Pigeon River, Haywood, North Carolina

Erin Johnson, courtesy of Flickr

Population Connections on an Average News Day

Written by John Seager, President and CEO | Published: August 9, 2022

Pigeon rage. Alas, that’s not the punchline to a silly story about avian antics. Rather, it refers to North Carolina’s Pigeon River, which “rose and raged and destroyed nearly everything in its path” a year ago, leaving communities deeply scarred to this day. It was featured in an August 4, 2022, Washington Post story about mounting costs of climate disasters as “Americans continue to flock to vulnerable places.”

I wanted to see what sort of “population connections” might be found on an average news day. I selected August 4th, which seemed as typical as any. Global population grew, as it does, by about 215,000 people on that day—bringing us ever closer to eight billion people on our beleaguered planet.

In that Washington Post report, climate scientist Adam Smith noted that “feverish growth of recent years, particularly in places where building codes are not always sufficient to account for the risk of extreme events, has put more lives and more assets in harm’s way.” The story focused on North Carolina, but it could apply to a vast array of communities around our nation and the world where rapid population growth collides with our heedless disregard for the natural world.

Another August 4th news story covers a report from the Deloitte Center for Sustainable Progress warning that the cost to the global economy of climate change could be $178 trillion over the next 50 years. The UN projects global population will grow by more than 2.3 billion people during that same period. Of course, emissions levels vary wildly from nation to nation, but more people equals higher emissions.

I came across a mildly optimistic story in Axios about an International Energy Agency analysis indicating “CO2 emissions between 2021 and 2050 could be about 4% lower through behavioral changes like driving less, driving slower, using less climate control and curbing business travel.” While a 4% reduction would be better than nothing, the UN projects nearly 25% global population growth over the same period.

Reuters reports that in northeast Kenya, “the worst drought in 40 years has forced parched grazing lands and forced 4.1 million people to depend on food aid.” Kenya’s population is projected to nearly double over the next five decades.

I learned from the Guardian that “the rate of extinction in insects is eight times faster than that of birds, mammals and reptiles.” Insects, which comprise most species on earth, are essential for food production, as with pollination. Even bugs are fighting a losing battle due to human overpopulation.

There is little, if any, discussion of population growth in these gleanings from one unexceptional daily news cycle. More than a half-century ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned about “the modern plague of overpopulation.” True then. True today. But now it’s worsened by another plague, namely that of silence driven, it seems, by “whataboutism.” Point to a population connection, and many immediately try to change the subject: What about overconsumption? What about corporate polluters? What about microplastics? All that and much, much more is true. But the stubborn refusal to acknowledge overpopulation doesn’t change the facts of life on our crowded planet.

Each day delivers ominous omens about challenges, crises, and calamities directly related to population growth. Population connections are plain to see. But only if we open our eyes.