Year 4, Month 9, Day 11: This Dusty Old Dust Is A Gettin’ My Home

The San Francisco Chronicle makes some obvious associations which are usually ignored, presumably because everybody loves kids:

California has 157 endangered or threatened species, looming water shortages, eight of the 10 most air-polluted cities in the country and 725 metric tons of trash washing up on its coast each year.

California also has 38 million people, up 10 percent in the last decade, including 10 million immigrants. They own 32 million registered vehicles and 14 million houses. By 2050, projections show 51 million people living in the state, more than twice as many as in 1980.

In the public arena, almost no one connects these plainly visible dots.

For various reasons, linking the world’s rapid population growth to its deepening environmental crisis, including climate change, is politically taboo. In the United States, Europe and Japan, there has been public hand-wringing over falling birthrates and government policies to encourage child-bearing.

But those declining birthrates mask explosive growth elsewhere in the world.

In less than a lifetime, the world population has tripled, to 7.1 billion, and continues to climb by more than 1.5 million people a week.

A consensus statement issued in May by scientists at Stanford University and signed by more than 1,000 scientists warned that “Earth is reaching a tipping point.”

An array of events under way – including what scientists have identified as the sixth mass extinction in the earth’s 540 million-year history – suggest that human activity already exceeds earth’s capacity.

It’s been nice. September 4:

It’s possible that our species’ fate was sealed the moment we discovered agriculture. The increased quantities and enhanced predictability of our food supply encouraged our numbers to grow — and after twelve thousand years or so (an eyeblink in geological time) we’ve gone far beyond the planet’s carrying capacity.

But this doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story. The futurist visionary Buckminster Fuller coined the term to measure our ability to influence our environment through the expenditure of energy. One “energy slave” equals 250 days per year of an adult male’s physical labor — and thanks to mechanized agriculture, manufacturing, and infrastructure, we who live in the industrialized world now command thousands of them with the flick of a finger. There may be seven billion human bodies on Earth, but the transformations we force on the planet demand that our energy slaves be included in the census — a thousandfold increase.

With a population numbered in the trillions, it’s no wonder that we are now coming face to face with what biologists coyly call an “evolutionary bottleneck.”

Warren Senders