March 27, 2014

One of the most remarkable events of modern times? Human population growth.

At the time of the First Dynasty in Egypt — around 3000 BC — global population was just 100 million, according to estimates. By the height of the Roman Empire and the birth of Christ, that number was perhaps 250 million. And in 1750, at the dawn of the industrial revolution, global population had risen to 750 million.

Now — thanks to antibiotics, improved sanitation, mechanized agriculture, vaccinations — it's 7,155 million, or 7.15 billion.

Current estimates suggest that global population will top out at 8.5 billion in 2030. The growth rate is already falling, due to women having less children. In 2012, the global fertility rate was 2.47 births per woman. That was a decrease from 2.50 in 2011, and 2.90 in 2006. The rate at which population growth will level off is 2.10, according to projections.

Of course, 8.5 billion people is still a huge number for the planet to support in the long run. Can the Earth do it? Some estimates say no, and some estimates say yes. Personally, I'd say a lot depends on technology. If humans can figure out a way to keep atmospheric dioxide levels close to pre-industrial levels, and transition to renewable energy to avoid over-reliance on finite resources like oil and goal, then we have a pretty good chance. John Aziz

Clinton Emails
8:19 a.m. ET
Darren McCollester/Getty Images

At first glance, this Hillary Clinton email released in the latest State Department dump would be enough to leave anyone more than a bit baffled.

For the uninitiated, gefilte fish is a Jewish food primarily eaten on Passover that essentially consists of ground white fish and egg whites. It seems to be somewhat of an acquired taste. "It may taste like cat food, but that's why I love it," a fan told The New York Times last year.

So why, exactly, was the then-U.S. secretary of state so worried about a fish dish? Turns out, back in February 2010, the shipment of nearly 400,000 pounds of frozen Asian carp fillets — an essential ingredient for gefilte fish — had been blocked by Israel ahead of the Passover holiday. Israel had slapped a 120 percent import duty on the American-caught fish that were supposed to be sent over to the Holy Land. The crates of fish were stranded, and the appearance of gefilte fish on the Seder table was in serious jeopardy.

Clinton rose to the challenge. "Sounds to me like one of those issues that should rise to the highest levels of our government," she reportedly said at the time. "I will take that mission on." She did — and probably ruined Passover for millions of gefilte fish-hating American children. Becca Stanek

This just in
8:18 a.m. ET
Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

The "main suspect" in the Aug. 17 Bangkok shrine bombing that killed 20 was arrested at a checkpoint on the Cambodian border, Thailand's prime minister said Tuesday. The suspect is the second foreigner to be detained in connection with the attack.

The motivation for the bombing is still unknown, although there are many possibilities revolving around political rivalry, organized crime, Thailand's southern rebellions, sympathizers of China's Uighur minority, or Islamist militants, AFP reports. Thailand says they are interrogating the suspect, noting that he was in the checkpoint town because he was "probably running away."

On Monday, Thai police said they found bomb-making materials at an apartment in the Min Buri district of Bangkok, the second such discovery since Saturday. Jeva Lange

This just in
8:00 a.m. ET
Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis has allowed priests the "discretion to absolve the sin of abortion," the Vatican announced on Tuesday. In the Catholic Church, abortion is a serious sin and those that procure or perform it are automatically excommunicated. However, in the upcoming Holy Year, Francis will allow priests — and not just missionaries or the chief confessor of a diocese, as per traditional Church teachings — to consider absolving individuals who, "with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it."

"I am well aware of the pressure that has led [women] to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal," Francis said, adding he has "met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision." Francis went on suggest priests might "fulfill this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence."

The Holy Year begins December 8. Jeva Lange

Ancient artifacts
7:45 a.m. ET

Sometime in the third or fourth century A.D., a Roman merchant ship carrying tin and pottery sunk in the Bay of Morlaix, on the northern coast of France. Recently rediscovered by a local diver, archaeologists are now eager to learn the secrets of the shipment of tin the Roman ship was carrying, Spero News reports.

Because the Mediterranean is devoid of major tin lodes, ancient Greeks and Romans who wanted to produce bronze, used in coins and tools, had to search abroad for tin to add to their copper, which was readily available in Cyprus. Since Julius Caesar's time, Romans had exploited the deposits of northern Europe, but the Roman shipwreck indicates tin could have been an integral part of early pan-European trade between Rome and what was then considered "barbarian lands."

The Brittany wreck turned up tin ingots in different sizes, some that were masses of metal while others were shaped like squat cones. Several bore the letter M, which researchers believe might indicate either where the metal was mined, or who it was being shipped to. Researchers plan to study key isotopes to discover the exact origins of the metal, which could possibly reveal a large-scale production and transportation operation in France's Brittany region. Five hundred ingots-worth of tin were recovered by divers from under the sea. Jeva Lange

Democracy in action
6:24 a.m. ET

On Tuesday morning, New Zealand unveiled four final designs for a new national flag that will go to a vote in November. Three of the designs feature a silver fern leaf while the fourth depicts a koru, or unfurling fern frond. The voters' choice will then be pitted against New Zealand's current flag in a second referendum next March.

A 12-person commission winnowed down 10,292 submissions to 40 semifinalists, then finally these four designs. "It is important that those designs are timeless, can work in a variety of contexts, are simple, uncluttered, balanced, and have good contrast," explained John Burrows, a professor and the chairman of the flag commission. In a recent poll, The New Zealand Herald reports, 53 percent of New Zealanders favored keeping the 1903 flag, which features Britain's Union Jack design and the Southern Cross constellation.

You can see high-resolution images of the four flags, along with the official description and the designer's description, at New Zealand's government website, or just get a glimpse of all four finalists waving in the video below. Peter Weber

2016 campaign
5:41 a.m. ET

On Monday, Donald Trump gave Jeb Bush "the Willie Horton treatement," releasing a nasty Instagram video of Bush calling illegal immigration an "act over love" juxtaposed with photos of three undocumented immigrants accused or convicted of murder:

This is no "act of love" as Jeb Bush said...

A video posted by Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on

Later Monday, the Bush campaign hit back by suggesting that Trump is soft on crime, mostly because he supported legalizing some drugs and "has spent years supporting soft-on-crime liberals" like Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid. "Donald Trump even supported Nancy Pelosi — who supports sanctuary cities and backed a moratorium on the death penalty," Bush said.

This isn't the first time Bush has tried to swat back at Trump's barrage of personal insults and criticism with tough (for Bush) words. And this time probably won't be any more effective at knocking Trump down from his pole position in the polls.

"For huge sections of the electorate, the definition of who is a conservative is based on who's making the most incendiary comments," not their policy positions, GOP strategist Steve Schmidt tells Politico. "What Trump is conveying in every speech he makes is strength. If you respond to someone who is attacking your character by talking about issues, you're in the wrong type of fight." Peter Weber

4:31 a.m. ET

If you missed Sunday night's Video Music Awards, or only watched snippets of it, or even watched the whole thing and didn't understand why Nicki Minaj was calling host Miley Cyrus a "bitch," Jimmy Kimmel provided a small public service on Monday's Kimmel Live. And rather than just explain what happened, he illustrated the tiff with emojis, like any grown man might. You can watch and learn below. Peter Weber

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