For the past few decades, our nation has put its environmental efforts into mitigating the effects of ecologic disruption rather than confronting the ultimate foundation of those problems. This is also the pattern for modern medicine, where pushing pills to counteract the effects of body imbalances has taken precedence over eliminating the causes of those imbalances with exercise and good nutrition. We think that we can avoid societal difficulties by dealing with the edges of the big problems rather than tackling their collective tap root and taking an honest look in the mirror.
Our economy suffers and again we refuse to see the Big Picture. We need to add something like 150,000 new jobs every month just to keep pace with population growth; every single talking head has discussed how to increase job production, but none have mentioned slowing or eliminating population growth. Big Growth, like U.S. imperialism, Big Cattle and Big Pharmaceuticals, is never to be questioned because it is The American Way (now cue "America the Beautiful" or our national anthem). For example, tackling unemployment long-range by changing the tax code to penalize people for having more than two children rather than rewarding them with tax deductions is decidedly not open for discussion, nor is providing abortion assistance to poverty-stricken third-worlders. Can you imagine the big whining that the U.S. right-to-lifers and right-wing fanatics would raise if such discussions were even contemplated? Those unenlightened folk freak out when people discuss the possibility of making huge ammo clips for handguns illegal, so how do you think that they would react to any federal inducement for smaller families, or any program that would use their foreign aid tax dollars for abortions rather than ridiculously expensive weapons systems?
Decades ago, Paul Ehrlich warned us of the impending population explosion, but his argument fell out of favor as modern technology appeared to somewhat mitigate the ecological and societal effects that our expanding population was causing, at least in the U.S. But now we witness a dangerously warming planet; a Texas-sized floating mass of plastic garbage in the Pacific Ocean; the extinction of countless species worldwide and people in third-world countries around the planet living in clean-water-starved, resource-depleted and garbage-clogged communities. And we still refuse to see the forest for the trees (which, after all, can be turned into wood products).
Millions of Americans refuse to give up a single "right" that they think they should have, even though many of those "rights" are causing us to overrun our planet with humans and our waste products. Few seem willing to make the tiniest sacrifice in their accustomed lifestyles for a sustainable planet. Most people either ignore or deny that we live on a finite spaceship whose life-sustaining systems are being taxed by our seven billion fellow humans, or they think that someone else should solve the problems. It is an old story called "the tragedy of the commons" when myopic, individualistic and ultimately self-defeating competition destroys the entire cooperative system, and that pretty much sums up our present-day relationship with our biosphere.
We cannot create a sustainable planetary spaceship until we stop reproducing like bacteria. Mitigation of the negative effects of human population growth has probably solved about all of the ecological problems that those technological Band-Aids are capable of solving. Since unlimited growth in a finite space is mathematically impossible, should we not as a society start addressing the root problem of modern-day humanity? Or is it preferable that, like a bacteria colony that has consumed all of its agar on a petri dish, humanity's bloom is followed by eco-catastrophe as we poison our environment, run out of essential resources like clean water and polar ice, and choke on our own plastic-wrapped shit? We are all in this together, so we'd all better stop infesting our planet with more billions of humans. The path toward sustainability of our civilization and biosphere is as logically simple, realistically complex, and improbable to attain as that.
Post Script: If you read this letter at the same pace I just did, the planet has added 727 more humans while doing so (www.ibiblio.org). Frightening!