The Missing Link in Our Earth Day Activities

Published on April 22nd, 2008

APRIL 18, 2008

Through the loud and persistent voices of Al Gore, the Natural Resources Defense Council, numerous other environmental organizations, thousands of activists and the businesses and cities that have adopted truly green models, the absolute necessity of living sustainably has become mainstreamed. More people truly are trying to live sustainable lifestyles.

With this increased awareness, Earth Day has become not just one day in the month to acknowledge Mother Earth, but essentially “Earth Month” with festivals and celebrations throughout April in cities and towns across the country. From environmentally friendly face painting for the kids to products made from cotton grown sustainably and goods made from recycled materials, these festivals show it’s fun to be green.

If you’re pushing for change, making that change palatable is of course desirable. So bully for all the green successes. They should be celebrated.

It seems no one in the environmental movement though has figured out how to serve up a palatable plate during Earth Day of one of the key components to environmental degradation and overconsumption. Maybe that’s because there’s little good news to celebrate about overpopulation.

In the five minutes it will take you to read this piece, more than 1,200 babies will have been born in the world. On a yearly basis, the globe adds about 81.6 million people. While it took perhaps some 200,000 years to reach a population of 1 billion homo sapiens on Earth, it took only 123 years to add the second billion humans and 33 years for the third.

Trying to comprehend these huge numbers is akin to trying to understand the huge budget deficit in the federal government. It’s easier to look at smaller – albeit still huge – numbers. In recent years primarily through immigration and the addition of American-born children of illegal aliens to the state, California has been adding about 500,000 people annually. This is a number equivalent to what 20 years ago would have been considered a fairly large city.

The impacts of overpopulation are clearly seen here in California in burgeoning schools, budget shortfalls, diminished quality of life, inferior air quality, jammed traffic and lost biodiversity. On a global scale, one of the most obvious impacts is seen through wars (fought over lands and other resources, for example). And a most current impact of overpopulation is seen in the food riots of recent weeks, which have been “explained” as simply a problem with “markets.”

While overpopulation was a fixture in the early environmental movement – I very distinctly remember getting the message of “Zero Population Growth” in the ‘70s growing up in a small town in Oklahoma – it’s practically absent from current public discourse. And the organization formerly known as Zero Population Growth even gave up on that name and is now Population Connection.

On this Earth Day, it would behoove us all to remember – and then act upon – the words of Earth Day’s founder, the late Senator Gaylord Nelson. “The bigger the population gets, the more serious the problems become,” Nelson said. “We have to address the population issue…. It can be done.”

Maria Fotopoulos is a senior writing fellow with Californians for Population Stabilization (capsweb.org) and may be reached at [email protected].

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