Op-Ed: As Earth Day Approaches, Remember the Politically Incorrect "P" Word

Arvada High School students on the first Earth Day.
Arvada High School students on the first Earth Day. Denver Public Library/Rocky Mountain News Collection
It’s sad — particularly with COVID-19 threatening the planet and the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day approaching — that Juan Sebastian Pinto denies, or at least obfuscates, Gary Wockner’s point in "To Avoid the Next Coronavirus, Don't Be Dense," about density being a feeding ground for pandemics. Perhaps that’s because Wockner minimized use of the politically incorrect “P” word.

I also cannot agree with Pinto’s solution to the “P” word being to just manage it.

Lost on most people is that the reason Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) founded Earth Day was to focus attention on the necessity to address the “P” word: population — global and, more important, domestic.

I’m told that during Nelson’s final days, he grieved over the loss of that message and feared that we face ever-worsening environmental and social ills, with nature intervening — as nature will — with things like pandemics.

Global population — as media deceptively report “falling populations” due to decreased birthrates (which take decades to have an impact) — reached 4 billion shortly after the first Earth Day, and today approaches 8 billion, to perhaps be 10 billion by late century.

Thanks to deregulated national media (seemingly doing only Wall Street’s endless-growth agenda), we’re told the U.S. — already the world’s third-most populated nation, behind only China and India — isn’t growing due to a falling birthrate. Hogwash! Our numbers explode by 28 million to 30 million a decade, meaning in some recent years we stood with just eight other nations to fuel half of ALL GROWTH ON THE PLANET!

During the first Earth Day, births fueled a post-war population boom, but now — where we get into political-correctness so hysterically over-the-top we can’t even talk about population — our growth is over 90 percent immigration-driven, and at the highest rates since the frontier-era Great Wave of immigration. But today we’re no longer a frontier nation, and thus, should perhaps acknowledge and discuss immigration's impacts on our numbers, particularly since Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development warned that immigration should never be allowed to fuel growth.

click to enlarge Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day. - WISCONSIN HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day.
Wisconsin Historical Society
We aren’t having a conversation about whether we can sustain immigration today at a level that, 100 years ago, sparked an angry backlash — especially by labor — that forced Congress to slash immigration from over a million a year to about 200,000 by 1920.

Thanks to deregulated Big Media — with broadcasters no longer required to adhere to standards of fair and complete reporting once mandated by the Fairness Doctrine — that is happening absent reporting or critical discussions.

A recent news report — dodging any reference to population — focused on Johannesburg, South Africa, where slum-dwellers, living like sardines, can’t “social-distance.” Think of what might soon sweep through overpopulated slums globally in weeks to come.

After the 1990s Cairo Population Conference, 58 member nations of the National Academies of Sciences issued a joint statement, warning emphatically that none of the world’s environmental or social problems can be solved without addressing population. Media’s response? They ignored it.

Last fall, over 11,000 of the world’s scientists jointly declared a climate emergency and stated, emphatically, that climate change CANNOT be solved without addressing population. Media’s response? What should have received lead-story status, sadly, now reserved for run-it-into-the-ground coverage of whatever sexual miscreant was mostly ignored.

If you think overpopulation is only about places like Johannesburg, think again. Overpopulation in third-world nations (I refused to use the euphemism "developing nations") is a huge problem for their immediate geographic area, not the world.

The world’s real problem nations are China, India and the United States.

Overpopulation is about overcrowding. But it’s also about water shortages, desertification, resource exhaustion and species extinction.

In the American Southwest, overpopulation means water shortages — directly linked, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, to drought and population — with it likely that iconic Lake Mead, the second-largest reservoir in North America, might run dry as flows in the Colorado River drop to half by mid-century. And let me remind the people of Denver that “the American Southwest” means you, since the Front Range cities depend on Colorado River water diverted under the Rocky Mountains.

Which brings me to numbers that deregulated national media ignore or deliberately misrepresent.

An esteemed bipartisan presidential commission of scientists, clergy, politicians, economists, educators, doctors and others in 1972 (when we were 200 million Americans) warned we should never become 300 million, or we might be like “other overpopulated nations” and risk, among other things, compromised health care. This month might show us, in grim ways, just how compromised.

A 1980s Sierra Club bumpersticker — before the club in the 1990s, of record, backed off the topic of immigration (and, by extension, population) in exchange for a $100 million donation — called the United States, “The World’s Most Overpopulated Nation.” Simple math shows one of many ways that’s true.

China’s population is 1.4 billion. Ours is 330 million, highly populated but not yet, well, a China or an India. China’s carbon footprint is 6.3 metric tons per capita. Ours is 17.5. Multiply 330 million times 17.5. Multiply China’s 1.4 billion times 6.3 metric tons. Clearly, carbon-wise, we stand right beside China. (Of note, India’s rate is a mere 1.6 metric tons per capita, while “overpopulated” Ethiopia’s is .08, or a global non-issue.) Source: UN data.

Yet, instead of any focus on that, media deceptively headline our falling birthrate even as, twenty years out, we’ll be approaching 400 million and, by 2060, perhaps 100 million more than our current 330 million. Doesn’t that deserve reporting, examination and a national discussion?

Doesn’t Gaylord Nelson’s Earth Day deserve to be acknowledged for the purpose he intended, especially as the nation faces a pandemic? Some might, on Earth Day, want to look at the U.S. Census Bureau Population Clock, as it shows a net gain of one person every 20 seconds!

Kathleene Parker, a former fifth-generation Coloradan, lives in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where she reported on Los Alamos National Laboratory for a New Mexico daily for thirteen years. Now retired, she writes on population, water and media issues.

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