The Earth Is Our
How Are We Going to Quench the Thirst of Another 100 Million People?
America is running out of water. According to the Resources Planning Act Assessment, a U.S. funded study on the nation’s renewable resources, up to 96 water basins of 204 supplying the country with freshwater could be unable to meet monthly demand by 2071. States from coast to coast will be affected, including the central and southern Great Plains states, the Southwest and central Rocky Mountain states, as well as parts of California, the South and the Midwest. Water managers from 40 states in a GAO survey predict freshwater shortages even sooner.
Why are we running out of water? One of the primary causes cited by scientists is increased demand as a result of U.S. population growth. Left unabated, U.S. population is projected to increase from 330 million today to 500 million by the year 2100. That’s not only putting unprecedented pressure on our water supplies, it’s also highlighting the deterioration in America’s water infrastructure.
Around the country, in places like Flint, Michigan and many others, examples of water contamination have been documented. Over 1,000 locations in 49 states have confirmed cases of contamination by highly toxic fluorinated compounds known as PFAS. Reports indicate at least 30 cities failed water quality testing protocols, following the same flawed procedures used in Flint. Our water infrastructure is falling apart fast and the problems will be exacerbated by dramatic increases in population. According to the American Water Works Association, the country needs to invest at least $1 trillion in water infrastructure over the coming decades.
It shouldn’t be surprising that many Americans are concerned. A 2017 Gallup poll found 63% of Americans worry a great deal about the pollution of drinking water and 57% worry a great deal about pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Americans are justified in their concerns. Surface waters like lakes, streams, and rivers provide about 170 million of us with drinking water. But our waterways are becoming more polluted at an alarming rate. A study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that only 21% of our rivers and streams are considered “healthy.” 55% are in “poor” condition, and 23% are only “fair.” And the pollution is filtering to humans through the water we drink and animals we eat.
So what’s the solution? Obviously a sophisticated, multi-pronged strategy, including increased conservation, is required. But mitigation efforts alone will not be enough to offset another 100 million people added to the country. There’s simply not enough water. And as temperatures continue rising, evaporation is increasing at a faster rate. It’s time to have an honest discussion about population growth and natural resources in America. If we don’t, the next generation of Americans will be left high and dry.
How Tearing Up the LandIs Taking a Toll on Us:
When fracking first started in Pennsylvania a little more than a decade ago, it was an economic boon for many. Oil and gas companies paid to lease land while landowners sat back and collected checks. Workers desperate for good paying jobs found them and there would be plenty of oil and gas for the growing population. But then reality set in. The air was filled with toxic fracking fumes. Groundwater was contaminated. And the environment was decimated. Those living near fracking sites began to get sick, experiencing a disproportionate share of respiratory problems, birth defects, blood disorders, cancer, and nervous system issues. Workers transporting and disposing of fracking waste liquid called “brine” were getting skin cancers and experiencing burning skin when exposed to the brine. The “brine” was radioactive. But no research had been conducted at the time proving a link between fracking, environmental degradation, and ill health effects, even though the connection seemed obvious. Colcom Foundation is proud to have funded critical nascent research into fracking’s harm.
The combined efforts of many scientists and researchers put the oil and gas industry on notice to clean up their act. And helped people living near fracking sites and working in the industry understand the risks. Today Colcom continues to fund scientific research into the long term effects of fracking. Because the land is our common ground. We better take care of it.
Is that sustainable?
With a population of 330 million, the U.S.is the third most populous country in the world. China and India are the only countries with more people. And population growth in the US is expected to grow exponentially in coming years. Based on current trends, the Pew Research Center projects America’s population will expand by 100 million in just the next thirty years.
Imagine the implications of 30% more people: more cars, air pollution and CO2 emissions; more fossil fuels to provide energy; more forests and farmland taken to build housing; further depletion of quickly dwindling water supplies; more parking lots and roads carrying toxic runoff into our streams and rivers; more damage to biodiversity hot spots; higher population density at a time when densely populated areas are experiencing the worst effects of the Coronavirus.
The good news, there’s an easy way to slow America’s population growth. According to Pew Research, 88% of the country’s projected population increase will be a direct result of mass immigration. That shouldn’t be surprising as America takes in more immigrants than any other country in the world. Far more than France, Italy, Germany, China, Russia, India, Sweden, Denmark, Mexico or any other country. And immigration has played an indispensable role in America’s success. Without the country’s proud immigration tradition, America would not be the country that it is today. But current immigration levels of more than one million a year are far higher than U.S. traditional annual levels of 230,000. So, if mass immigration is slowed to a more sustainable level, U.S. population growth will slow. We’ll all be able to enjoy an enhanced quality of life and mitigate environmental damage.
Most Americans have not thought a lot about population growth, though they feel the effects in everyday life. Population policy has been ceded to large corporations and Washington bureaucrats whose constituents benefit from unbridled population growth. It’s time to begin a constructive, civil debate about population levels in America. Is 330 million the right population number? 430 million? Less? What are the environmental impacts? How about the impact on American’s quality of life? And what moral obligation do we have to leave our land in a better state for the next generation? These are just a few of the important questions the country needs to address.
Arguments from all sides should be welcomed, encouraged, and respectfully considered. Help start the conversation. It’s up to all of us to take care of our common ground.
Can You Hear the Silence?
Was Rachel Carson right? Is a “Silent Spring” just a matter of time? Here’s a quote from her prescient book: “On the mornings that once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robbins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other birds voices, there was no sound.” Carson contended that pesticides would destroy the environment if we didn’t take steps to mitigate the damage and live a more sustainable lifestyle. Sixty years later, her predictions could be coming true. Since 1970, the number of birds in the United States and Canada has declined by three billion, a 29% decrease. Most ornithologists and conservationists consider a decrease of that magnitude cataclysmic. Scientists attribute the dramatic change to habitat loss as a result of agriculture and development, and wider use of pesticide, all symptoms of population growth.
The good news is some species have bounced back after conservation measures were implemented. For example, waterfowl are coming back, bald eagles are prospering, and the falcon populations have increased by 33%. So, there’s hope. But we have to take action now to ensure our kids and grandkids don’t hear silence when they awaken on a spring morning years from now. Because environmental sustainability isn’t just for the birds.
Here’s why they’re in hot water.
The environment is changing at an ever increasing pace. Forests and wetlands are being replaced with parking lots and new subdivisions. Runoff from wastewater, fertilizer, and other toxic sources is pouring into our rivers, lakes, and streams. The impact has been catastrophic. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 61 species of freshwater fish in North America have already gone extinct, and 700 species are in danger. 230 are listed as vulnerable, 190 as threatened, and 280 as endangered. Over 60% of salmon and trout species have a specific population in danger. Almost half of America’s darters, perches, minnows, and carp are threatened. Even freshwater mussels, crayfish, and snails are facing an uncertain future.
Habitat loss, dwindling range, pollution, and climate change are all cited as factors, often driven by population growth. The demise of our freshwater ecosystems is already impacting humans. Fisheries are endangered, carcinogens are infiltrating the land and water, and fresh water supplies are dwindling. The good news is there’s still time to mitigate the damage. But we must take action now. Through public awareness, conservation, and being intelligent about growth, we can begin repairing the damage. And ensure a sustainable future.
Are We Next?
Sounds melodramatic, but unfortunately it’s not. As we’re taught from an early age, our world is one massive ecosystem. When large portions of that ecosystem are removed, there are negative repercussions throughout the cycle, disrupting the balance. We’re now at a critical tipping point. 25% of the world’s 5,487 species of mammals face extinction. One third of marine mammals could be wiped out. Half of the world’s primates are confronted with threats from hunting or deforestation. 65 mammal species in the United States are threatened with extinction. And each extinction ripples through the food chain, making it more difficult for all species to survive, including humans.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), habitat loss, due to hunting and climate change are to blame, all symptoms of population growth. It’s time to take a more intelligent, measured approach to growth and environmental sustainability. The next generation is depending on us.