It's the Population

It's the Population
From people per square mile
to square miles per person
By Lance Olsen

If you were in pain, and went to a doctor who told you that your pain is caused by a deadly but curable problem, and then gave you only medication to ease your pain, but nothing to cure the dangerous problem that was causing it, the doctor would be guilty of malpractice. Why? Because treating the symptom (pain) without treating the cause (cancer) could kill you. There's an analogous situation in human overpopulation.

All today's major environmental crises are symptoms of human overpopulation. Deforestation, soil losses due to overproduction of farm crops, the changing climate, the increases of deadly UV radiation slipping through the pollution-damaged stratospheric ozone shield—all driven by human overpopulation and none would be a serious problem on a planet with, say, only one human cutting down trees, planting crops, or pouring chemicals into the atmosphere. It is mostly because there are now six thousand million of us that we do these things on a scale vast enough to endanger Life on Earth.

Canadian scientists have estimated that if everyone on earth used up as many resources as Americans do, we would need three Earth-sized planets to meet the demand. But there's cheer here, because everyone on earth could live very well indeed on one planet, if our numbers were at 2 billion instead of 6 billion. In fact, the American scientist David Pimentel has estimated that a human population of somewhere in the vicinity of 2 billion would be "sustainable" on this planet.

With 2 billion of us, we could measure our wealth and our freedoms in terms of square miles per person, instead of persons per square mile. With more of everything to go around, our economic anxieties could be greatly eased. It would also leave enough room for the rest of Life, including bears—wildlife conservation would be vastly improved with the decreased need to fuss and fret each time one of us wanted to cut a tree. In a way, nothing we do to the environment endangers it, except that now we do it on such an extreme scale. Symptom-treatment won't save the world.

Reprinted with permission from Bear News, Vol. 15, No. 3, 2000