I sometimes wonder whether the “numb” in numbers was just waiting for the 21st Century. As in what my friend Lee said to me over breakfast the other day, after a cursory discussion about the week’s stock market turbulence: “I try to keep up, but it’s pretty mind-numbing.”
Within a few minutes of that remark, the following sentence came from the radio: “Investors are struggling to make sense of this week’s volatility.”
Wild gyrations in the Dow. Joblessness claims. The national debt. The price of gold. The price of oil. Retail sales. The body count from Afghanistan. Yen to the dollar. The number of cities each day in August that had their hottest day on record. $24 billion (McDonalds’ 2010 revenue). 1,100 (McDonalds locations in China). One every 18 hours (number of Yum! Brands restaurants–KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, A&W–opening in China). One-fifth (per capita water consumption in China compared to that in the U.S.). 19,000 (average earthworm population per acre in Boone County, Iowa). 1.9 million (average earthworm population per acre on Thompson Farm, an organic farm in Boone County, Iowa). 5.79 billion (record number of NYSE shares traded on August 16, 2011). Three trillion (annual Ogallala Aquifer overdraft, in gallons). 2.7 (average annual rate of depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, in feet per year). 200 (average thickness of the Ogallala Aquifer, in feet). Number of years until the Ogallala Aquifer is completely depleted (do the math).
So, how’s that morning coffee going down?
These are certainly mind-numbing numbers. They are the numbers that shout the Big Story of the 21st Century: mankind heading towards a global population of 10 billion, and the global economy growing from $60 trillion per year to who-knows-what, and everywhere we look, stresses and strains on political, economic, cultural, and ecological systems.
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