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Randy Alcorn: Rational Ecological Equation Ought to Mean Fewer People on the Planet

Typhoon Haiyan, which blew away a large swath of the Philippines earlier this month, was the most powerful cyclone ever measured. It follows mega hurricanes Sandy and Katrina in a continuing parade of unnatural natural disasters that includes record-breaking, enormous wildfires in Australia, Indonesia and the United States; 100-year droughts and floods that now occur every 10, even five years in some places; and rising sea levels that will soon inundate lands currently inhabited by millions of people.

Nearly all climate scientists conclude that these extraordinary natural disasters are consequences of global warming precipitated by human activity. That conclusion, however, is discredited as unfounded hysteria and junk science by those who want no remedial restraints on consumerism and acquisitiveness. Economics may be the dismal science, but it usually trumps nearly any other science in determining public policy.

Even if global warming was not caused by human activity and not the threat nearly all climate scientists conclude that it is, the consequences of continued human population growth should be seriously considered.

Nothing threatens the quality of human life and life itself on this planet than does the relentless growth of human population. Yet, that is something most folks don’t want to talk about. Ignorance may be bliss, but stupidity born of self-deception is dangerous. When the topic is human population growth, even otherwise intelligent people seem to lose at least 50 IQ points and quickly dismiss that topic as a nonissue.

University of Maryland professor Erie C. Ellis believes human ingenuity will continue to outsmart nature and allow Earth’s burgeoning human population to be sustained indefinitely. Other short-logic population optimists argue that all of the world’s 6 billion people could comfortably be packed into the state of Texas. So what’s the problem?

Just because all the cancer cells in a body can fit into one dense tumor doesn’t make the cancer any less lethal. Cramming 6 billion people into Texas would not eliminate the effluvia they would emit or reduce their resource requirements. And, frankly, living cheek to jowl with billions of people isn’t all that appealing.

Just because human resourcefulness has so far found ways to feed most of the 6 billion people who currently crowd this planet, it cannot guarantee sustaining unlimited population growth. Tampering with the delicately intricate interdependent web of nature to sustain more of our species may be good for immediate economic gratifications, but not for the long-term prospects for life on this planet.

Already, aquifers are being pumped dry in America’s vast western Plains breadbasket; honey bees, critical to agriculture, are dying off in alarming numbers due to agricultural pesticides; fish species are harvested to extinction while huge areas of the oceans are becoming dead zones; topsoil is being depleted and washed away; overuse and misuse of antibiotics in livestock is creating resistant superbugs; and genetic engineering of plants sterilizes crop seed. Human ingenuity is yielding ominous consequences.

Look past the people-packers’ short-logic and use common sense. The size of the sphere we all live on is not getting any larger; nor are natural resources infinite. At some point there is not physical capacity to accommodate unlimited numbers of any species. Before that point is reached there will be harsh, non-negotiable, limits imposed by nature. Why wait until we get to that painful point to address the reality of population limits?

While selling more hamburgers, cell phones and gasoline may make a few folks richer, the argument, typically advanced by selfish special interests, that an economy cannot thrive without continued population growth is absurd. How many people have bought only one car, one pair of shoes or one haircut in a lifetime? The list of cyclical commodities and services is huge and the economic activity they generate does not end if human population stabilizes to lower levels.  

Rather than invest so much effort in finding ways to grow more food to feed ever more people, and devise ways to adapt to global warming so that more people can be packed onto a diminishing planet, why not focus on the demand side of the ecological equation? Why not invest in ways to reduce the growth of human population and reach a level of environmentally safe sustainability?

Educate and empower women around the world, provide birth control and support family planning. Debunk the belief that children are always a prerequisite for human fulfillment, or that some deity insists that we breed like rabbits.

How much more manageable our problems would be if there were fewer people to cause them. Reducing demand on the planet by reducing human population is more rational than the delusional belief that the planet will always have room for billions more. Typhoon Haiyan is just another reminder that it will not.

— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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