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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Birthday Card for Baby Six Billion

Air Date: Week of October 8, 1999

Commentator Jim Dowd took a fresh tack on welcoming our six billionth human. He created a giant birthday card and took it to the streets for people to sign. He reports back on what some people have to say.

Transcript

DOWD: My first reaction, when I heard the world's population will reach six billion on October twelfth, was: Six billion?

CURWOOD: The news about the planet's six billionth inhabitant came as a bit of a shock to commentator Jim Dowd. But he recovered in time to find a way to mark the occasion.

DOWD: I have a hard time fathoming six billion anything, let alone six billion people. So, I called a mathematician friend and asked him to put it into terms that I could understand. He told me that all the people on Earth could fit comfortably into the Grand Canyon. "Comfortably?" I asked him. "Well," he confessed, "You'd have to stack them up."

With that image of this poor kid trying to find its footing in such a crowd, I designed a massive birthday card for baby six billion, took it to Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and invited people to come, sign the card. The response, as you might expect, was varied.

(Ambient voices, traffic, music)

MAN 1: It's crowded out there, isn't it?

MAN 2: Six billion, huh?

INTERVIEWER: Is that a concern to you at all?

MAN 2: Not really.

DOWD: Only one passerby had heard about the six billionth baby, and he said his dad was a population specialist. Most folks wanted to know where this kid would be born, and into what kind of family. I told them, just sign the card. At first it wasn't quite turning out as I had hoped.

MAN 4: This is an awful mess we've gotten you into.

MAN 5: I hope you have better luck than I did.

MAN 6: Please find yourself a good family, because we sure can't help you.

MAN 7: Slow down. Too many people.

MAN 8: We need more money and less people.

DOWD: It seems not everyone was excited about making room for one more.

WOMAN 1: It's depressing. It's not a cause for celebration.

WOMAN 2: Yeah. Everybody is worried about terrorists and criminals. I think overpopulation is what will do us in. Well, it already has, I think.

DOWD: I even got a science lesson along the way.

MAN 9: We're working on the same population control principle as the woodchuck. You get too many people, and they use up too many resources, and they die off. And I like to think that people are smart enough so they could figure out some way around that cycle. But I've got a feeling people aren't going to be much different from the woodchucks, and we're probably going to end up sitting alongside the woodchucks at the end of the day.

DOWD: Okay. In the interest of accuracy in media, woodchucks, as far as I know, are not an endangered species. But I have to admit, I was somewhat shocked at people's bluntness. I felt bad for baby six billion.

WOMAN 3: But if the six billionth baby is being born in the United States of America, chances are it's going to have a really good life compared to the six billionth baby born in India or Mexico City.

DOWD: Some people noted that I would be postmarking this card from one of the richest countries in the world. Not only that, I'm sending it from affluent Harvard Square, surrounded by The Gap and Abercrombie and Fitch, and across the street from a university where the cost of a year's education is eight times what your average Mexican makes in a year.

WOMAN 4: I hope you're born into a nice place in a nice country, because unfortunately today, there are huge gaps between the countries that have and the countries that have not.

WOMAN 5: I think this is just sort of another reminder that the place is getting full and we have to learn to share.

DOWD: Learn to share: Now that's a nice thought. And lots of people did leave nice, encouraging messages, the kind you might see on any card that gets passed around.

WOMAN 6: Oh, what's one more? Happy birthday and welcome.

WOMAN 7: Happy birthday. May you have love, health, and happiness.

MAN 10: Bonne chance. Le monde vous observe.

MAN 11: Happy birthday. Look, learn, and seek the truth. Good luck.

MAN 12: Welcome to this world. Hope humanity will be better with you involved.

WOMAN 8: Happy birthday, number six billion.

WOMAN 9: Happy birthday, number six billion.

DOWD: Actually, there were plenty of welcomes and good lucks, which is good because I personally don't want to be stuck on a planet of six billion frowning people. Some folks were outright jubilant about getting another neighbor.

WOMAN 10: The more people that are here, the more people that can make more food for the farmers and the more people that can, like, get rid of the trash, so --

WOMAN 11: More creative people to fix the ozone.

WOMAN 10: The more the merrier!

MAN 13: Good work, humankind. You really took that "Be fruitful and multiply" thing to heart. Congrats.

MAN 14: More baseball teams. More entertainment.

DOWD: And of course, there were a few skeptics who thought we were making a big deal out of nothing.

WOMAN 12: Doesn't seem overcrowded to me right now.

MAN 15: There are still plenty of high-rises to be built yet.

MAN 16: I don't know if it would affect me directly, because I don't, I couldn't count anyway.

MAN 17: I think McDonald's are over six billion right now, aren't they? But it's the same people that keep coming back.

DOWD: Really, who knows what to think? There isn't much we do know about baby six billion. I'm sure the numbers are carefully calculated, but when 148 people get born each minute, it must be hard to get the exact day right. Still, if baby six billion is born on October twelfth, we can be certain of one thing. The baby will be a Libra.

FORTUNE-TELLER: Plans you set in motion now can have far-reaching implications. The challenge, should you choose to accept it, may lie in your ability to adhere to a practical budget and not let costs get out of control.

(A trumpet plays "Happy Birthday.")

CHILD: Happy birthday to the newest baby in the whole wide world.

(Trumpet continues, backdropped by the background of Harvard Square)

MAN 18: Happy birthday, baby.

CURWOOD: Jim Dowd lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts. When he's not getting people to sign giant birthday cards, he builds ropes courses around the world.

 

 

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