by Whit Gibbons

January 2, 2005

Suggesting New Year's environmental resolutions is always easy because everyone knows that having healthy ecosystems increases our chances of having healthy lives. But what if we had only one problem to solve, instead of a whole list? We are in luck. As has been true for decades, a single phenomenon is the root of all our environmental problems. My suggestion is that we each make a New Year's environmental resolution to have an open mind and accept a simple fact: we have too many people, and we need a better plan for the future.

Anyone following environmental issues can identify a variety of critical environmental issues in the United States or worldwide. Invasive species, alteration of natural habitats, and excessive environmental pollution are three obvious ones. Human overpopulation is the primary culprit for all three.

Introduced exotic species like fire ants and chestnut blight are here because people brought them to us. Today, invasive species come and go in all directions around the globe. We send or carry living things to other continents constantly, on purpose or unknowingly. A world with fewer people would be a world with fewer living things moving around and ending up in the wrong places.

The unrelenting destruction of native habitats by unregulated development of housing areas and sprawl malls makes us wonder how many of our elected officials are in the real estate business. Adding people means finding places for them to live, more food to eat and water to drink, more fuel to keep warm. The means for acquiring these necessities have permanent impacts on the world's natural forests, rivers, and all other habitats not already being used by people.

Endless pollutants continue to be discovered that have serious environmental impacts. Obviously, more than six billion people worldwide, and especially the more than 280 million in the United States, pollute on a grand scale. The environment suffers, and we suffer, in proportion to how many people are using the earth's resources and then discarding them.

Environmental conflicts must be considered in many arenas--political, scientific, economic, ethical. But ironically, every environmental problem in the world today stems from human overpopulation, a point people in general and politicians and national news media in particular seldom mention. If we solve overpopulation, environmental conflicts will lessen.

To appreciate the rate of overpopulation, figure out how many people were on the planet when you graduated from high school. 1960? Three billion. 1980? Four billion. 2000? Six billion. Today's babies? Eight billion, if we keep going at the current rate. And remember, about five billion or more of the people in the world today would like to live with us in the United States. It doesn't take much mathematical ability to see that our immigration pressures are going to increase steadily as the world's population grows, increasing our environmental problems.

Overpopulation always solves itself in the animal world. Disease and starvation eventually increase when a species becomes too abundant. Humans are animals subject to the same natural laws as other animals. All of us should think about this, for we can actually avoid the consequences of overpopulation by controlling our birth rate.

Supporting a global plan of voluntary birth control and family planning is a simple solution to world overpopulation and virtually all the world's environmental problems. If someone actively discourages birth control programs in regions where population levels have become dangerously high, is that person taking a position of preferring that population levels be controlled by epidemic disease or starvation, the other two options? Do members of Congress who vote against aid for birth control programs in heavily populated regions of the world feel the responsibility? Have our national and world leaders given clear thought to the two options the world's people now face: either birth control or starvation and disease? If you know of other choices, I'm sure the world will want to learn of them.

So, no matter what your culture, religion, or level of education, make a resolution to have an open mind about how we can achieve a healthier population trajectory than the one we seem to be on now. We'll all have a happier New Year--now and in years to come.

If you have an environmental question or comment, email

(Back to Ecoviews)