Why Everyone Should Move to France

"An estimated 5 million trillion trillion bacteria live on Earth (and they have a combined weight roughly equal to that of the top three feet of France.)"

This is the opening line of a short, one paragraph, exposé in the December 1998 issue of Discover magazine. Basically it is filler, inserted to break the monotony of the page and probably required by an unwritten rule that says there has to be more on a page than just text, even if the article requires many pages. Most magazines comply with this policy while no book does - probably because a good book can hold your attention. A good magazine apparently cannot unless it has variety on every page. Prime-time television must have gotten its format from magazines.

This article caught my eye because of its bold title, "Whole Lotta Bugs," and the drawing, which was larger than the article. It took me quite a while to finish reading the one-paragraph article because I couldn’t get past the first sentence without taking time to comprehend five million trillion trillion. I figured out that a million has six zeros and a trillion has twice as many, but got confused trying to imagine having five million trillion of them. Somewhere in my distant math background I recalled that "ten tens" was the same as "ten times ten", or 100. Therefore, I deduced that a trillion trillions has 24 zeros, and five million of those would add another six zeros for a total of 30. This can also be expressed as 5 to the 30th power, but just how many is that?

The author attempted to give it perspective by equating the weight of this many bacteria to the weight of the top three feet of France, which isn’t very flattering for the French. It was my impression from several visits there that the French already have more than their fair share of bacteria, which is probably why they have to drink so much wine. Or perhaps it is the reason they have so much wine, since bacteria are involved with its making.

Discover’s description of that many bacteria certainly put the matter in a new light. If you compare it with the combined weight of all the people in the world, we are clearly outweighed, as well as outnumbered, by bacteria. I say that - having no idea how much bacteria weigh or how much the top three feet of France weighs. I did determine that there are almost 6 trillion square feet of land in France and thus approximately 988 square feet for each person on earth. This is the size of an average condominium for two, and condominiums are typically stacked two, three or four high. Thus we can move everyone to France and save the rest of the earth without making France all that much more unpleasant. And it would be healthier there because the ratio of bacteria to people would be much lower.

By now you are probably thinking that this is all quite absurd - and so it would seem; but then so does the idea of a million trillion trillion bugs - which happens to be true. You can read it in Discover.

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