Plant babies Not Trees
By BETSY HART
Scripps Howard News Service
This week marks the celebration of Earth Day. An annual event since its inception in 1970, conservation groups, local and federal government agencies, schools, churches, grass-roots organizations and others are sponsoring events to promote celebration of the earth, protection of the environment or, as one activist group puts it, celebration of the "global life community."
Earth Day is now celebrated in some 140 countries around the world. This year, a major focus of Earth Day organizers is an emphasis on stopping the "devastating impact of global climate change." Proposed classroom activities on one Earth Day Web site include suggestions for "kids taking action for greener, healthier schools," learning "fun ways to protect the environment," a "recycling game" and of course, planting those trees!
But, something that unfortunately isn't focused on in these efforts to raise awareness about the earth is actually one of the biggest problems facing the earth _ the terrible scourge of our current population growth rates: you see we're just not making enough people anymore, and that has devastating consequences for the planet.
The United States is doing OK, for now. One generation is replacing the next, though just barely. (That means a little over two kids per woman on average, which takes into account children who don't survive.)
But Europe is quite literally on its way to extinction. Even back in 1998, Michael Specter of the New York Times reported that Italy's birthrates, far below replacement rates, for the first time in human history had produced a population where there were more people over 60 than under 20. That lopsidedness cannot be sustained. It's disastrous for economic growth (Italy's gross domestic product right is now zip), supporting the country's infrastructure and existing elderly population _ and for the country itself. Unless this trend turns around, and there's no reason to think it will, Italy will eventually cease to exist as we know it now. The same is true for virtually every other European country. (France is hanging onto replacement rates for now.)
In less than 500 years, there will be no Japanese people, and other Asian nations will follow suit.
Even in the third world, birthrates have been cut by half, to an average of less than three children per woman.
Yes, the earth's total population is still on the rise, though it will increase by less than 50 percent in the next 50 years _ an estimate which keeps dropping, by the way _ before population growth actually starts to decline. Almost all of that growth will come from the developing world.
But consider this: the earth's population quadrupled over the last century. And yet "The Population Bomb," predicted by Paul Ehrlich in his famous 1968 book in which he said the Earth couldn't sustain increased populations for we would choke the earth (and each other) to death, just hasn't materialized. In fact, a major reason for the world's population growth has been longer life spans thanks to increased health, wealth and increasingly more abundant and ever-cheaper food in even the poorest parts of the planet. Oh, and the air and water are actually cleaner today in every industrialized and many developing countries than was the case 25 years ago.
That's because in free societies people become productive resources, not drains, on the world. And so it's no surprise we have seen unprecedented economic growth and increases in the standard of living (and a cleaner environment) in recent decades in the United States _ at the same time we have a record number of people.
There's plenty of room here for more folks, by the way. According to urban planning expert Dr. Ronald Utt of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., the entire "human footprint" in the United States _ every building, road, grocery store, farmhouse, you name it, takes up a grand total of. less than 5 percent _ yes, that's 5 percent _ of the continental United States land mass!
Our problem now is that the industrialized world as a whole is being decimated by its own choice. We're just not having enough babies. That, of course, has devastating consequences for the developing world _ and for the planet itself.
This Earth Day, if we really want to raise consciousness about problems facing our globe we shouldn't focus on planting trees _ we have plenty of those _ we should focus on planting more babies.
(Betsy Hart is the author of "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids _ and What to Do About It." She can be reached at www.betsyhart.net or betsysblog.com.)