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Population: How many is too many?

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
March 4, 2004


"A human being has a natural desire to have more of a good thing than he needs." — Mark Twain

Here in Southern California we have perfected the art of avoidance. We like to talk the talk, mix it up, and believe things are moving in the right direction. Sure we complain, why not? Things could be better. Less traffic, more parks, less homeless, more jobs, less crime, more schools, the list goes on and on. But it's California, so we cope and continue basking in the light of the golden dream.

Or what's left of it.

Here in San Diego we like to talk, we also do a lot of hand wringing. Conducting study after study, on how to best protect our quality of life, we do nothing but give the illusion of being concerned environmental stewards while slowly, and systematically, the California that was becomes the California that is; over-populated, under funded, overburdened, and steps away from economic chaos. But never do we mention the root of our undoing. Or the burden be forced on future generations.

Name a problem confronting residents of southern California, honestly do the forensic work, and you will find over population to be the base line contributing factor.

Traffic? Traffic gridlock is not about a lack of infrastructure; it's a result of over population that no amount of road building will remedy. Too many people on the road is about too many people, nothing more and nothing less. Yet no one wants to talk about this. Instead we finesse commute times, demand more asphalt and scream at the motorists in front of us.

Over crowded schools? Crowded classrooms are about too many people. And yes we can always build new facilities. But as the state budget and the recent bond initiatives demonstrate, without a comprehensive understanding of population dynamics and corresponding policies aimed at managing population growth, be it from natural birth or immigration (both legal and non) little can be done to counter increasing population pressures.

Lack of open space? As human population continues to increase, the number of other species rapidly decreases. This is unavoidable, as the human development models leave no room for those unable to pay their own way. Sadly that equation includes every species, and encroachment into wild space is near complete. When population saturation erases what is left of our natural heritage we will be left to wallow in our own mess…alone.

Thirty years ago bobcats, mule deer, and a host of other indigenous species could still be found along the Southern California coast. This is no longer the case. As biological communities and their natural ecosystems are sacrificed to accommodate humans and their economic imperatives, the elements needed to maintain air and water quality are lost to the bulldozers of short term economic activity.

Water Pollution? Not only can water shortages be attributed to unchecked population growth, so too can water pollution and diminished water quality. That fact of the matter is the larger the population of humans in any given region the larger the impact on water resources. One need only look to India to see where the overpopulation is taking us. The more humans, the more human waste. Not only are we unwilling to come to terms with the magnitude of an ever increasing amount of human sewage being generated, we expect officials to maintain a tourism industry in the face of damaged ecosystems incapable of filtering the daily impact of too many people competing for limited water resources.

Agriculture? Loss of agriculture is hardly considered as farmland is covered with sprawling suburbs. Here in San Diego County we can no longer feed ourselves. With more than 6 million people in the San Diego/Tijuana region it is alarming that no one is concerned that it would be impossible to meet the nutritional needs of existing residents if required to do so. No longer self sufficient, residents of Southern California are at the mercy of global markets, as we are forced to import the 95% of food resources.

Now is time to collectively ask ourselves how much we are willing to sacrifice in order to accommodate those seeking to profit from pushing us to the limits of sustainability. Sooner or later we must confront the question of how many people is too many, when trying to maintain a favorable quality of life. The longer we wait in dealing with the overpopulation of the San Diego region, the less likely will we be able avoid the ecological fate of Mexico City, Bombay, Shanghai, and Manila.

How's that for scary?

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