The Great Unheard Of Debate On Overpopulation
By Frosty Wooldridge
This week, a big city New York producer called me for information on creating a documentary on America's imminent overpopulation predicament. He had read my series on America's overpopulation: "What constitutes overpopulation in America?" That 15 part series covered the basics of America's dilemma from adding another 100 million people within 25 years and a total of 300 million more within 70 years.
None of it is pretty. Water, energy, resources, quality of life, carbon footprint, standard of living, crowding, species extinction, ecological footprint and more consequences face our children.
Yet, human overpopulation remains the last American taboo. It remains untouched and avoided at all costs by the American Main Stream Media. David Gregory of "Meet the Press" won't touch it. Bob Schieffer of "Face the Nation" avoids it. Christ Mathews of "Hardball" evades it. Wolf Blitzer of CNN ignores it. Terri Gross, Liane Hanson, Steve Inskeep of National Public Radio flee the mention of the word. Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post runs from it. Finally, Thomas Friedman wrote a piece about it this year in the New York Times: "The Earth is full". But it died as fast as he wrote it.
Nonetheless, the United States adds 8,100 people daily, 3.1 million annually net gain and races headlong toward another 100 million by 2035. But Americans stand around like cows in a pasture swishing their tails as another indolent day passes.
This series will give readers an idea of the calamities we face as a civilization by continuing on this breakneck course of adding millions of humans to our already overwhelmed North American continent. Not only educate you, but give you sources to take action to change course for a sustainable future.
Therefore, I am presenting my long time friend, Dr. Albert Bartlett, Department of Physics, University of Colorado,<http://www.albartlett.org/>www.albartlett.org , and his famous "REFLECTIONS ON SUSTAINABILITY, POPULATION GROWTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT."
"The related terms, "sustainable" and "sustainability" have become popular and are used to describe a wide variety of activities which are generally ecologically laudable," said Bartlett. "At the same time, the term "compromise" is heard more frequently because the needs of the environment often are in conflict with the needs of humans. A brief examination of the question of compromise shows that a series of ten compromises, each of which saves 70% of the remaining environment, results in the saving of only 3% of the environment. Judging from the ways in which the terms "sustainable" and "sustainability" are used, their definitions are not very precise, especially when compromises are involved.
"An attempt is made here to give firm definition to these terms and to translate the definition into a series of laws and hypotheses which, it is hoped, will clarify the implications of their use. These are followed by a series of observations and predictions that relate to "sustainability.""
"In the 1980s it became apparent to thoughtful individuals that populations, poverty, environmental degradation, and resource shortages were increasing at a rate that could not long be continued," said Bartlett. "Perhaps most prominent among the publications that identified these problems in hard quantitative terms and then provided extrapolations into the future as well as recommendations for corrective actions, was the book Limits to Growth (Meadows, et.al., 1972) which simultaneously evoked admiration and consternation. The consternation came from traditional "Growth is Good" groups all over the world. Their rush to rebuttal was immediate and urgent, prompted perhaps by the thought that the message of Limits was too terrible to be true. (Cole, et.al, 1973)
"As the message of Limits faded, the concept of limits became an increasing reality with which people had to deal. Perhaps, as an attempt to offset or deflect the message of Limits, the word "sustainable" began to appear as an adjective that modified common terms. It was drawn from the concept of "sustained yield" which had been used to describe agriculture and forestry when these enterprises were conducted in such a way that they could be continued indefinitely, i.e., they could be sustained.
"The use of the term "sustainable" provided comfort and reassurance to those who may momentarily have wondered if possibly there were limits. So the word was soon applied in many areas, and with less precise meaning, so that for example, "development" became "sustainable development," etc. One would see political leaders using the term "sustainable" to describe their goals as they worked hard to create more jobs, to increase population, and to increase rates of consumption of energy and resources. These terms seem to have been redefined flexibly to suit a variety of objectives and conveniences. 
"A sincere concern for the future is certainly the factor that motivates many who make frequent use of the word, "sustainable." But there are cases where one suspects that the word is used carelessly, perhaps as though the belief existed that the use of the adjective "sustainable" is all that is needed to create a sustainable society. 
""Sustainability" has become big-time. University centers and professional organizations have sprung up using the word "Sustainable" as a prominent part of their names. In some cases, these may be illustrative of what might be called the "Willie Sutton school of research management." (Sutton) For example, a governor recently appointed a state advisory committee on global warming. The charge to the committee was not to see what the state could do to reduce its contribution to global warming, but rather the committee was to work to attract to the state, companies and research grants dealing with the topic of global warming. 
"For many years, studies had been conducted on ways of improving the efficiency with which energy is used in our society. These studies have been given new luster by referring to them now as studies in the "sustainable use of energy." In the extreme case, one reads about "sustainable growth."
"...the discussions have centered around the factors that will determine [a] level of sustainable growth of agricultural production." (Abelson, 1990)
"If we accept the idea that "sustainable" means for long indefinite periods of time, then we can see that "sustainable growth" implies "increasing endlessly," which means that the growing quantity will tend to become infinite in size. The finite size of resources, ecosystems, the environment, and the Earth lead one to recognize that the term "sustainable growth" is an oxymoron. Yet the term is used by our leaders. In a recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency we read that.
"President Clinton and Vice President Gore wrote in Putting People First, "We will renew America's commitment to leave our children a better nation - - a nation whose air, water, and land are unspoiled, whose natural beauty is undimmed, and whose leadership for sustainable global growth is unsurpassed." (EPA, 1993)
"And so we have a spectrum of uses of the term "sustainable." At one end of the spectrum, the term is used with precision by people who are introducing new concepts as a consequence of thinking profoundly about the long-term future of the human race. In the middle of the spectrum, the term is simply added as a modifier to the names and titles of very beneficial studies in efficiency, etc. that have been in progress for years. Near the other end of the spectrum, the term is used as a placebo. In some cases the term may be used mindlessly (or possibly with the intent to deceive) in order to try to shed a favorable light on continuing activities that may or may not be capable of continuing for long periods of time. At the very far end of the spectrum, we see the term used in a way that is internally contradictory.
"This wide spectrum of meanings is a source of confusion because people can ask, "Just exactly what is meant when the word 'sustainable' is used?" Is the use of the word "sustainable" sufficient to identify the user as one who is widely literate, numerate, and ecolate, in matters relating to the long-range problems of the human race? 
"Let us examine the use of the term "sustainable" in one of the major global reports to see if we can gain a better idea of the intended meaning of the word. "
Dr. Albert Bartlett may be reached at: <http://www.albartlett.org/>www.albartlett.org
Frosty Wooldridge has bicycled across six continents - from the Arctic to the South Pole - as well as six times across the USA, coast to coast and border to border. In 2005, he bicycled from the Arctic Circle, Norway to Athens, Greece. He presents "The Coming Population Crisis in America: and what you can do about it" to civic clubs, church groups, high schools and colleges. He works to bring about sensible world population balance at www.frostywooldridge.com He is the author of:America on the Brink: The Next Added 100 Million Americans. Copies available: 1 888 280 7715
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