The population problem


I was touched and saddened by Ben Long’s eloquent lament on the extinction of the Selkirk caribou (“A quiet goodbye to the Selkirk caribou,” HCN, 5/28/18). He rightly points out the necessity of ecosystem services provided by healthy forests to avoid the “emergency room” of the Endangered Species Act. He closes by wishing that America can do better for the sake of his grandchildren. What he misses is that grandchildren, in general, are the root cause of the plight of the caribou — that is, population growth. Smaller populations can support sustainable harvesting of forests; ever-growing populations cannot.

More generally, climate change and most other environmental issues are fundamentally driven by world population growth. This fact is not known or is ignored by most people. The National Academy of Sciences’ Koshland Science Museum (before it closed) had a fantastic exhibit on the science behind climate change, but had not a word about its main driver: population growth. I am not criticizing Long’s focus on local issues and causes. I just want to point out the larger context, and cause, of the plight of the caribou.

Doug Duncan
North Potomac, Maryland

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