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Ed. Note: The ideas expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of  Planter.

Numbers ©

John Fast


Does anyone get that many of our environmental and social problems are due to the sheer numbers of humans; each demanding health care, income, shelter, transportation, food, energy, recreation, and a myriad of other goods and services?

What is the ideal population of Earth? United States? Environmentalists, let alone baby-kissing politicians, are loath to tackle population growth. The discussion should not get bogged down over whether the growth is caused by in-house fertility or from immigration. Nobody should care about the color or religion of the numbers.

Our economic system embraces many bogus positive indicators like the "number of new housing units". Business success is often measured by the number of new franchises. Is it really a good thing if the number of new fast-food outlets, malls, and housing units rise indefinitely? Can any economy really be underpinned by incessant growth and consumption and still be sustainable?

Much of what we consume will never return: open space, clean, free-flowing rivers and streams, bountiful oceans, lakes, forests, wetlands, wildlife, quiet, and starry skies. We have taken them off the table - not an option for future generations.  The pathetic remnants of forest remaining in the Northeast megalopolis now contain the homeless and predators. Only now the predators are human. So the "forest" must be illuminated and thinned further.

The smartest move our Forefathers ever made... was landing in America... with its abundant natural resources:  forests, fisheries, harbors, rivers, topsoil, oil, coal, gas, etc. .

Our economy and well being depend upon our natural resource base - NOT conversely. In the long run, there is NO conflict between prosperity and environmental protection.

Our national security requires sound, long-term natural resource management. Conservation is prudent growth; it is NOT "anti-growth"!  Our growth and development must be sustainable.

Sound long-term natural resource management, including humans, is not just for the "dickey birds'. It increases the chances that a society can meet the basic needs of all of its citizens. Huge numbers require, even generate, huge government and huge taxes. Higher numbers bring more rules. In 1776, we couldn't even conceive of the need for an EPA. EPA is now essential if we're not to poison ourselves. Unfortunately, EPA has essentially become a "human health" agency, neglecting the other ninety-eight percent of our ecosystem(s).

Government also must grow as it subsidizes rampant economic development. Subsidies come as energy, sewer, water, police, fire, schools, hospitals, etc. And, of course, government must secure the growth.

Long term natural resource management is not just impacting the "dickey birds". Global warming, famine, poverty, wars over oil, water, and turf affect everyone. Our national and personal security is best assured by properly managing our natural resources

The health of our planet should not be only measured by the health and welfare of its current human population. This is a shortsighted “hubris".  A hubris epitomized by those who agonize over the loss of a 16-cell human embryo but care (and vote) little about the extinction of other sentient creatures. Many of these creatures are far more sentient than the early human embryo.  The fundamentalists forget that once God insisted that Noah save ALL of the creatures so He could then inundate the Earth. What about the rest of "Creation"?

We had an industrial revolution, are in the midst of the information revolution, and now direly need an "ethical revolution" so that we might better use our technology.

Regarding public health impacts associated with environmental degradation, the future is not as bleak. Self preservation crosses political, cultural, and religious boundaries.  It trumps greed and corruption. Our society would not knowingly poison itself.  For pragmatic reasons, we do currently accept significant advserve biologic insults (i.e. asthmas, cancers,  and disease) as a result of environmental contamination.   But many dangerous chemicals remain unregulated and the synergistic effects of multiple chemicals on complex ecosystems is poorly understood. Damage is often incremental and difficult to detect.  As many environmental issues that confront us,  there are many that exist but we are unaware.

Too often, science has to play catch up.  There is little incentive for costly, lengthy research prior to production and sales. 

Self preservation not only includes protection of self, but includes the urge to reproduce self.

Our Ecosystem has a "carrying capacity." Considering disparate "value systems", and the diversity inherent in natural systems, it's hardly a finite value but very real nevertheless. And once an ecosystem's estimated carrying capacity is exceeded,  bad things happen…

Energy, nutrient, and hydrologic cycles are disrupted.  The system's species may be reduced in number and kind.  The myriad species often form a wonderful network of checks and balances.  They compromise a good part of the system’s “buffering ability”.  Buffer(s) act to favor stability/equilibrium,  and efficient production (of biomass). Damaged buffering allows for greater system fluctuations. Eventually  - to use a popular term - a "tipping point" is reached.  The ecosystem crashes and morphs into a new, homogenized, simplified, less productive system.    

A more sustainable enonomic model must be developed. One that requires a stable world population. All of the issues we face today are aggravated by our sheer numbers. For instance, our burgeoning population’s energy needs require that ALL sources of energy (nuclear, coal, oil and gas)  be developed .  “Alternative” energies will not begin to satisfy our total energy demand. Lately, it seems that many  energy sources are “greenwashed”.  There are NO clean energy solutions. There is NO free lunch.

Health Care is another issue that becomes unmanageable as our numbers grow. Already health care "needs" are competing with environmental, education, and space budgets. I'm predicting that in the future everyone will want to live a long, long time and have access to all the latest devices and procedures.

Politically-correct environmentalists who ignore the "numbers" issue are akin to a fireman who upon arriving offers to do everything but put out the fire. Rather than lose contributions and political allies even the “radical” are politically correct.

Our leaders must have the courage to acknowledge and address the looming "numbers" issue. Surely they can propose democratic solutions, economic and tax incentives, environmental laws that actually protect ecosystems rather than trivialize the term.