Introduction: Towards a Historical View of
Humanity and the Biosphere
GOUDSBLOM AND DE VRIESM
We live in a world that is changing, and we know we do. When we compare the conditions in which we find ourselves today with those prevailing around 1750, a mere ten generations ago, we can draw up an almost endless list of differences. There are, to mention just one of the most striking facts, far more of us. In 1750 humankind numbered around 771 million people; that is about 25% less than the population of India today (see Table 1.1). Most people were younger, with an average life expectancy of 27 years across the world, about half of today's global average. Mass-produced consumer goods did not exist at all; most of the technical and hygienic amenities that we tend to take for granted today were either unknown or available only to small privileged groups.
TABLE 1.1 WORLD POPULATION AND LIFE EXPECTANCY, 10,000 BC–1990
At the time, the conditions of a basically rural world dominated by scarcity must have seemed timeless to most people. And yet, on closer inspection, the world of 1750 was changing, as indeed the world had been doing since time immemorial. Moreover, as we