As the crisis of dwindling long-term water supplies hangs over the American Southwest like vultures circling for dinner, everyone from academics to journalists is starting to pay attention.
One example is UC Santa Barbara anthropology professor emeritus Brian Fagan. In his article, "Learning from our arid past,” Fagan contrasts human flexibility in adapting to sustained aridity in California a millennium ago with the challenges we face today.
"The future is truly frightening," Fagan writes.
Indeed it is -- and all the more so because elected officials and even many experts in science and the environmental movement have been cowed into silence when it comes to addressing the elephant in California's living room: population growth.
Fagan ticks off a compelling list of warning signs, including a projection by Britain's Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research that 40% of the planet will be in a state of "severe drought" by the end of this century. But he only makes a passing reference to our surging population.
That glaring omission might be an act of self-preservation rather than an accident. As the state's ground water supplies grow ever more precarious, the well of public discourse has been poisoned.
One of the early casualties of the rancorous debate over immigration to the United States, both legal and illegal, has been the ability to discuss openly the staggering effects of population growth on critical resources such as water. Because immigration -- and particularly illegal immigration -- is the human engine driving sustained population growth in California and the U.S., addressing population growth means wading into the immigration debate.
Thus, academics, environmentalists and elected officials alike run the very real risk of being tarred as "racist" by immigrant advocacy groups if they dare to suggest serious limitations to immigration as part of an overall strategy to stabilize our population growth.
The effect this has had is clear. There are increasing calls for new water-use policies, tougher restrictions on developers, beefed up land-use regulations and investment in research and development -- anything but a reasoned call for slowing our population growth and then reducing it to replacement levels over the next century. It is politically correct to call for dramatic reductions in overall consumption, to specifically conserve fuel or water, or to preserve what remains of arable land. But it remains verboten among political, academic and many media circles to discuss the reason for consumption run amok.
This whistling past the graveyard has taken on an absurdist pitch in various environmental groups, where it remains chic to warn against global overpopulation but absolutely unacceptable to discuss the immigration that is fueling America's population surge.
I was treated to an example of this intellectual charade not long ago while speaking with a Sierra Club representative who was working an information booth for the venerable group. We chatted amicably for a few minutes about the runaway development in Southern California that in a generation has erased the open space that once demarcated city limits. She seemed pleased as punch to meet a fellow traveler on the issue of sustainable growth.
Then I dropped the "pop-bomb," asking her about the Sierra Club's view on population growth and its effect on the environment. She quickly shifted her pleasant banter into a stock, monotone recitation of the challenges posed by global overpopulation. When I pointed to the dramatic strain on critical resources in California, such as water, and contrasted that with population growth that has us on track to hit 60 million people by mid-century, her response was immediate. She lifted her hand up in front of her, like a crossing guard ordering cars to halt, and refused to talk about the issue. And that was that.
A serious discussion on California's population growth has yet to begin. It is intellectually dishonest for academics like Fagan to proffer "adapting" as a solution without confronting the state's continued population growth. Academics, scientists, elected officials and the media must find the courage to address the issue of overpopulation despite the insidious smears they will likely suffer. The longer we put off launching that discussion in earnest, the faster Fagan's projection of a "frightening future" is going to become reality.
Mark Cromer is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization. He can be reached at Mrcromer@aol.com.