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Population growth is outstripping resources

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Posted: Saturday, September 29, 2012 12:00 am

In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton established the Council on Sustainable Development. The council's goal was to stabilize the United States' population through prudent family planning and promoting a greater understanding between consumption and environmental degradation. Environmentalists refer to the relationship between humans and available resources as the ecological footprint — the more people, the larger the footprint.

The CSD remained active during Clinton's two terms. Unfortunately, birth rates and immigration skyrocketed under the Clinton administration and has continued at record high levels under Presidents Bush and Obama.

In the two decades that have passed since Clinton founded the CSD, U.S. population has increased from 280 million to nearly 310 million. In hindsight, the CSD was nothing more than political window dressing to give the appearance of ecological concern.

Recently, a group of 40 world leaders, including Clinton, former South African president Nelson Mandela and former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, issued a report that, like the CSD did years ago, sounded sustainability alarm bells. The report's findings are also endorsed by the U.N. University's Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNWEH) and Canada's Gordon Foundation.

The Interaction Council, as the group is known, stressed looming water shortages. It said that about 910 cubic miles of fresh water is taken annually from rivers and lakes.

The Interaction Council found that: "With about 1 billion more mouths to feed worldwide by 2025, global agriculture alone will require another (240 cubic miles) of water per year ... equal to the annual flow of 20 Niles or 100 Colorado Rivers."

Prime Minister Chretien included the grim observation that today, one billion people have no fresh water and two billion lack basic sanitation. Chretien added that about 4,500 children die of water-related diseases every day, the equivalent of 10 jumbo jets falling out of the sky with no survivors.

The world population is now just over 7 billion. With 2025 population estimates nearing 8 billion, the leaders fear that armed conflicts over access to potable water could arise. In China and India, the world's most populous nations, demand for water will exceed supply. Examples of water-related conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians over aquifers, between Egypt and other nations sharing the Nile, or between Iran and Afghanistan over the Hirmand River have already developed.

While the United States water situation is better than in the most arid parts of the world, shortages are a crisis in the making. Brad Udall, the University of Colorado's Western Water Assessment wrote, "We're on a collision course between supply and demand," and added that in 2012 "severe or worse" drought persists in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

In California, three reservoirs — San Luis, Isabella, and Casitas — reported moderate drought conditions in June, the Department of Water Resources notes.

Non-farm businesses in 15 California counties — Butte, Contra Costa, Glenn, Mendocino, Plumas, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Shasta, Sonoma, Stanislaus and Trinity — qualify for Small Business Administration federal disaster drought loans because of last year's drought.

The USDA's Secretarial Disaster Designations map shows two new California counties added to the existing disaster areas: Tuolumne and Calaveras.

Blue ribbon panel reports serve the valuable purpose of raising awareness among consumers who might otherwise think resources are unlimited. But what's needed is action: Family planning and reduced consumption are the first two steps to achieving balance between humans and nature's irreplaceable bounty.

Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. He lives in Pittsburgh. Contact Joe at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

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