Poisoned Wells

Published on May 1st, 2008

Press Contact:
Rick Oltman, National Media Director
Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS)

Poisoned Wells
Our future depends on the courage to speak out for a sustainable population
By Mark Cromer

As the looming crisis of dwindling long-term water supplies hangs over the American Southwest like vultures circling for dinner, the alarm bells are finally starting to be heard from academia to the media.

National news magazines this month have featured articles on growing water shortages across the nation; with one analysis showing most of California has "moderately to severely overused" its ground water supplies.

Dr. Brian Fagan, a UC Santa Barbara professor emeritus of anthropology, wrote a column this week in the Times that contrasted human flexibility in adapting to sustained aridity in California a millennia ago with the challenges we face developing water sources today.

"The future is truly frightening," Fagan writes.

Indeed it is-and all the more so because elected officials and even many experts in science and the environmentalist movement have been cowed into silence when it comes to addressing the elephant in California’s living room: population growth.

While Fagan ticks off a compelling list of warning signs, including a projection by Britain’s Hadley Center for Climate Prediction that 40% of the planet will be in a state of "extreme drought" by the end of this century, the professor only makes a passing reference at our surging population.

That glaring omission is not accidental but rather an act of self-preservation. As the state’s ground water supplies grow ever more precarious, the well of public discourse has been poisoned.

One of the early casualties of the rancorous debate over immigration into the United States, both legal and illegal, has been the ability to openly discuss the staggering impacts of our population growth on critical resources such as water. Since immigration-and particularly illegal immigration-is the human engine driving the sustained population growth in California and the U.S., addressing population growth is to wade into the immigration debate.

Thus, academics, environmentalists and elected officials alike run the very real risk of being tarred as "racist" by immigrant advocacy groups if they dare to suggest serious limitations to immigration as part of an overall strategy to stabilize our population growth.

The chilling effect this has had on the issues surrounding population growth is evident in the increasing calls for new water-use policies, tougher restrictions on developers, beefed up land-use regulations and investment in research and development of technologies that might ameliorate the discomfort of our crowding; anything but a reasoned call for slowing our population growth and then reducing it to replacement levels over the next century.

It is politically correct to call for dramatic reductions in overall consumption, to specifically conserve fuel or water, or to preserve what remains of arable land. But it remains verboten among political, academic and in many media circles to discuss the root of our consumption run amok: population growth.

This whistling past the graveyard has taken on an absurdist hue in various environmental groups, where it remains chic to warn against global overpopulation but absolutely unacceptable to discuss the immigration that is fueling America’s population surge.

I was treated to an example of the depth of this intellectual charade not long ago while speaking with a Sierra Club representative who was working an information booth for the venerable environmental group.

We chatted amicably for a few minutes about the runaway development in Southern California that in a generation has erased the open space that once demarked ‘city limits,’ a building spree that has created a mammoth suburban sprawl that simply is not sustainable. She seemed pleased as punch to meet a fellow traveler on the issue of sustainable growth.

Then I dropped the “pop-bomb” into the mix, asking her about the Sierra Club’s view on population growth and its impacts on the environment. She quickly down-shifted her pleasant banter into a stock, monotone recitation of the challenges posed by global overpopulation.

When I pointed to the dramatic strain of critical resources in California, such as water, and contrasted that with the state’s continued population growth that has us on track to hit 60 million people by mid-century, her response was immediate: She lifted her hand up in front of her, like a crossing guard ordering cars to halt, while sternly intoning "No! No! No!"

And that was the end of that, conversation over.

But the serious discussion on California’s population growth has yet to begin. It is absolutely intellectually dishonest for academics like Fagan to proffer "adapting" as a solution without confronting the state’s continued population growth.

Academics, scientists and elected officials-and the media-must find the courage to address the issue of overpopulation in the face of the insidious smears they rightly anticipate they will suffer.

We no longer have a choice.

The longer we put off launching that discussion in earnest, the faster Fagan’s projection of a "frightening future" is going to become a stark reality.

Mark Cromer is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization. He can be reached at [email protected]

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