Wrapping our minds around the concept of 7 billion people, the earth's population, is tough. Even though the sum is liberally tossed around in everyday language, a billion of anything is beyond comprehension. A billion minutes ago would put us back into the time of Christ; a billion hours was 115,000 years ago and a billion days is the equivalent of three million years.
I can understand why so many laymen ignore population issues — although I wish they wouldn't. The numbers are staggeringly high, the problem is weighty, seemingly beyond correction, and the worst of overpopulation's consequences won't occur until our generation has passed. Americans, and especially politicians, are great at looking the other way and passing the toughest problems down the line.
If, however, instead of trying to grasp 7 billion, we would concentrate on our own infinitely smaller communities, we might develop a clearer picture of what lies ahead.
Let's focus on Lodi, where I lived from 1986 to 2008, which was once a small agricultural community. The projections I'll make in my column in terms of growth percentage and the conclusions I draw from Lodi's probable decline in quality of life because of population pressures would apply anywhere in America.
Twenty-five years ago, when I first moved to Lodi, its population was 52,000; today, it's 62,000. To accommodate what may strike some as relatively modest growth, acres of vineyards were paved over to make room for more roads, schools, box stores and housing developments.
Lodi reflected California's overall population increases. In 1990, the state had nearly 30 million residents; today, 38 million. Up and down the state, the same ineffective short-term, Band-Aid solutions failed. While officials authorized more building everywhere, the quality of life became less and less enjoyable.
A year ago, the News-Sentinel provided residents a chance to peer into 2040 by analyzing what one of the town's major thoroughfares will look like three decades from today. Now a two-lane road that runs along Lodi's south side, Harney Lane will eventually expand to four lanes. In the process of building a major east-west connector to Highway 99, plans for the city to acquire 47 pieces of private property are underway. In the interim, according to the News-Sentinel's December story, adjoining roads on the east and west side of Harney Lane will be widened. Also under consideration is an overpass.
While Harney Lane is being expanded, thousands of commuters who travel along that route on their way to the major highways that lead north to Sacramento or south to Stockton will be stuck in day-long, bumper-to-bumper tie-ups.
Then, the ultimate irony, 30 years from now when the project is complete, Lodi will have grown by another 10,000 or more residents and the entire never-ending process will have to repeat itself.
Anyone thinking about addressing the nation's massive problems of traffic congestion, air pollution, increasing water and energy demands, conversion of prime agricultural land, loss of wildlife habitat and open space, housing affordability, school overcrowding and a host of other critical issues, must forthrightly address over-population if they hope to make any headway.
Joe Guzzardi now lives in Pittsburgh, where the rate of population growth is flat. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.