World population surge imperils environment

Posted March 14, 2010, at 7:32 p.m.

The ship Titanic, the crown jewel of the White Star Line, boasted as unsinkable by its owners and foolishly driven by them on that premise to its destruction, is a grave warning to mankind. Our mother ship Earth, captained by fools recklessly ignoring nature’s warnings, is on a parallel course with the Titanic. The population bomb is planet Earth’s iceberg.

America’s rapidly growing population is wreaking havoc on the environment. Because I am a conservationist, I am also a populationist and advocate having a stable population for America and the world.

The pressures associated with population growth are dominating our public discussion with issues such as traffic congestion, school overcrowding, loss of open spaces and increases in municipal taxes, said Robert Puentes, a scholar with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. America has become much more urban and crowded. An average of 84 people now live on each square mile, up from 56 per square mile in 1967. Under President Lyndon Johnson, the U.S. had only five cities with at least 1 million in population. Today there are 44 urban areas of this size.

This vast increase in population has a profound effect on the environment. There is a question of how much carbon dioxide the world can absorb without overheating. Climate change is the biggest challenge of this new century said Michael Replogle of the Environmental Defense advocacy group. “This kind of sprawl certainly increases the challenges,” he said.

Lindsey Grant, former deputy assistant secretary of state for population and environment, has written several books including “Too Many People: The Case for Reversing Growth,” “Juggernaut: Growth on a Finite Planet,” and “The Collapsing Bubble: Growth and Fossil Energy.” Mr. Grant tells that during a three-year period, he collected more than 1,500 news stories about crowding in America. The range of issues he cited was enormous: rising housing prices and the displacement of the less prosperous; urban sprawl; the impact of massive housing developments; the failure of water supplies; the destruction of woodlands, farmland and natural landscapes; and the sense of lost quality of life and the feeling that growth has somehow gone bad.

Briefly citing an example of the failure of water supplies, Patricia Mulroy of the Southern Nevada Water Authority states that the Lost City, an ancient Indian settlement drowned when the Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s, is no longer lost, so low has the surface of Lake Mead fallen that it is re-emerging from the water. Las Vegas will be the first to suffer. Its 1.8 million people depend on the lake for 9-10th of their water supply.

Many more victims will follow; no fewer than seven states as well as northern Mexico rely on the Colorado River. The population of those seven states grew by 10 percent between 2000 and 2006. In California, landowners are allowed to drill for groundwater. Each year more than 1 million acre-feet more of water is pumped out of the earth than is returned to the aquifers.

The problems associated with population growth are endless, and we are growing rapidly. World growth per year is 70 million. In 1800, world population was 1 billion; in 1960 it was 3 billion and in 2000 it was 6 billion. America’s growth per year is 3.3 million, the most rapidly growing population of all industrialized countries of the world. Immigration, both legal and illegal, fuels this massive population growth.

It will take prudent policies, not emotional or politically correct ones, to stabilize U.S. population and save the ship, thereby setting a good example for the world to follow.

Kenneth Roy of Center Lovell is a member of Mainers for Sensible Immigration Policy.

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