Pretending it's not population: how can we talk about environmental problems without talking about all the people?

Author:Mosko, Sarah "Steve"

It's hard to come up with a looming environmental problem that's not ultimately rooted in human population expansion, be it a local issue like traffic congestion, litter or drinking water pollution or more global concerns like ocean fish depletion, deforestation, species extinction and global climate change.


We humans currently number 6.9 billion and continue to swell the planet by nearly 80 million more each year. Almost half of us are under the age of 25, and, if present trends continue, we will double in number before 2060.

The U.S. does not earn a pass when it comes to population pressures on the environment, in part because our per capita resource consumption and waste production dwarf that of much of the rest of the world. Furthermore, the Central Intelligence Agency tracks birth rates, and although the current U. S. birth rate (13.8 births per 1,000 people per year) is roughly one-third that of several African countries, 69 other countries have lower birth rates.

The U.S. population has continued to rise by roughly three million each year over the last two decades with the latest total estimate topping 307 million. By the end of this century, there could well be 570 million of us, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Given these harrowing projections and the monumental environmental dilemmas we're already facing, you'd think that candidly stated strategies to stabilize the population at home and abroad would be a priority at every level of government. Not so.

For starters, consider that neither the Democratic nor Republican Party Platforms of 2008 even mentioned population growth. The closest the Democratic platform came was through explicit support for access to comprehensive family planning services (including sex education, contraception and safe abortion) as strategies to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies. The Republican platform heavily stresses the need for immigration reform but without any reference to population control.

While it may be fashionable for politicians to acknowledge that our environment is in serious trouble, and many do work diligently to pass legislation to improve environmental protections, it's nearly impossible to imagine any one of them saying to the public that there are--or will soon be--too many of us.

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