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Human Overpopulation Most Avoided Issue In US - Pt 4
Carrying Capacity
By Frosty Wooldridge
"I remember when you couldn't even mention environmental issues without a snicker. But then in the 70's people got tired of seeing the Cuyahoga River catch on fire from all the chemicals. So one day millions of Americans marched. Politicians had no choice but to take notice. Twelve Congressmen were dubbed the Dirty Dozen, and soon after seven were kicked out of office. The floodgates were opened. We got the Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water. We created the EPA. The quality of life improved because concerned citizens made their issues matter in elections." --Senator John Kerry
For over thirty years, I attended lectures at the University of Colorado where Physics professor Dr. Albert Bartlett lectured and promoted discussion on human overpopulation. His extraordinary lecture on "Arithmetic, Population and Energy" can be seen at www.albartlett.org . He presented it over 1,600 times around the world.
"Environmental conflicts are often portrayed in ways that pit the needs of humans against the needs of the environment, perhaps in the belief that most people feel that the environment is unlimited, and therefore how it is treated is irrelevant. This leads to calls for compromise," said Bartlett. "Humans will take a little of the environment, and some of the environment will be temporarily left untouched. It is urgent that we be aware that these compromises reduce the rate of destruction of the environment (which is good), but in most instances, the ultimate result of a succession of many compromises is the destruction of the environment. For example, instead of losing 60% of the local environment in some proposed development, a compromise might result in loss of only 30% of the environment, while 70% is saved.
"This is good; but one needs to know that a series of ten such compromises, each of which saves 70% of the remaining environment, will result in the loss of all but about 3% of the environment. (0.710 = 0.03) There have been situations where compromises have resulted in the preservation of large reserves in order to allow other critical areas to be set aside for human settlement and agriculture. It will be interesting to see how these compromises hold up in the face of the pressures of growing populations.
"Preserving the environment can lead to frustrations. In contrast to the active promotion of population growth that is seen in most communities, a community can go to great effort and expense to purchase and to preserve open space for the benefit of generations yet to come. The result is predictable. People, industries, and businesses want to move to the communities that have preserved open space and have other environmentally sensitive programs and policies. Thus the effort to preserve a local environment helps to destroy the preservation that has been achieved.
"Jerome B. Wiesner was President of M.I.T. (1971-1980) and was Special Assistant for Science and Technology for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. He made a very sobering observation about the conflict between the needs of humans and the needs of the environment. (Wiesner, 1989)
"There are no clear-cut ways to reconcile economic growth with the measures needed to curb environmental degradation, stretch dwindling natural resources and solve health and economic problems.
Carrying Capacity
"The term "carrying capacity," long known to ecologists, has also recently become popular. It "refers to the limit to the number of humans the earth can support in the longterm without damage to the environment." (Giampietro, et al, 1992) The troublesome phrase here is "without damage to the environment." One damages the environment when one kills a mosquito, builds a fire, erects a house, develops a subdivision, builds a power plant, constructs a city, explodes a nuclear weapon, or wages nuclear war. Which, if any, of these things takes place "without damage to the environment?" Although it is not stated explicitly, the term "can support" must mean "for a very long time."
"There are two ways of viewing damage to the environment. At one extreme, one could hold the view that humans are apart from the environment, so that everything humans do damages the environment. At the other extreme, one could view humans as part of the environment, so that everything humans do is a part of the course of nature and hence, by definition, is not damaging
to the environment.
"Human activities have already caused great change in the global environment. May observes that (May, 1993)
"The scale and scope of human activities have, for the first time, grown to rival the natural processes that built the biosphere and that maintain it as a place where life can flourish.
"Many facts testify to this statement. It is estimated that somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of the earth's primary productivity, from plant photosynthesis on land and in the sea, is now appropriated for human use. Perhaps the definition of carrying capacity means, "without further damage to the environment?" But then we note that growing populations need growing numbers of jobs and growing rates of consumption of resources. The satisfaction of these needs is almost always at the expense of the environment. So, if we do not want to do further damage to the environment, it seems logical that, as a minimum, we must stop population growth. When we talk about carrying capacity we must focus on population numbers and on the long term. This inevitably leads to a recognition of the need to stop population growth. 
"It is most probable that the term "carrying capacity" has to imply attaining a period of negative growth of populations, until populations and life styles reach a level that can be maintained indefinitely (sustained) by the world's biological and physical resources. The widespread rejection of this conclusion leads one to be certain that every estimate of the number of people that constitutes the carrying capacity of a country or of the Earth will be a subject of controversy. In some cases different scientists will intrepret the data differently. In other cases the entire concept of carrying capacity will come under political and ideological attack.
"For example, when Jack Kemp, who was then the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was informed of a report from the United Nations that told of resource problems that would arise because of increasing populations, it was reported that he said, "Nonsense, people are not a drain on the resources of the planet." (Kemp, 1992) Malcolm Forbes, Jr. Editor of Forbes Magazine had a similar response to the reports of global problems resulting from overpopulation in both the developed and underdeveloped parts of the world; "It's all nonsense." (Forbes, 1992) This helps make the concept of "carrying capacity" contentious and hence an unpopular one for political leaders to embrace. None the less, carrying capacity is a vitally important concept, and it must become central to our thinking."
Contact Dr. Bartlett at www.albartlett.org , Boulder, Colorado.
For additional information: contact Marilyn Hempel at www.populationpress.org
Additionally: William Ryerson at www.populationmedia.org
Dave Paxson at www.worldpopulationbalance.org ;
Niki Calloway at www.thesocialcontract.com ;
Gretchen Pfaff at www.Capsweb.org;
Roy Beck at www.NumbersUSA.org .
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