Each human generation believes that it is endowed with special importance, that it faced a particularly important challenge (for example, the "greatest" generation and World War II), that it has a special quality or character (for example, the baby boomers), or that it lived at a particularly important time (for example, the age of enlightenment). The term for this is chronocentrism. Although each generation earnestly believes in its own significance, there is objective evidence that those of us alive today actually are witnessing the most important time in human history. We truly stand at a crossroads.
From the dawn of our species some 2 million years ago until roughly 12,000 years ago, there were never more than some tens of millions of our brethren walking the planet at any one time. With the advent of agriculture and surplus food production, however, our species embarked on a path of population expansion that continues to this day. By the time of the American Revolution, the human family had grown to approximately one billion. Propelled further by the expansion to the New World and the industrial revolution, the population continued to grow so that by the close of World War II, there were two billion people on the planet.1
As a baby boomer born in 1952,1 entered a world of about two billion people. In less than half a century, that population had ballooned to more than six billion. If I live to a ripe old age, I could easily see eight billion or more people on the planet. Thus, in a single lifetime, the human population will have grown from two billion to more than eight billion. This growth is truly unprecedented. Never before in human history has a single generation witnessed such explosive change. It seems self-evident, therefore, that the policies we adopt, the decisions we make, and the strategies we pursue over the next decade or two will determine the future of our species and the trajectory of the planet for the foreseeable future. That is an awesome responsibility, to say the least. It is also a huge opportunity.
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