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Part 4: Overpopulation in 21st century America--nobody ever dies of overpopulation

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Part 4: Nobody ever dies of overpopulation

Following the recent loss of life in Haiti, Chile and China due to earthquakes or the loss of life from Hurricane Katrina or the tsunami that killed 100,000 in Sri Lanka in 2005 reminds me of a 39 year old column by the late Dr. Garrett Hardin: "Nobody ever dies of overpopulation." It is reprinted with permission from Science, 12 February 1971, Volume 171, Number 3971, C 1971 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

( ) Professor Hardin taught in the biology department of the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Not mentioned, but increasing in numbers as the human race accelerates its own populations across the globe, an astounding 18 million human beings starve to death or die of starvation related diseases every year. (Source: World Health Organization) The breakdown: eight million adults and 10 million children perish at the hands of starvation annually. Fully 1.5 to 2.0 billion humans subsist on less than $2.00 per day. That same number cannot obtain a clean glass of drinking water.

For example: India sports 1.16 billion people. Out of that number, nearly one million do not possess a toilet to use, so they squat onto the land every day. They contaminate ground water, lakes and rivers with their human waste. The Ganges runs in raw sewage 24/7 and its dead zone expands to over 10,000 square miles, contaminating and killing ocean life. Result: 1,000 Indian children die of diarrhea, dysentery and other water borne diseases DAILY. Yet, Indians do not practice birth control as they add another 12 to 15 million people annually on their way to surpassing current-day China and hitting 1.55 billion in 40 years.

For whatever reason, Americans as well as citizens of many countries, never make the connection of overpopulation and their vulnerability to disease, famine and Mother's Nature's rage. Nature thrives on destruction, i.e., hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, earthquakes, forest fires, famines, hail, tornadoes and epidemics.


For some reason, call it hubris or "false pride," or massive ignorance, or ethnocentrism, Americans cannot and do not think they would ever find themselves on the receiving end of water shortages, food scarcities or energy deficiencies. Thus, they happily grow their numbers, by adding 3.1 million people annually, ironically, mostly through other humans fleeing overpopulation pressures worldwide.

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Dr. Hardin brings home our dilemma:

"Those of us who are deeply concerned about population and the environment -"eco-nuts," we're called, - are accused of seeing herbicides in trees, pollution in running brooks, radiation in rocks, and overpopulation everywhere. There is merit in the accusation.

"I was in Calcutta when the cyclone struck East Bengal in November 1970. Early dispatches spoke of 15,000 dead, but the estimates rapidly escalated to 2,000,000 and then dropped back to 500,000. A nice round number: it will do as well as any, for we will never know. The nameless ones who died, "unimportant" people far beyond the fringes of the social power structure, left no trace of their existence. Pakistani parents repaired the population loss in just 40 days, and the world turned its attention to other matters.

"What killed those unfortunate people? "The cyclone," newspapers said. But one can just as logically say that overpopulation killed them. The Gangetic Delta is barely above sea level. Every year several thousand people are killed in quite ordinary storms. If Pakistan were not overcrowded, no sane man would bring his family to such a place. Ecologically speaking, a delta belongs to the river and the sea; man obtrudes there at his peril.

"In the web of life every event has many antecedents. Only by an arbitrary decision can we designate a single antecedent as "cause." Our choice is biased - biased to protect our egos against the onslaught of unwelcome truths. As T.S. Eliot put it in Burnt Norton:

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"Go, go, go," said the bird, "Human kind cannot bear very much reality."

"Were we to identify overpopulation as the cause of a half-million deaths, we would threaten ourselves with a question to which we do not know the answer: How can we control population without recourse to repugnant measures? Fearfully, we close our minds to an inventory of possibilities.

Instead, we say that a cyclone caused the deaths, thus relieving ourselves of responsibility for this and future catastrophes. "Fate" is so comforting.

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Frosty Wooldridge Bio: Frosty Wooldridge possesses a unique view of the world, cultures and families in that he has bicycled around the globe 100,000 miles, on six continents and six times across the United States in the past 30 years. His books (more...)

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