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When Environmental Writers are Part of the Problem

Something's missing in today's environmental discussion. When talking about causes and proposed solutions for our ecological plight, few environmental writers are telling us more than half the story. Al Bartlett, physics professor emeritus at the University of Colorado and long time sustainability activist calls it “The silent lie.” It's the near universal tendency to focus on the importance of cutting fossil fuel use while staying mum on the topic of population growth.

John Holdren, last year's president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told us the whole story over a decade ago in an article titled, Population and the Energy Problem. In it, he observed that the total energy consumption for a country or the world, is the product of population size multiplied by the average per capita energy use. Today, the developers of the "ecological footprint" measure, William Rees and Mathis Wackernagle, echo Holdren when they explained, "[The ecological footprint] for the world as a whole is the product of population times per capita consumption, and reflects both the level of consumption and the efficiency with which resources are turned into consumption products."

That the size and growth of the global population is a root cause of ecological degradation, including climate change, is in fact well known to scientists. Yet, statements to that effect get little traction in the mainstream media. We hear all about the need to save energy by switching to florescent light bulbs. We read about the ethanol debate and carbon trading schemes. We urge our representatives to establish tougher fuel economy standards. But in all the talk of ways of reducing per person consumption, how often does anyone mention the need to address the other factor in the equation? In today's environmentalwriting, population growth is the elephant in the room



by John Feeney

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