Originally published: April 9, 2020
We live in a plentiful world.
Over the past 500 years, the human race has seen our global population increase 14x, while our consumption (as measured in global energy use) has grown by 115x and our production (as measured in global GDP) has increased 240x. While there are many more people on Earth, a great deal more has been made available to each of them than could have ever been imagined.
Much of the growth in production and consumption was fueled by the Industrial Revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries - cheaper, more available energy, food, medicine, and goods brought on by centralizing and automating repeatable tasks, driving massive scale and affordability. These productivity gains have given humans access to the inputs needed for survival, abundance, and, increasingly, excess.
The resulting economic prosperity is impressive. Global GDP per capita climbed from $3,277 in 1950 to $14,574 by 2016. In fact, over just the 25 years between 1990 and 2015, the global extreme poverty rate declined from 36% of the world population to just under 10%; a remarkable achievement that translates into opportunity and prosperity for the vast majority of the world’s people.
With excess capital, we’ve invested in and realized extraordinary growth in food production. As we’ve industrialized our food systems, the cost per unit of food produced has massively reduced while our food supply has steadily climbed. Since 1961, the global supply of calories per capita has risen by nearly a third to almost 3,000 calories per person per day in 2020. As a result, since 1970, we have seen a decline in undernourishment in developing countries from 35% of the population to below 13% by 2015.
These gains, and other consequences of the Industrial Revolutions, have caused human life expectancy to climb to previously unimaginable spans. In 1860, the average life expectancy of a US person was 40 years. By 2015, that figure was nearly 80 years, and is projected to continue scaling with no known upper limit. It is conceivable that someone alive today will live longer than 200 years.