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Why not talk about population

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
July 1, 2005


People like to talk; it's part of what makes us human. People talk about everything, which means we often talk about nothing. We like to talk so much we require a multitude of languages to do it. Getting people to talk about themselves is easy enough. Getting people to talk about other people is even easier.

Locally a distorted sense of priorities fosters a commitment to egocentric superficiality. Most would rather discuss desperate housewives and home improvement, than the things vital to ecological sustainability. Unflattering environmental realities are rarely discussed in what is considered polite company.

At most, you can get people to talk about themselves and what affects their immediate sense of well-being. People will talk about school overcrowding, traffic gridlock, lack of parking, unemployment, homelessness, and illegal immigration. They'll talk about politics, religion, crime, business, sports and celebrity pedophiles. People like to talk.

On a global level people are willing to talk about the horrors of war and famine, pestilence and disease. Tsunamis and floods, landslides and hurricanes are also popular topics of conversation. Global warming and climate change are good for debate too. People like disasters.

What people will talk about is almost as important as what people won't talk about.

Here on the west coast we talk about everything except what we should be talking about. Growing numbers and finite resources can only be ignored for so long. Culturally we have been conditioned to ignore the root problem of all the issues threatening Californians most. Growing border skirmishes over illegal immigration is but one example of the building tensions surrounding population control.

To discuss overpopulation would be to discuss limits, and we all know capitalism admits to no limits. To limit population would mean limiting consumers and limited consumption. The last time I checked, western culture demands constant consumption in order to maintain itself. Restraint and sacrifice are no longer part of the American character; to mention them is to risk being labeled anti-American, a socialist, or a misanthrope.

We are no longer citizens in the eyes of the federal government, the corporate industrial state view everybody as consumers to be bought and sold an unlimited bill of goods. Moreover, with unlimited goods you need unlimited consumers. Hence, the reason the governments, large and small, don't want to address the very real problem of overpopulation and diminishing quality of life.

An economy based entirely on constant growth and boundless abundance, the whole house of cards would come crashing down leaving the haves and have-nots struggling for survival. Making babies is sure way to ensure there will be someone else to foot the bill when grandma and grandpa are done feasting on the spoils of environmental degradation. More people means more workers, more consumers and less opportunity for a life free of economic enslavement to the failed paradigm of mindless capitalism.

Contributing to the cultural disconnect, organized religions encourage overpopulation because they know without a steady stream of "believers" contributing to tax exempt collection plates the profit generated by saving sinners from themselves would dry up. Religion is a business and needs consumers to remain profitable, so most religions actively oppose family planning and birth control.

Although carrying capacity is rarely discussed by the empty brain trust of local governments, San Diego regional planners talk incessantly about increasing tax revenues, redevelopment, higher densities, smart growth, more roads and wider freeways. Carrying capacity is the number of individuals who can be supported in a given area within natural resource limits without degrading the natural social, cultural and economic environment for present and future generations.

Development as an industry is possible because development as an ideology is so prevalent. The ideology of developers is more is always better and there will always be more. According to Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) California's population more than doubled since 1960. With a growth rate higher than India, California added 539,000 in 2004.

The question for all existing Californians is how much is enough?

Population and consumption, when assessed in terms of ecological degradation, cannot be sustained at current rates. For decades, residents of San Diego County have been living way beyond their means, with carry capacity having been long since surpassed in the rush to short term profits and long term economic instability.

Cold and calculated, it's time to talk numbers.

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