Reflecting on the ancient past; contemplating the future

A visit to the Metropolitan Museum inspires some “big picture” thinking.

Met MuseumScientists report that the human species is about 200,000 years old. And that estimate squares with the oldest exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. While visiting the museum on April 27th, I was struck by the fact that the vast majority of the exhibits were less than 3,000 years old (1,000 BC until today)

The next day, I found myself wondering what the oldest exhibit at the Met might be. I was guessing maybe 2,000 BC—and I was not even close. According to Wikipedia, “The oldest items at the Met, a set of Archeulian flints from Deir el-Bahri which date from the Lower Paleolithic period (between 300,000 – 75,000 BC), are part of the Egyptian collection.”

So those items might be as old as the scientists’ estimate for our species—200,000 years. But suffice it to say, there weren’t many humans around 200,000 years ago and those who were weren’t inflicting much if any damage on the planet.

Like ours, Mr. Brown's book features a single apple on the cover. And like our apple, his tells a story.

Like ours, Mr. Brown’s book features a single apple on the cover. And like our apple, his tells a story.

That didn’t really begin until just over 200 years ago when our species hit the one billion population mark. It took us 199,800 years to reach one billion—and only 200 more years to reach 7 billion. Author and global environmental analyst described it best in his new book, “Full Planet, Empty Plates.”

Throughout most of human existence, population growth has been so slow as to be imperceptible within a single generation. Reaching a global population of 1 billion in 1804 required the entire time since modern humans appeared on the scene. To add the second billion, it took until 1927, just over a century. Thirty-three years later, in 1960, world population reached 3 billion. Then the pace sped up, as we added another billion every 13 years or so until we hit 7 billion in late 2011.

One of the consequences of this explosive growth in human numbers is that human demands have outrun the carrying capacity of the economy’s natural support systems— its forests, fisheries, grasslands, aquifers, and soils. Once demand exceeds the sustainable yield of these natural systems, additional demand can only be satisfied by consuming the resource base itself. We call this overcutting, overfishing, overgrazing, overpumping, and overplowing.

It is these overages that are undermining our global civilization. The exponential growth that has led to this explosive increase in our numbers is not always an easy concept to grasp. As a result, not many of us— including political leaders— realize that a 3 percent annual rate of growth will actually lead to a 20-fold growth in a century.

The French use a riddle to teach exponential growth to schoolchildren. A lily pond, so the riddle goes, contains a single leaf. Each day the number of leaves doubles— two leaves the second day, four the third, eight the fourth, and so on. Question: “If the pond is full on the thirtieth day, at what point is it half full?” Answer: “On the twenty-ninth day.” Our global lily pond may already be in the thirtieth day.  Click here to purchase Mr. Brown’s new book on Amazon.

J. Morris Hicks speaking to the sixth graders in New London, CT

J. Morris Hicks speaking to the sixth graders in New London, CT

Humans, relative newcomers to planet Earth. In my recent speech to the entire sixth grade class at the middle school in New London, I told them about the fact that our home (planet Earth) had been supporting life for roughly four billion years.

In order to help them visualize what a small part of the planet’s history has included humans, I asked them to imagine that all 4 Billion years of the Earth’s history was crammed into one single year.

If all of history was one single year, humans reached the 200 million population mark around the time of Christ—about twenty seconds ago. And after finally reaching the one billion population mark in 1804, we’ve added another six billion people in just the last two seconds. And during the last fifty years (one half of one second of that single year), We humans have inflicted more damage on the fragile harmony of nature than all previous generation of humans for the past 200,000 years combined.

Former Amazon forest; now being used to grow soybeans to feed to pigs in China

Former Amazon forest; now being used to grow soybeans to feed to pigs in China

Land Grabs, robbing from the poor to feed the rich. In Chapter 10 of Mr. Brown’s book, he describes the latest tragedy that is taking place all over the world. With seven billion humans and adding another billion every 13 years, we’re simply running out of land.

What is new now is the scramble to secure land abroad for more basic food and feed crops— including wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans— and for biofuels. These land acquisitions of the last several years, or “land grabs” as they are sometimes called, represent a new stage in the emerging geopolitics of food scarcity. They are occurring on a scale and at a pace not seen before.

Among the countries that are leading the charge to buy or lease land abroad, either directly through government entities or through domestically based agribusiness firms, are Saudi Arabia, South Korea, China, and India. Saudi Arabia’s population has simply outrun its land and water resources. The country is fast losing its irrigation water and will soon be totally dependent on imports from the world market or overseas farming projects for its grain. Click here to purchase Mr. Brown’s new book on Amazon.

The Bottom Line. We humans have three very serious problems: our population, the way we live and the way we eat. Eventually, all of them will be corrected, but for now—the most powerful move that we humans can make is to move aggressively in the direction of a whole foods, plant-based diet for all humans.

If all of the people that are now eating the typical Western diet did that today, we’d free up a massive land area roughly twice the size of the United States. And we shouldn’t use that “freed up” land to grow our population and feed more people, we should return that land to Mother Nature, from whom we stole it in the first place.

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J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

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—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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5 Responses to Reflecting on the ancient past; contemplating the future

  1. Jim, I think we produce enough food to feed all the humans on Earth. Trouble is too much of that food is fed to livestock, thus leaving too many people hungry while a few eat like royalty. Recall Philip Wollen’s debate video. I also suggest your readers read Comfortably Unaware by Richard Oppenlander. Dr. Oppenlander’s book comes at meat consumption from what it’s doing to the planet.

  2. Kathy Roach says:

    The above link is a quick look at what has happened to the rain forests of the world. Among other important things these forests can be likened to giant air filters for the planet. We desperately need world leaders with vision.

    Thanks for the post Jim.

  3. Jim: I ordered “Whole,” and your contacts should know that we still can get your book for free till May 1st!

    2c) TO:

    Aida — I am a friend of Dr. Campbell’s for several years. I just pre-ordered three of his new book “Whole.” Please ensure that I also receive three copies of my friend Jim Hick’s book “Healthy Eating, Healthy World” as still special-offered for free till May 1st! Thanks.

    Whole: Pre-Order | The China Study Community

    Copy of this reply email to Dr. Campbell and to Jim Hicks.

    Thanks and congrats for being the publisher of these world-improving books!

    Bill Kleinbauer
    – – – – – – – – – –
    Health files also at

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    BCC to my long-time contacts re “Healthy Lifestyle Education & Support”


    • Fast response:
      “Dear William,
      I will process your order and make sure you get Jim’s book as well.

      Aida Herrera
      Administrative Director | BenBella Books, Inc.
      10300 N. Central Expy., Suite 530 (New suite) | Dallas, TX 75231
      T 214 361 7901 | F 214 750 3645 “

      • Yes! I posted that as a response to my post of the order in your Comments section.

        And — I got a 2nd email that says that the order has been filled! Let’s see if I get three of your books. I was surprised that the free offer was beyond the March date I saw originally.

        All goes well — and you continue to post great actions in your blog.

        You could post a blog on the feedbacks to your school presentations. I expect that you got mostly PRO, and probably some CON from parents who had their boats rocked by the kids who want to change their diets at home and at fast food places!?

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