Woe is us

March 21, 2008
By

The population of the United States has quadrupled in the last century, from approximately 87 million people to 303 million today. The world population has increased just a little faster than that, from about 1.5 billion people to 6.6 billion today (www.census.gov).

Last year, the world was consuming approximately 100 million barrels of oil a day, increasing by about 6.5 million barrels a day this year. Oil has hit $111 a barrel on the world oil markets. Prices at the gas pump are expected to rise by about 25 cents a gallon in the next few weeks.

Though the US economy is contracting (recession), many of the other economies of the world continue expanding, mainly for two reasons. One, the war in Iraq has drained the US economy of close to a trillion dollars since the invasion five years ago. The second reason is outsourcing. As jobs leave the United States, they are being repositioned elsewhere. Not only has the dollar lost value to its Canadian equivalent, the euro and the yen, but also many Third World currencies gained against the dollar last year by as much as 50 percent, as in the case of the Brazilian real.

At this point, global warming has already passed the tipping point. According to E.O. Wilson, perhaps Harvard’s most eminent scholar, if the United States were to sign the Kyoto Treaty, and, if all the nations of the world would abide by it, it would make a difference of two-tenths of 1 degree Fahrenheit when the world temperature is going to increase by 5 to 10 degrees in this century (E.O. Wilson, “The Future of Life”). He estimates that it will take 80 million years for the Earth to recover from the damage that humankind is doing to it this century.

So, what’s behind our dilemma? Let’s go back to the population growth rate. Speaking at Harvard a few years ago, Paul Ehrlich, the author of “The Population Bomb,” calculated that the maximum number of sustainable people on the planet was 2 billion, less than a third of what it is today. The reason it appears that we are able to sustain so many today is that we are using up our non-renewable resources, like oil.

Within 25 years, a growing number of social scientists are predicting, there is going to be an ecological collapse. Thomas Robert Malthus’ prediction of overpopulation will have become accurate after 200 years as the Earth’s population will be submitted to what Wilson politely calls a “bottleneck.”

Have any of the presidential candidates brought up this issue? Not a one. Woe is us.

Jeff Herman
Jamaica Plain
The writer worked for the United Nations for 16 years, seven of which doing policy analysis. He was elected chairman of Zero Population Growth (ZPG) in New England for three years and now serves on the board of directors of the New England Coalition for a Sustainable Population (NECSP), www.necsp.org.