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C.A.S.H. Courier - Fall / Winter - 2001


POPULATION GROWTH THREATENS NATURAL WORLD

Last year, the world population soared to over six billion. This continues to place burdensome stresses on, and take heavy tolls from, the natural world. Our potable water and arable land are finite resources that continue to shrink on a per capita basis as world population grows annually by 78 million people. The unrelenting population boom in the U.S. at 1.2% growth (the U.S. has the fastest growth rate in the industrial world; double Europe’s rate) is causing the U.S. to lose: (1) Native forests and the crucial habitat (2) Unique plant and animal species

All Americans agree that there is a need to hold on to our natural heritage and a population growth that is out of control spells doom for the animals we work so hard to protect.

At six billion people and a dwindling water supply, one historian comments: "The wars of the 20th century were fought over oil; the wars of the 21st century will be fought over water.

Growth is a double-edged sword since we need to extract more for a growing population from a smaller pool, a growing population, with its accompanying sprawl, leaves fewer resources to extract from

While this population/environment balance certainly is not unique to the U.S., the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but consumes 30% of the world’s natural resource base. India, which last year topped 1 billion people, would seemingly cast a larger footprint on the planet with almost four times as many people as the U.S. population of 275 million, but it’s not even close. It’s estimated the average American has an environmental impact 40 times the impact of someone from a developing country like India.

If the present trends continue, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the U.S. will more than double the population to 571million by the year 2100. Peter Ward, a Washington University professor describes as a world where "Every forest, every valley and every bit of land surface capable of sustaining plant life will have to be turned over to crops if our species is to avert unprecedented global famine." In this world, the U.S. might lose the $40 billion made in food exports, and arable land would drop from 400 to 250 million acres by 2050. World Watch Institute’s "Vital Signs" comments, "Today we live in a world that is economically richer than could have been hoped for a half century ago, but one that is ecologically poorer than hardly anyone could have imagined."

Following the World Trade Center bombing, will anything ever be the same? Maybe now we’ll live in a world where people will be conscious of their impact on it. Will Americans stop being so wasteful? Will there be a renewed appreciation for plants and animals? Recognizing that medicines largely have ingredients from the natural world, one senator commented on the extinction of three species every hour. He said how we’re really hurting ourselves since a potential life-saving cure for a debilitating disease could exist in a plant that might go extinct tomorrow. Fundamentally, if we don’t save and protect the natural world for the plants and animals that live there, we must do it for ourselves.

Contact: Negative Population Growth at www.npg.org or Population/Environment Balance at www.balance.org for more information.

Jay Lustgarten is a C.A.S.H. member and a long-time environmentalist.

The Environmental Law Society at the University of Oregon School of Law presents the 20th Annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference Global CPR: Conservation, Preservation, Restoration on March 7-10 2002 See www.pielc.uoregon.edu or l-a-w@law.uoregon.edu


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