Natural Perspectives: What will our grandchildren see?

Vic and I took off for Big Bear Lake on Christmas to enjoy the snow there. The roads were clear, but there were several inches of snow on the ground, making a beautiful scene.

Our son Scott rented a large house on the lake so we could have our traditional post-Christmas snow play. It was large enough to hold the whole family — Scott, Nicole, Nicole's mother Maria and the three granddaughters, plus Vic and me.

We made good use of the fireplace, keeping a cozy fire going from morning until bedtime. I confess to spending most of my time parked in front of the fire with a good book. With a fully equipped modern kitchen at our disposal, we cooked all of our meals at the house.

All three little girls enjoyed the snow, especially when their dad pulled them on a sled. I showed them how to make snowballs, which they promptly threw at their Papa Vic. At age 2, Megan doesn't have much of a throwing arm, so she sneaked up behind Vic to smack snowballs into the small of his back. With the twins mounting a frontal assault and Megan behind, poor Vic was beleaguered.

The twins turned 5 while we were there. Megan's birthday is several days after the twins'. I didn't want her to feel left out, so I let her open the present from us at the twins' birthday party. Her mom said that she coveted her sisters' indoor sleeping bags, so I got her one of her own.

When Megan saw that her gift was a sleeping bag, she was beside herself with joy.

"It's just what I always wanted my whole life," she exclaimed. That cracked us up. Her "whole life" has been all of 3 years.

But it got Vic to wondering what life would be like when Megan was our age. Sixty-five years from now, Vic and I will be long gone. But we can speculate on some things.

Growth of the human population is one of the most pressing problems that people will face in the future. The world's population is projected to reach 7 billion in the next two years. In my lifetime, the world's population has tripled. Megan will never see that kind of increase.

Fortunately, the rate of population growth has slowed. But it still continues and over the next 50 years is expected to rise by another 2 billion to 5 billion people. Many experts say that the human population will level off at around 9 billion. We'll reach that number around 2040. Others believe that the population will reach 12 billion before leveling off.

Vic is an optimist who believes that people will show common sense and good judgment and voluntarily limit the size of their families.

I am more pessimistic. I think that human population will grow until it crashes due to disease outstripping the capacity of the environment to support it. Water may become a limiting factor in human population growth.

Fresh water will become an increasingly scarce resource as the population grows. Although our planet is covered with water, only about 2.7% of that water is fresh water. The rest is saltwater. And of that fresh water, 70% is frozen in polar ice caps and glaciers. That means that less than 1% is available for human consumption.

At the present time, the 6 billion-plus people on earth use 30% of the available fresh water. By 2025, as the human population grows and available water is reduced by pollution, that number is projected to rise to 70%. Future wars may be fought over water rights, rather than over oil.

Speaking of oil, have you heard of the Hubbert Peak? In the 1950s, geophysicist M. King Hubbert predicted that oil production in the U.S. would peak about 1970, then decline as the oil reserves were pumped out. That has proven to be true. Oil is not a renewable resource. The amount of oil in the world is finite. Many oil geologists believe that world oil production may have already peaked. We've already seen the days of cheap oil come to an end. Megan could well see the end of oil.

Because it is the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas that has caused today's problem of global warming, I say that we can't switch soon enough to alternative means of warming our houses and making our cars go. In just the past decade, we've seen storms become more severe. In the past century, the ocean off our coast rose 8 inches. As carbon dioxide levels continue to rise in the atmosphere, the poles will get warmer and the oceans will get higher. More severe storms combined with rising ocean levels are going to wreak havoc on our local coast.

Vic and I worked hard, along with many, many other people, to save the Bolsa Chica wetlands. But we have to wonder if it will just get submerged as ocean levels continue to rise. We don't see much real effort going into slowing the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Too many people just don't believe that the climate changes that we're already seeing are human-related. Somehow, global warming got turned into an ideology rather than a scientific fact. I think we can blame the oil and auto industries for disseminating that doubt.

Carbon dioxide levels are already higher than they've been in the past 650,000 years. That causes global warming, which in turn causes storms to be more frequent and more severe. The world is changing, and it doesn't look like a change for the better. We worry about the state of the world that we're leaving for our grandchildren.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at

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