It’s difficult at best, and often impossible, to have a reasoned exchange of ideas and perspectives about nearly any issue these days. So many folks are so inextricably bound up with a particular belief system that any rational argument or statement of fact that conflicts or contradicts those beliefs is met with a reactionary fury that impugns the intelligence or morality of the presenter.
Take the issue of environmental protection.
As more of the world industrializes and embraces the affluent lifestyle of advanced nations, the negative impact on the common environment is unavoidable. Advanced industrialized nations are by far the greatest contributors to environmental degradation. Until recently, America with its 300 million people was the world’s primary polluter, but industrialized China with its 1.4 billion people now has that dubious distinction. Rapidly industrializing India with its 1.3 billion population is not far behind. Add in Europe, Japan, and other advanced nations, and more than half the earth’s population are avid consumers in industrialized economies.
Anyone who denies the science that human activity is the primary cause of unnatural rapid global warming, and of virtually all environmental damage, is foolishly whistling past the planet’s graveyard. Anyone who rejects the equation that more people generate more of that activity is struggling with basic math—or choosing to ignore it.
Because they are so loudly strident in their rejection of human caused environmental degradation, the hard right gets the most attention for obstinate adherence to ideology. Not so obvious, but just as blindly devoted to doctrine, the hard left, cleaving to ideals of racial equality and economic justice, overlooks the realities of the population-pollution equation.
The greater the populations of advanced industrialized nations, the greater the negative impact on the earth. Nearly all the population increase in the U.S. over the past several decades is due to immigration and the prolific procreation of immigrants. The more people allowed into our pollution machine, the more stress on the planet.
But, admitting that fact returns charges of racism, xenophobia, and selfish economic privilege from the hard left who prefer to blame environmental degradation on insufficiently regulated human activity, especially corporate greed, rather than on the number of humans involved. They believe that more regulation and technological wizardry will find ways to accommodate more population while decreasing its negative consequences. Meanwhile, the world’s economically underprivileged, and politically oppressed people pressing to get in here should be welcomed because it is our moral duty—and eminently politically correct—to do so.
While efforts to reduce the negative impacts of human activity are commendable, unless the earth is actually increasing its girth along with all essential life sustaining resources, human ingenuity cannot keep up with burgeoning human population.
Clearly, the panoply of human caused environmental calamities that continue to plague the planet is evidence that technological magic and regulation have their limits. Electric cars and clean energy struggle to offset the impact of increasing population in places like Los Angeles where, after a brief respite, air pollution is once again rising. And, of course, air pollution in China’s megalopolises darken daylight and spreads around the globe.
Imposing ever more restrictive regulations and bans on human activity in an effort to combat environmental stress and conserve dwindling resources increases the police-state as much if not more than it decreases environmental damage. The greater the human population, the greater the threat to personal freedom as well as to the environment.
Those ideologically isolated from these realities are unlikely to correct the course we are on. Unless enough people understand that any feasible effort to change course requires sharply reducing birthrates and letting the population fall to environmentally sustainable levels, all the Paris Accords and environmental regulations will be futile.
Randy Alcorn is a Noozhawk columnist and former member of CAPS Board of Directors. A more in-depth version of this article appears here. The opinions expressed are the author’s own.