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Joe Guzzardi: It’s time for leaders to take on overpopulation

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Posted: Saturday, September 21, 2013 12:00 am

Last week, the New York Times published an op-ed titled “Overpopulation is Not the Problem,” written by University of Maryland associate geography and environmental systems Erle C. Ellis.

In his column, Ellis rejects as “nonsense” concerns that too many people are undermining the life systems that support us. Ellis argues that there “is no such thing as human carrying capacity” and that “social sciences” will enable us to feed another 3 billion more people over the coming decades.

This, Ellis laughably claims, can happen without further damaging the already distressed soil and water that the Earth’s residents depend upon for our well being and long-term survival is.

Ellis’ unrealistic, unsubstantiated theories set off an Internet firestorm among environmentalists who are convinced that overpopulation represents a grave danger and is among the most serious but politically incorrect subjects the nation must confront.

Without burdening readers down with heavy statistics about exponential growth and fossil fuel consumption, I’ll boil population surges negatives down to one easily understandable basic that I extracted from the recently released United Nations’ “World Happiness Report 2013.” Then, I’ll relate it to the San Joaquin Valley and Lodi.

The U.N. report found that people who live in countries with low population growth are the happiest: Denmark, Norway and Switzerland have annual population growth rates of 0.24, 0.33 and 0.2 percent respectively.

By comparison, the U.N. ranked the United States, the world’s third most populated nation behind China and India, as the 17th happiest (or least happy) place to live.

Interestingly, the U.S. Bureau of the Census statistics show that between 2010 and 2012, the San Joaquin Valley’s population increased by an estimated 2.5 percent, while Lodi’s grew by 1.9 percent. Measured by population growth alone, the Valley and Lodi specifically would rank even with Syria, which is near the bottom of the U.N.’s happiness scale.

I’m in no way suggesting that Lodians are unhappy, much less as discontent as Syrians. During the 25 years I lived in Lodi, all the evidence pointed in the opposite direction.

And there are several variables not related to population that determine happiness: a steady job, health, and family harmony are among the most important.

What I am saying, however, is that the statistics and the message are interesting.

Growth creates problems which in turn produces unhappiness. Traffic, sprawl, pollution, over-crowding, and loss of open space add frustration to residents’ daily routines. When I compare the Lodi I moved to in 1986 to the Lodi I left in 2008, I preferred the “before” version. I’d rather have the vineyards and orchards than the box stores and housing developments.

The U.N. encouraged governments when making policy decisions to consider citizens’ happiness, because trouble-free people live longer, are more productive and earn more.

Unfortunately, the U.S. is committed to growth. Capitol Hill is controlled by the lobbies that promote more, more and more. The business, real estate and construction lobbies spend millions each year influencing Congress support growth.

On the other hand, even in states like California, where population growth should be an obvious concern, it’s rarely mentioned by politicians on the municipal, state or federal level.

When influential people dare not mention population, solutions won’t be forthcoming.

Joe Guzzardi is a California native. During the decade he was born, the state’s population was 7 million. Today, it’s nearly 39 million. Contact Joe at

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