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Saturday, February 16 , 2019, 5:40 am | Fair 50º


Randy Alcorn: The Trouble Is There Are Too Many People on the Planet

California’s current massive wildfires and the unprecedented flooding in Louisiana are the latest calamities in a parade of devastation spawned by climate change. Although those whose main source of science are ideological gasbags may disagree that climate change is caused by human activity, the preponderance of scientific research indicates that it is.

While climate change is arguably the greatest threat confronting humanity today, for most people economic issues are more acute, therefore command their immediate attention and outweigh climate change and environmental concerns. That is because modern civilization is an economic jungle in which survival of the fittest translates into having sufficient wealth.

Therefore, expecting people to sacrifice their livelihoods or diminish their wealth to protect and preserve the natural environment is not always met with enthusiasm. People who make their money providing fossil fuels aren’t keen on movements to use less of it or replace it with clean energy.

Extraction industries — e.g. fishing, lumber, mining — resent and resist restrictions intended to protect species and habitats.

Throughout history, human activity has disrupted and damaged the natural environment, but not on a global scale — until now. What has changed? Not the activity as much as the amount of it.

For example, when the number of vehicles on the world’s roads was less than 1 million their noxious exhaust was negligible. But, with more than 1 billion vehicles — even equipped with exhaust mitigation technology — now on the roads their emissions shroud the entire planet with an invisible heated blanket of greenhouse gasses.

Anyone who has driven any major metropolitan freeway system over the past 50 years is aware of the staggering exponential growth in vehicle traffic. It is horrible, and while that traffic is a glaringly obvious example of increased human activity it is only one factor threatening life as we have known it.

The energy, food, water and housing required to accommodate a human population that now exceeds 7 billion worldwide generates a level of activity that is devastating the natural environment and rapidly depleting essential resources.

To increase yields to meet burgeoning demand, the agriculture industry pollutes the ecosystem with pesticides and chemical fertilizers, often resulting in catastrophic consequences like the annihilation of bees — the essential pollinators.

Over a single lifetime, human populations have mushroomed. In 1946, the population of California was 10 million, while that of the United States was 141 million, and of the world, 2 billion. Today, California crams in nearly 40 million, the United States more than 320 million and the world more than 7 billion.

Now, let’s revisit those economic concerns that so many folks worry about first and foremost. Has explosive population growth expanded economic opportunities for most people? No. Globalization provides a glut of low-wage workers while continued development of automation technology reduces labor.

This double whammy, especially the latter, has eliminated vast numbers of blue-collar jobs in the United States, even white-collar jobs, and is eviscerating the American middle class.

The rather harsh reality is that the economy has evolved to where it simply doesn’t need all the available labor. So, not only is human population exceeding the carrying capacity of the planet’s natural environment, it is exceeding the carrying capacity of the economy to provide jobs.

When technology does most of the work, what supports 7 billion, 8 billion, 9 billion, 10 billion people? Some say wealth disparity is the problem and wealth redistribution the solution. Let’s examine that.

Annual global income is estimated to be about $70 trillion. If that were evenly distributed to the world’s 7 billion people, each person would get $10,000 per year. That would be great for the earth’s desperately poor populations, especially those with big families, but would more affluent populations settle for drastic reductions in lifestyle just to accommodate over-breeding? Would wealthy corporations embrace the notion of annually disgorging their profits to the world’s masses? What would motivate enterprise?

While there is a case to be made for organizing an economy, including a capitalist economy, in ways that facilitate a more equitable participation in the wealth generated, demanding higher pay simply because you have children to support is not valid justification for raising the wage scale or being the recipient of other’s wealth.

Rewarding people who breed beyond their means to support their offspring only exacerbates the underlying cause of most of the world’s problems — excessive human population. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Rather than provide tax breaks and welfare for dependent children, better to make birth control free and readily available.

The planet is not suffering from a shortage of human population, but rather from a surfeit of it. And whether your morality derives from religion or something else, there is nothing immoral about preventing human misery and environmental destruction by actively reducing human birthrates. Conversely, there is nothing admirable or moral about irresponsible or perfunctory breeding.

Unless most of humanity quickly accepts the wisdom of limits and the reality of finite resources the future for the vast majority of people will be miserable.

— 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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