Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson’s daughter Tia recently said that her father would be “deeply distressed” by the lack of progress on the environmental causes that he held dear, and advocated for throughout his life.
Little wonder that the former Wisconsin U.S. senator and governor would be so disappointed. In 1970, the first year that Earth Day was celebrated, the U.S. population stood at 203 million; today it’s 329 million. The year Nelson was born, 1916, the domestic population was about 95 million; when he died in 2005, nearly 300 million people inhabited the U.S.
Population growth from the global perspective is even more alarming. On the first Earth Day, the population was 3.7 billion; today, it’s more than doubled to 7.7 billion, and the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) projects that with its rapid daily net growth, global population could reach 9.9 billion by 2050, an alarming 33 percent increase over today’s level.
In an extensive interview granted to NBC News, Ms. Nelson said that her father’s Earth Day concept had been successful beyond his “wildest dreams” and the personal impact it had on so many was tremendous. All well and good, according to Ms. Nelson, but not nearly enough.
Too many clean energy and land use improvements have slipped away, says Nelson, identifying state and federal leaders who have dropped the environmental ball. Nelson called out Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and John McCain, all prominent Republican leaders who once said that climate change puts the environment at risk.
And unlike the first Earth Day when Congress was given the day off to contemplate the event’s importance, discussion of population growth too is a taboo, suppressed subject on Capitol Hill even among those who may have acknowledged it a decade ago. Most curious is that anyone who works in D.C. or frequents the Beltway is no doubt keenly aware of what overpopulation has wrought.
A study found that D.C. traffic ranks as the nation’s second-worst, just behind Los Angeles, and is, therefore, a major contributor to carbon emissions. Logic dictates that given the gridlock that surrounds D.C., Congress should prioritize an intelligent discussion of how to prevent further highway and inner-city congestion. But, alas, since such a debate would involve stemming population growth and reducing immigration, Congress refuses to engage.
Despite its impact on every community and every family’s well-being, population growth remains mostly under the radar. Nevertheless, some strides toward sustainability have been made.
PRB found that globally 62 percent of married women between the ages 15 and 49 use contraception, and 56 percent use modern methods like the pill or intrauterine devices. On the downside, birth control is actively practiced in wealthy, more well-educated countries like Norway, and less so in poorer nations like South Sudan. About 60 percent of all U.S. reproductive age women currently use contraception.
By 2050, many of the active populationists now among us will have passed away; none will still be around in 2100. But our children and grandchildren will be, and for that reason if no other Congress should be pressed hard to initiate a population sustainability dialogue.