I’m not sure if you happened to notice while you were doing whatever it is you do this morning, but today is the day that the Earth’s population finally reached eight billion people. That’s a lot of people – in fact, more than we’ve ever had, at least at one time. It’s also just about double the number of people compared to the time I can first recall having any idea of what the Earth’s human population was, somewhere around the mid 1970s. This is quite a milestone, and it got me wondering something: If we had to take the entire population of earth and, you know, drive us all somewhere, do we have enough cars to fit everyone? This is important, so let’s figure it out.
The first thing we need to find out is just how many cars there are on Earth. The number that I’ve found most commonly referenced between a large number of sources and outlets seems to be 1,446,000,000 cars, or, if you hate reading all those zeroes, about 1.45 billion cars. That’s a lot of cars, but it’s significantly less than the number of people.
Here’s how that number breaks down by region:
Asia: 531 million
Europe: 405.3 million (282 million in EU plus 123 million in non-EU countries)
North America: 351 million
South America: 83 million
Middle East: 49 million
Africa: 26 million
Antarctica: about 50
Even though the number of cars is a lot less than the number of people, this is fine! Most cars are not single-occupancy Daihatsu Midgets, and lots of people on Earth can’t even drive, by virtue of being too young or too old or too drunk or too much living in a big city like New York or San Francisco and being too smug about all the public transportation they take.
So, let’s figure out how many people per car we’d need to get the whole population of Earth into cars. We’ll divide 8,000,000,000 by 1,446,000,000 which gives us right about 5.533 people per car. This is good news! Sure, there’s lots of MGs and Bugeye Sprites and Corvettes in the world, but most cars can seat more than two people, and there’s plenty of buses out there that can take lots more people.
If I had to guess, and I do, because I’m having fun here, I’d say that the most common number of people a car can hold is four, but I bet if we average the number an automobile can hold, factoring in buses and minivans and three-row SUVs and all that, I bet the sheer number of available seats across all automobiles will be over what we actually need.
I know it sounds crazy, but think about this: in densely-populated countries like India, small, common cars like the Mahindra Maxximo van can hold eight people, no problem, and are often loaded with even more. Many countries have fleets of cars that are tasked to move lots of people at once, day in and day out, and even in lesser-densely populated countries like the United States, where the average occupancy of a car is only one and a half people, most of those largely-empty cars and SUVs are capable of holding significantly more people.
So, yeah, we can do this! And I think we’ll have seats left over, which will probably be good, because if we think about luggage, we may need the room. The average subcompact has about 10 cubic feet of cargo room, bigger sedans have about 15 cubic feet, an average wagon or SUV has around 30 cubic feet, and then actual vans have plenty.
So, if we say that on average, a passenger vehicle has about 18 cubic feet of cargo room, and divide that by 5.5, that gives us about 3.2 cubic feet of cargo room per passenger, which is just a bit under three airline-sized carry-on bags in size. Actually, that’s pretty good. In fact, that sounds too good. My math must be off, because that would mean 12 carry on sized bags for a car with four people, and that seems way too much. To be safe here, I’m going to say everyone just gets one carry-on-sized bag to take with them. Maybe we can make arrangements to carry more stuff in moving and delivery vans, but I’m gonna let someone else organize that.
Here’s the takeaway: the Earth now has a population of 8 billion people. If we needed to load everyone up into cars and drive somewhere, I think we have enough seats – likely more than enough – to pull it off.
So now you can relax. Just be sure to gas up and pee before we all get on the road.