Arch-conservationist Dave Foreman is neither subtle nor equivocal in identifying human overpopulation as the overriding cause of the Earth’s contemporary biodiversity crisis. Even the hard-hitting title of Foreman’s new book – Man Swarm and the Killing of Wildlife – leaves no doubt that our population explosion is causing the "greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs became extinct" 65 million years ago.
When Dave Foreman denounces human overpopulation as the main driver of the catastrophic declines facing many species of wildlife in the U.S. and around the world, we’d all best pay attention. Foreman is a veteran of four decades of trench warfare in the epic conservation and environmental struggles of our time. He is a founder of Earth First!, The Wildlands Project, and the Rewilding Institute, a former Wilderness Society representative and a former director of the Sierra Club.
Not just an uncompromising and accomplished activist, Foreman is also a successful author and an insightful historian of the conservation movement. Among his earlier published books are Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching, Confessions of an Ecowarrior, and Rewilding North America.
The upshot of Man Swarm is that the explosive growth in the number of human beings over the last couple of centuries has amounted to a veritable assault on wildlife, through what Foreman calls the "Seven Ecological Wounds." These are:
- Overkill – overhunting of wildlife and overharvest of fish populations;
- Scalping and taming wilderness – the degradation of natural habitats and their conversion to agriculture and urban areas;
- Fragmentation of wildlife neighborhoods – the breaking up of extensive, intact habitat areas into less functional fragments;
- Upsetting and weakening ecological and evolutionary processes – disturbing hydrology, interfering with natural wildland fire regimes, eliminating predators, etc.;
- Spread of exotic species and diseases – "the spread of Man spreads non-native species" of flora, fauna, and microbes, often to the disadvantage of native species;
- Biocide poisoning of land, air, water, and wildlife – not only pesticides designed to poison insects but the myriad toxic by-products of industrial civilization;
- Global "weirding" or climate change and ocean acidification – the global commons (ocean and atmosphere) are under dire threat from aggregate global human emissions of greenhouse gases.
Foreman doesn’t claim that overpopulation is the only factor in the decimation of wildlife across the globe. Rather, he cites the I=PAT formulation of biologist Paul Ehrlich and physicist John Holdren. I=PAT means environmental Impact (I) equals Population (P) times Affluence (A) times Technology (T). Thus, Foreman concurs with Ehrlich and Holdren that affluence and technology (sometimes lumped together as ‘consumption’) also share the blame.
However, Foreman clearly believes population is first among equals. As he puts it, "Population is the big dog in I=PAT." This may be especially true when it comes to wildlife. The impacts of affluence and technology on biodiversity are mixed; not so population. In essence, increasing numbers of humans means decreasing numbers and diversity of wildlife; we are co-opting or seizing ever more of the planet’s assets and displacing our fellow non-human earthlings in the process.
Man Swarm addresses the global extinction problem and biodiversity crisis. However, Foreman is an American and proud New Mexico native and he has devoted his entire adult life to fighting on behalf of American and North American wilderness and wildlife. In Man Swarm and his career writ large, he unapologetically focuses most his energies and attention on the United States and the North American continent.
In the U.S., it is impossible to grapple with the overpopulation problem unless one grasps the nettle of immigration, or “bugbear of immigration,” in Foreman’s words. Unfortunately, most of those environmentalists who actually do acknowledge population growth as a serious problem (and not all do by a longshot!) display all the intrepidness of the proverbial deer in the headlights when it comes to acknowledging and addressing immigration. Not so Dave Foreman.
Foreman lays it on the line:
"Conservationists and others won’t work on growth in the United States until we deal forthrightly with immigration. We can’t do that until we make a new playing field where we can talk about immigration without being damned to hell by erstwhile friends who say we are anti-immigrant."
"…unless we cap immigration to the United States, we cannot keep from doubling or nearly tripling today’s U.S. population by 2100. You might not like this hand, but it is the hand we are dealing ourselves."
Foreman then offers a number of steps conservationists and the country can take to tackle the immigration bugbear and deal with overpopulation both at home and abroad.
CAPS supporters will learn much from this book and enjoy it as well, in spite of the decidedly uncheerful topic. This is thanks to Foreman’s uniquely engaging and energetic style. Man Swarm will convince you more than ever that this is the good fight, and one we have to win because the alternative is simply unthinkable. What is left of the wild world is depending on us.
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