Common Ground

Dr. Brian L. Horejsi is a wildlife and forest ecologist from Penticton.

Is the United States “full” of people? Recently America’s president suggested just that. Could it be that Canada, too, is “full,” contrary to assertions by our prime minister?

People that benefit far more than others rarely question or condemn practices that pay them those disproportional advantages. Mostly they pour effusive praise on that which suits them. One combination issue where this mismatch applies is population growth and resource consumption, and their link to migration (immigration) along with the mass of resulting ecological impacts.

Almost never has there been a full assessment, let alone formal or public discussion, about the biological and social ecological impacts of the number of people in a country and the subsequent escalated impacts and problems associated with even more people.

We live in a world where virtually any discussion of ecological impacts of human population growth that might suggest, infer, or directly state that people are going to have to relinquish something they already have in hand is feared, punished, and mostly, religiously avoided or brutally suppressed.

For example, Canadian government documents suggesting actions to reduce GHG emissions make no mention of economic slowdown or having “one child less;” Canadian high school texts make no reference to either.

Take an ecological “hard look” at the United States and Canada. I see a finite “barrel” (there is only so much land, water and energy) filled way beyond full with people, environmental costs, resource distribution conflicts, and a massive per capita ecological footprint bursting over top of the barrel like the pounding flow of water over Niagara Falls.

Virtually nothing in the U.S. is contained within the “barrel,” a metaphor for long-term, balanced, replace-level use of resources. Virtually every aspect of productivity, distribution and consumption is way out of whack.

America’s White House has demonstrated no environmental intellect or awareness — quite the contrary — it has shown outright malice to environmental protection. But let’s examine the claim that America is full in the context of the world’s most severe problem: overpopulation, overconsumption and their link to global climate disruption.

America is way out in front in this race to the bottom; Canada is right behind (with Australia) and well ahead of the rest of the world!

How sustainable is America? The world, led by America, blew by the point at which consumption matched productivity (a threshold known as ecological overshoot) in the mid-1980s. The U.S. blasted by the annual “overshoot” day last year on May 15, with Canada next at May 18. The world average is Aug. 21. For most of the year we live on borrowed, or stolen, time.

Americans, like so many people in the “developed” world, equate happiness and success with accumulation of material goods.

“Doing better” means having more and bigger stuff! Few people define quality of life as living with what they presently have or fewer still consider relinquishing any privilege or possession to improve their well-being.

That notion scares the hell out of politicians and corporations whose “success” depends on you buying their snake oil; “you are failing if you don’t get more than you have now”!

We would need four additional “planets” to support worldwide consumption equal to that of Americans and Canadians. This excess is part of the reason people are lined up at Americas border, or flowing through Canada’s (non) borders.

Few Americans or Canadians realize that for every new body in our land, each existing citizens is forced to give something up.

If North Americans made the needed 50 to 60% cut to resource consumption (water, fuel, energy, even food categories) for the average person – even more for the rich and powerful – and eliminated inequality in access to and distribution of resources you might then be able to argue that America is not full.

Can Americans do any of that in the next few years? Or ever? Do elephants fly?

Dr. Brian L. Horejsi is a wildlife and forest ecologist from Penticton.

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