THE VISIONARY novelist Aldous Huxley wrote a grim essay in the early 1950s that wondered just how mankind could survive if, instead of the 2.5 billion people living on the planet then, the earth had to support 4 billion. Well, on the night of Halloween 2011, according to the United Nations, the global population topped 7 billion, and the U.N. has just revised its projections for future growth dramatically upward: in 2050 it expects there will be 9.3 billion people on this planet. According to an analysis published by the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., “The population of the world’s poorest countries will soon well surpass that of the wealthiest countries.” But that fact by itself is not necessarily apocalyptic. Huxley’s doomsday predictions were wrong about the prospects for vast catastrophes in the latter half of the 20th century. Technology brought enough food and medicine to keep the masses alive. But Huxley was exactly right about one thing: the quantity of human suffering is much more vast than ever before. In biblical times, Huxley noted, the exile of 10,000 people took on epic meaning. Today, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency, there are more than 42 million people in the world who’ve been forced from their homes.
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