High-rise apartments

High rise apartment building in New York City

Americans do a lot of worrying about leaving their descendants a huge financial debt resulting from present day budget deficits.

How ironic. It seems that we regard financial burdens as more impactful than leaving future generations a shattered environment. We are willing to chance climate change, species destruction, poisoned air and water and shortages of natural resources as the legacy we leave generations to come. But we are not willing to spend the revenues we need to in order to clean up the mess we are bound to leave behind.

It’s this simple: we either have to spend the money to clean things up (and collect the taxes to pay for the effort), or we have to stop screwing up the planet to begin with. And the best way to do the latter is to stop making so many kids.

From time to time this year we will be shadowing National Geographic’s year-long reportage on Earth’s human population reaching seven billion in 2011.

During the Industrial Revolution London became the world’s largest city, “benefitting,” as it were, from coal-powered production. In 1975 there were three cities with more than 10 million inhabitants. Today there are 21. While the Northeast of the United States is experiencing cold weather and record snowfalls – following record-high temperatures last summer – the West coast is simultaneously experiencing near-record warmth. Is all this evidence of climate change? We’ll find out for sure soon enough.

But keep this in mind; while wealthy countries (especially the good ol’ US of A) use many times more resources per capita than poorer ones, as incomes rise around the world increased consumption will put stresses on the planet that it probably cannot bear.

So what are Americans supposed to do about it? One answer is that we need to do our part. We need to stop our own population growth. We need to lead the world by promoting family planning, not only by the restoration of the funding kiboshed by the George W. Bush administration, but by increasing it . . . a lot. And by being proactive in urging nations to adopt such policies before it’s too late.

“The U.S. has a comparatively high fertility rate, due in part to the significant rate of teenage pregnancies and a steady influx of immigrants. By 2050 America’s population is expected to top 400 million,” says journalist John Stanmeyer in the January 2011 edition of National Geographic.

No one needs to tell us Americans that we are materialistic fools. We have to have cars – not just cars, large ones – and big-screen TVs and iPods, iPads, iPhones and every other IQ-numbing gadget. Our insatiable desire for big, bigger, and biggest houses has led to small, smaller and nonexistent bank accounts. And all of this behavior has resulted in devastating impacts on people all over the world. We fill our landfills with the detritus of our consumer existence. We send our electronic waste to be recycled in hazardous ways by the poorest people all over the globe. We pollute our oceans with raw petroleum and our air with its refined offspring.

If America does not soon find a way to lead others by both example and inspiration, we may soon find ourselves following in the wake of China, India and other technological leaders. But by then it may be too late.

It’s up to individuals to do their parts. We should start by stopping – stopping our headlong urge to reproduce. There are Enough of Us.

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