Over the Hill

Progress can be a paradox when it comes to population

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx

Progress can be a paradox. I drive Highway 101 daily to see my wife Mamie at her care center north of Paso Robles. Occasionally I use the 13th Street on-ramp to the freeway, but on Sundays I often have trouble merging there. Traffic in the freeway’s right lane is often stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper until it reaches the Highway 46 off-ramp at 24th Street.

More people now have cars to go to and from the coast. More trucks now have cargo to transport. I guess that’s progress. But the stop-and-go traffic may cost millions to cure. That’s paradoxical.

The Census Bureau estimated the 2014 population of San Luis Obispo County was 279,000. And the County Council of Governments estimated the 2040 county population will be between 310,000 and 325,000.

I guess that’s progress, but those new residents will use some of our scarce water. Engineers tell us some of our groundwater basins were being overpumped even before this latest drought. That’s paradoxical.

A man wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in Monday’s Tribune. He complained that he will be penalized if he waters his grass and plants enough to maintain them. But he hears of “housing starts all over San Luis Obispo County.” He seems to feel that’s paradoxical.

According to National Geographic, the human population of Earth didn’t total one billion until the year 1800. The United States was then already 24 years old. We humans didn’t number 2 billion until 1930, and I was one of them.

I was born in 1930 and in just my lifetime the human race increased by 5.26 billion. The Census Bureau Population Clock says the population of Earth is now approaching 7.26 billion. And National Geographic said it will reach 9 billion by 2045.

That may look like progress but here’s the paradox: If we continue increasing at that rate our little planet may no longer be able to support us.

The question is, are most of us smart enough to reverse that increase in our birth rate? The Foundation for Deep Ecology published a big illustrated book this year about that problem. It’s filled with troubling pictures of all the damage we’ve already done to our planet.

The remedy the book prescribes is to voluntarily reduce our birth rate per couple to “an average of one child (meaning many would choose none, many one, others no more than two.)” The book said that should stabilize our birth rate and gradually decrease it.

Mamie and I have just two children. We love them dearly. But what if you want more. My suggestion is to adopt babies who need parents. You will get your wish without increasing the total number.