Lou Ziegler column: If Earth's population were shrunk to 100 ...

Earlier this year, on a snowy day in Moorhead, I heard something that I felt an urgency to pass along through this column. It struck me as having a lot to say about our world, and it was delivered, refreshingly, with little social commentary. The...

Earlier this year, on a snowy day in Moorhead, I heard something that I felt an urgency to pass along through this column. 

It struck me as having a lot to say about our world, and it was delivered, refreshingly, with little social commentary.

The information came a few months after Sept. 11, and a few weeks following our "Valley to the World" series, which was about the growing cultural diversity in North Dakota and western Minnesota.

But, I couldn't bring myself to write the column until Thursday.

On that wintry day, Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness was speaking at a meeting that centered on race relations when he said, "If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of precisely 100 people with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following ..."


Then came the statistics that I had hoped to share with you in this space the Sunday following the mayor's speech:

In that village of 100 people, there would be:

57 Asians

21 Europeans

14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south

8 Africans

52 females

48 males


70 nonwhites

30 whites

70 non-Christians

30 Christians

89 heterosexuals

11 homosexuals

6 sharing 59 percent of the wealth -- all six from the United States

80 living in substandard housing


70 unable to read

50 suffering from malnutrition

1 near death

1 near birth

1 with a college education

1 with a computer

The day after his speech, I telephoned the mayor and asked if he'd share the information with me since I hadn't taken notes. He did, saying as he had the day of the speech, that he wasn't absolutely certain the information was entirely accurate.

Listed at the bottom of the statistics was Philip M. Harter, a physician at the Stanford, Calif., University School of Medicine.


I did an Internet search and found material that said Harter claimed no responsibility whatsoever for "The Global Village" information. I searched further, failing to find the author. So, without knowledge of the source, I couldn't write a column.

Last weekend I was cleaning out a desk drawer when I happened upon the information Furness sent me. I tried another Internet search, and was at the point where I was just about ready to give up, when I found a research piece by David Taub, a writer from the United Kingdom. He claimed to have tracked down the author of "The Global Village." She was Donella Meadows, who taught at Dartmouth College and was later involved in several national and international think-tank type efforts involving societal issues. Meadows died last year.

Telephone calls last week took me to Dartmouth, then to fringe former acquaintances of Meadows and finally to Hal Hamilton, executive director of the Sustainability Institute, the "think/do" tank founded in 1996 by Meadows.

On Thursday he confirmed Meadows was -- sort of -- the author of "The Global Village," which appeared as an 800-word column in 1991.

Meadows' actual column, he said, was based on a village of 1,000 people. He wasn't certain who edited it to 100. Still, he thought the shortened version was easier to read. The column included many other statistical references. For example, in a population of 1,000, there would be 28 births and 10 deaths during one year in the Global Village, for a net gain of 18 people.

Asked if he's seen much interest in "The Global Village," Hamilton said, "There been quite a flurry lately, especially from Japan." He couldn't explain why. 

Since Sept. 11, overall interest "has really resonated," he said.

So there you go -- the story behind "The Global Village," and the reason I finally felt satisfied that I could share it with you.


Ziegler can be reached at

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