Universal Press Syndicate via Chicago Tribune (US), October 13, 2006

COLUMN: A world of hurt will follow population explosion

By Georgie Anne Geyer

DATELINE: WASHINGTON

Americans are familiar with China's biggest problems--a population pushing 1.3 billion, an official one-child-per-family policy, deserts that are moving rapidly over its already small arable land mass, and water tables that are falling so dangerously that whole rivers have stopped flowing.

As we idly note these warning signs, perhaps we pause and think, "Aren't we the lucky ones? With all our beautiful open spaces, all our glorious farmland and all of our flowing rivers!" Well, don't pause too long. All of that is changing right before our blinkered eyes, with a booming and uncontrolled population growth.

Sometime this weekend, demographers figure, the American population, which was 50 million in 1880, 100 million in 1915 and 200 million in 1967, will reach 300 million. But that is only the beginning; it is considered common analysis among immigration experts that if Congress passes even a guest-worker program, 100 million to 200 million more people will be here by 2050. From there, particularly if immigration is not controlled, it's not far to the 1 billion mark and all that means in terms of deadly competition for water and land between farmers and cities, and the domination of the country by the cynical philosophy that sees man merely as an economic creature.

Environmentalist Lester Brown, head of the Earth Policy Institute, put together just the cost of congestion caused by our 226 million cars in a country that has already paved some 4 million miles of roads--enough to circle the Earth at the equator 157 times.

"Traffic congestion in the United States in 2003 caused 3.7 billion hours of travel delay," he wrote recently, "and wasted 2.3 billion gallons of fuel. The total bill for all of this was $63 billion."

And that is only for starters.

Why is so little being said about the 300 million step toward 500 million and beyond?

The population issue in America seems to break down into two warring groups. The one that still dominates is the "man-as-consumer" group. These people like to point to America's growth as greatly beneficial, compared with Europe's declining populations. But we need a population with a sustainable base.

"Today instead, decisions in America are made by the multinational corporations of the superstate that depends upon constant economic growth," Dan Stein, president of the American Federation for Immigration Reform, said. "Their debate is about power and greed."

The other group's thinking, which predominates in polls and studies of individual Americans, sees man as a citizen, as a voluntary part of a community. According to these people, a person's personality and soul must be nurtured by sustainable growth and by respect and love for his fellow citizen and for the environment. But these groups have not been able to transfer the popularity of their thinking into political action because of the power of big business, which sees only man-as-dollar-sign.

"You hear the idea that if the population is not growing, that's bad," Brown said, "but it's the opposite. Look at the wars in the Sahel in Africa. It's a war between the desert and the rainforest, ... a conflict between the herders and farmers. It's about land, not religion." Moreover, he added, if you look around the world where population is burgeoning, these are all places where the water tables are falling--"a recipe for disaster!" In fact, wars where people are butting up against one another, usually for resources but also for space, are commonplace (one of the worst was the Rwanda genocide of 1994, when at least 800,000 died), while the countries that have controlled population (Singapore, Taiwan, Tunisia, to mention only a few) have blossomed.

No one is saying that America is headed toward a Sahel or a Rwanda. But you only need to see the movie "Crash" to sense the angry anomie that could become our urban reality in many places. Professionals in the field are saying we should have a "population policy," at least one that would lay down desired markers for the future or promote a civil national discussion on population.

Meanwhile, the world population, now about 6.4 billion, is expected to rise to 9 billion by 2050. Guess where many of them will be headed.

E-mail: gigi(underscore)geyer@juno.com

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