to the present day.

As late as 1700 A.D., global population was just 590 million, but the Industrial Revolution, which brought advances in medicine, agriculture and technology, spurred growth. In just 316 years, humanity has reached more than 7 billion people worldwide.

Scientists believe that number will begin to level off by 2100. Fertility rates are already falling in many countries, the museum reports.

However, the Earth’s ecosystems are already showing the strain of supporting 7.2 billion people.

Construction of cities, expansion of industry, and even clearing land for agricultural use have reduced the number of habitats available for other animals and plants around the world, leading to species becoming endangered or extinct. Pollution has contributed to illness and death among wildlife and even other humans, and air pollution may contribute to climate change.  

As scientists study how human population exploded, they can help humanity make better choices about family planning, consumption, habitat protection and other issues, to better preserve the Earth for future generations, the museum said.

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