Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Does the Planet Need to Chill Out?

I have some good news and some bad news. Knowing that Americans prefer the bad news first so they have ample time to ignore it as they merrily carry on with their busy lives, I will lead off with the bad news. In a snug nutshell, we’ve got too many people and not enough earth. The situation promises to grow exponentially worse each year, to the point where we may soon be tempted to hitch-hike out of the solar system. (And you thought the Mission to Mars was for “research purposes?” The Automobile Club is developing an emergency triptik as we speak.) Yes, I KNOW you could shoehorn the entire population of the planet into the state of Texas with room leftover for hurricane refugees. Everyone would fit comfortably in houses designed for families of four with a driveway, modest yard, HDTV and high speed internet service. Wyoming would retain its two senate seats even if no one is technically living there, a situation we pretty much have currently. I am fully aware that we have the natural resources to sustain a lot more people than we already have. The Chicken Littles warning of a ticking population timebomb have been proven wrong time and again. BUT! That’s assuming we’re all content to eat mostly green, leafy vegetables, walk to work, and read books for entertainment. Certainly a viable lifestyle, one which was even common a century ago. Modern lifestyles in industrialized nations are nowhere near as economical, and are inadvertently wreaking havoc on our environment, and straining our natural resources to the snapping point. Motorists have their Road Rage. The earth may have its Tectonic Rage. The oceans, Surf Rage. The climate, Atmospheric Rage. And so forth. As we continue gobbling resources unabated, will the earth wreak its revenge against us for causing gastric distress to the planet? Perhaps in a cranky, volcanic way? Why, I sound like a member of Greenpeace! Does it matter that Americans consume 25 percent of the world’s energy output each year as long as we can afford it? Would we object to any other spendthrift country doing that? I’m not nearly an environmental activist. Environments are notoriously ungrateful. You spend all this time making the world safe for algae, and the next thing you know a hurricane levels your expensive coastal home. I look upon the earth as a consumer good, there for our use and not for its own sake. Still, I’m aware that if we don’t protect our little orbiting playground we will soon be drowning in our own foam, plastic and chemical-based debris. I’m fond of fresh drinking water and the ability to take hot, uncontaminated showers whenever I want them. Here are some things that should concern us: Countries more densely populated than ours have millions of people living in misery and squalor. I would venture to bet Misery and Squalor conditions worldwide are more common than lower middle class, working poor, or even welfare lifestyles in this country. And a lot less comfortable. We seem to have no problems growing food. America is, after all, a world-renowned Carbohydrate Producer. In spite of this, 8-10 million people around the globe starve to death each year. These, of course, are the very populations that have high birth rates. Can’t we send some Nobel prizewinners to work on this problem? Lock them in a room with nothing to eat but green, leafy vegetables until they solve it? So many people are undernourished I’m not sure which bogus agency to send my charity dollars to. So I send it, but it doesn’t assuage the guilt that I’m eating my third doughnut and have no way to assure every kid on the planet gets a decent breakfast. (which would probably include a fruit, and definitely would not include doughnuts.) Water is another big problem, even in this country. Third world nations don’t have enough to grow their crops. What they do have is usually contaminated enough to be the number one cause of childhood deaths from waterborne illnesses. Even the difficulties in the U.S. are becoming more obvious. Massive illegal immigration. Endless, choking traffic jams in major metropolitan areas. Inner city blight. Gas prices rising like a runaway hot air balloon. Vanishing forests and wetlands. A hazy layer of grime and air pollution. Farmland and citrus groves giving way to sprawling neighborhoods and more asphalt. Acid rain. Increasingly inaccessible health care. In a mere 60 years the U.S. population could double to around 600 million. (extrapolating based on current growth rates of 5 million annually) That is becoming claustrophobic. Okay, so by now you have to be wondering, WHY ARE YOU TELLING US THIS WHEN: 1) There is very little we can do about it, and 2) We’ll be all be dead in 60 years, so what difference does it make? (I am assuming for research purposes that 10-year-olds do not read my blog) Well, partly because these problems aren’t going to show up en masse six decades from now. They’re going to start (checking watch) a couple weeks ago! Surely you’ve noticed the prices at the pump. The rest of the stuff is going to reach a crescendo, too, especially if our economy goes south. (However this may ease up those pesky traffic problems.) But it is legitimate for you to ask at this point, “WHERE IS OUR GOOD NEWS? YOU PROMISED US SOME GOOD NEWS!” And so I did! I saved the best part for last. The good news is that this Bird Flu thingie has the potential to wipe out a quarter of the citizens on the planet, without regard to whether or not you’re a celebrity or have ever appeared on a reality show. That should ease a lot of the pressure on resources right there! Then our shortages will probably be limited to caskets. See, I TOLD you there was a silver lining!

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