President's Note, September 2023

Written by John Seager, President and CEO | Published: September 11, 2023

John Seager,

One of my long-ago EPA coworkers displayed this message for all to see: “Your failure to plan ahead does not constitute my crisis.” None of us can afford to ignore today’s ecological emergencies resulting from humanity’s profound failure to plan ahead as our population continues to soar. Our disregard for nature has triggered what amounts to an environmental pandemic that’s as real as Covid, yet vastly more lethal for humans and other species.

Back East, we wore masks this summer when going outside as our skies were darkened by smoke from vast Canadian forest fires tied to climate change. Scientists at the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute recently reported day after day after day when temperatures exceeded the hottest ever recorded by humans on Earth. Left unnoted was the fact that human population was also hitting new highs—as it does every single day.

Noting that “warmer temperatures lead to more air conditioning; more air conditioning leads to warmer temperatures,” The Guardian reports that we may see 3.5 billion more room air conditioners by 2050 globally. According to a 2017 report by the FAO, “Demand for food and other agricultural products is projected to increase by 50 percent between 2012 and 2050. Demand will undergo structural changes, owing to factors such as population growth, urbanization, and per capita increases in income.”

Soaring temperatures, food shortages, and unbreathable air are all linked to rapid population growth. Why do these relationships continue to be brushed off? The problem isn’t lack of evidence. Yet, as we don our masks, crank up the AC, and tote bottles of water, most ignore population connections. If asked, they point to overconsumption—important, to be sure—then quickly change the subject.

Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, which coincided with the rapid acceleration of human population growth, we’ve kept the pedal to the metal with utter disregard for the Laws of Nature as they relate to our ever-increasing numbers.

As the California State Public Health Department pointed out in “Pollution Box Score, Top of the Ninth Inning,” a warning the agency published in 1969, “Man, perennially weak at defense and strategy but a threat at the plate, has been hitting nature hard. It must be remembered, however, that nature bats last.” Nature, broadly defined, will adapt despite the grievous damage we inflict—though countless species and the wild places they call home will not survive our craven ways.

For our own sake and on behalf of Earth as we know it, we must stop the stupid. One obvious step: Smash the social, cultural, educational, and economic barriers that prevent people from choosing smaller families. Make no mistake: Those barriers abound right here in the U.S. And we should also recognize that, despite some challenges, there are advantages to a society with more older people. As one such person, I’m tired of blanket criticisms.

Smaller families won’t cure every ailment we’re inflicting on our living planet. But, unless you’re willing to bet the future on the fantastical blather of know-it-all tech bros like Elon Musk (whom I wouldn’t trust to look after a philodendron), voluntary programs to stop overpopulation here, there, and everywhere are imperative.