Posted by: nickgerlich | November 7, 2007

We Are The Whirled

I am often both amazed and amused at some of the student responses I get to my daily blogs. Believe me, I have seen just about everything. And if a student does not feel comfortable posting it for all to see, or simply wants to pose a perplexing question, they will do it via private course mail.

Which brings me to an interesting question posed by one of my undergraduates a few weeks ago: What if everyone came to Texas?

He wasn’t just talking about his extended family. Or mine. Or yours. No, what if everyone in the world came to Texas?

Earth-in-TexasThat’s right. Every man, woman, and child currently living on Planet Earth. It’s an interesting thought exercise, even if it is highly unlikely to occur (for many valid reasons).

Think Globalopolis, Texas style. Yeehaw. Kick up yer boots, we’re gonna have the world’s biggest barbecue.

So this got me to thinking. Just how big would this party be? How would our lifestyles and consumer behavior change?

The landmass we call Texas consists of 261,797 square miles. We are approaching 24 million people, which gives us a population density of 91.67 people per square mile. Judging by the way cattle are packed onto feedlots, this number leaves plenty of room for us to spread our wings.

The current estimated US population is about 303,310,000 people. If all of them came to Texas, our population density would increase to 1158.57 people per square mile. While this may seem crowded, consider that the world’s most densely populated city, Mumbai India, has 14,350,000 people crammed into 187 square miles…for a total of 76,738 per square mile!

So let us extend our hypothetical scenario to the entire world. According to online population clocks, there are about 6,629,627,000 people inhabiting the Third Rock. And if they ditched their homes and came to the Lone Star State, we would be facing a population density of 25,323.5 people per square mile. In more local terms, it is the equivalent of taking the population of our quaint Canyon TX and cramming it into 1/2 square mile.

This is only one-third as bad as Mumbai (but admittedly, we are quite a bit larger!). Comparatively, the population density of The Global Republic of Texas would fall somewhere between that of Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam and Bangalore India.

Of course, we must also remember that lakes and rivers take away from living space, as do roads, parks, schools, retail stores, offices, and governmental facilities. A rule of thumb for suburban developments is that only 80% of the land will be used for residential construction, the remainder being consumed primarily by streets and other rights-of-way.

Thus, it would actually feel a little more crowded than the numbers suggest.

Consider, though, how our lives would change. We would be forced to build up, rather than out, as we are so accustomed to doing in Texas. Our fair state would turn into one gigantic urban nightmare that is over 800 miles wide and 800 miles tall at its extremes. And only the rich would be able to afford automobiles, because parking would be at a premium.

This thought experiment allows for the agricultural and natural resource development of the rest of the world, because no one would live there. Our other 49 states, along with all other nations, could be used to grow food, raise livestock, and mine ores and minerals. Perhaps all these functions could be performed more efficiently without cities and villages in the way.

But we would probably have to pipe water in from elsewhere to our corner of the world, because at present we are struggling to keep our 24 million people supplied with enough water for normal daily use. And we would need to erect wind farms in front yards, because of the power generation needed.

If you have ever been to New York City, Shanghai, or other developed large cities, you are already painfully aware of the problems extreme size can bring. Now just try to bring all the world’s peoples together into one massive melting pot (or salad bowl–pick your metaphor). Politics…religions…economic systems…all would be thrown into one cauldron.

To be honest, I’m perfectly content with the manageable growth we have here in Texas. I’m not xenophobic. I just think that pot would simmer and ultimately explode.

And that’s a mess I don’t want to clean up.

Dr “Room To Roam” Gerlich

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