by Whit Gibbons

January 1, 2006

As I say every year, everyone should incorporate the environment into their New Year’s resolutions. Doing so should not be viewed as an imposition. For one thing, any schoolchild knows that healthy lives have a direct correlation with healthy ecosystems. So, any educated adult should be willing to make an environmental pledge to assure that something positive happens, or something negative does not. The first four environmental resolutions should be easy for anyone, but for some people the fifth may be a hard one.

1. Resolve to support environmental education at local schools. What better group to teach about the importance of healthy environments? One way to contribute is to donate your time to a school science program that focuses on ecology. Taking children on outdoor field trips, even in the vicinity of the school, is an activity where today’s school programs fall far short. Ask the science teacher what field trips are planned and if you can help by being a class chaperone. If you are unable to invest time, offer to provide something for the classroom, such as a natural history book or subscription to a nature magazine.

2. Resolve to take a long walk through natural habitat--a local wooded area, around a lake, or alongside a stream. Most state and some city parks are excellent places to find wildlife, especially in spring. Look carefully at the diversity of plants, including small flowers and mushrooms, and at animals, especially insects. Look under rocks and logs. You will become more appreciative of the exciting life all around you.

3. Resolve to watch an animal in your yard to observe its behavior for at least 10 minutes. Squirrels are fun to watch, but many insects and spiders have interesting behaviors, too. Just watch it to see what it does. You may have to wait for warm weather to find a good target species.

4. Identify a tree, shrub, or other plant in your yard or neighborhood and read about it on a reputable Web site sponsored by a university, museum, or government agency, or in an encyclopedia, nature magazine, or book. Learning about the ecology and geographic distribution of a species will make you appreciate it for the rest of your life.

5. And now the hard one. Resolve to have an open mind about the issue of overpopulation. This last resolution will seem like a no-brainer for some people but almost impossible to do for others. Yet, this is the most important resolution of all, because it relates to the single-most pervasive cause of environmental problems--we have too many people in our country and the world. Think of an environmental problem, and you can see that it would be lessened if we had a smaller population. The destruction of tropical rainforest and old-growth forests? We could have sustainable forest programs to produce wood products if we did not keep having more and more people demanding them. Air and water pollution? People are the root cause of both, and the more people we have the more pollution will follow. Environmental destruction that would result from Arctic oil fields and off-shore drilling? The dwindling energy sources that lead to such recommendations are directly correlated with an expanding population that requires more energy at an excessive rate.

Why would anyone not want to consider overpopulation with an open mind? This has never been clear to me, for we all know the alternative of not addressing a problem with an open mind. All that is being asked with this resolution is that each person take the first step of understanding that overpopulation is a problem, but one with solutions. If after reviewing the facts you cannot accept by the end of the year that overpopulation is bad for the environment and for the humans living on earth, then at least you fulfilled your resolution to have an open mind. If you end up the year accepting overpopulation as a problem, then next year we can begin to talk about some extremely important resolutions that are the next steps for solving it.

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