Halloween is just around the corner, but so is another event that
commentator Bill Mares says will be a sobering milestone in world
(Mares) On Halloween, or thereabout, the world’s
population will pass seven billion. This is not a trick, and certainly
not a treat.
But it is a good time to reflect on an ever-more
crowded planet, growing by 220,000 daily, a number that equals one third
of Vermont’s total population.
Forty years ago, I made
population control my principle environmental cause. After reading books
like "The Limits to Growth, "Only One Earth, and the "Population bomb"
and working on environmental problems in Africa, I became a disciple of
Thomas Malthus who predicted that population would grow geometrically
while food supply would only grow arithmetically.
It seems –
then and now – that if you care about protecting what my prayer book
calls "this fragile earth, our island home," you’d get the biggest bang
for your charitable buck by helping to slow world population growth.
Fewer human feet on the ground means less destruction of other species;
less starvation, and pollution; less violent competition for resources,
and now, less global climate change.
This is hardly the majority
opinion, I realize. A recent cartoon by Tim Newcomb in the Seven Days
newspaper captures this generalized state of denial. Two people are
arguing. She says, "We’ve got to deal with the root cause of global
warming!" He says, "Yeah, Let’s talk about clean energy, sustainable
agriculture, carbon footprints." "Actually," she says, "how about we
talk sustainable human population?" "Oh, no," he says, "We can’t talk
about that! " Yet talk, we must.
Some still cling to literal
religious injunctions like "go forth and multiply." OR, they think we
can grow ourselves out of this challenge, that the rising tide of
consumption lifts all boats above the challenge of poverty.
years ago, when the United States consumed about 25% of the world’s
GDP, demographers like Paul Ehrlich used the term "Indian equivalents."
That was the consumption of food, shelter, transportation, education,
and so forth, of a single adult on the Indian subcontinent.
that time, the average American consumed about 25 times the average of a
citizen of India. Today it’s more like nine times. But that’s not
declining American consumption; it’s increased Indian consumption. And
don’t forget the Chinese whose economy will surpass that of the US
within a decade. This rising tide of consumption of finite resources
threatens to sink all boats.
Another sobering yardstick of human
impact is called the ecological Footprint – or the standardized measure
of demand for natural capital in contrast with the planet’s ecological
capacity to regenerate. In 2006, humanity’s total ecological footprint
was estimated at 1.4 planet Earths – in other words, humanity was using
ecological services 1.4 times as fast as the Earth could renew them. If
the rest of the world catches up with U.S. consumption, we will need
five planet Earths to keep the world humming.
There’s an old
saying that "When you’re up to your hips in alligators, it’s hard to
remember that your biggest challenge is to drain the swamp." When it
comes to reducing human consumption and advancing economic equality,
population control is fundamental.