The sky is falling -- again.
Stanford University ecologist Paul Ehrlich sounded his first shrill words of impending doom 30 years ago. In his best-selling book, "The Population Bomb," the scientist fostered the fledgling environmental movement when he warned that the 1960s population explosion threatened to cause famine and pestilence as we outstripped the Earth's ability to feed its citizens.
Now Ehrlich is sounding another clarion call to calamity, backed by an esteemed panel of Stanford colleagues, warning that global overconsumption could destroy the Earth's environment.
Not a new prediction
If developing countries try to emulate the rich nations -- perhaps best illustrated by America and our population's seemingly insatiable demand for bigger homes, nicer cars and every electronic gadget invented -- then the remaining forests will be denuded, the waters tainted by pollution and the air fouled with toxic chemicals, they caution.
All of this would make us a bit more nervous if we hadn't heard similarly scary stories for the past three decades. From predictions of worldwide hunger and nuclear winter to rogue asteroids and unstoppable diseases, we've been bombarded by dire predictions of our impending doom. But, to borrow a phrase, the stories of our death have been greatly exaggerated.
That's not to dismiss completely Ehrlich's concerns.
He raises a provocative question about the potentially negative effect of our consumer culture on the world and our enjoyment of life. Anyone who has been stuck in a traffic jam on U.S. 15-501 or Interstate 40 can attest to the downside of urban sprawl. Ehrlich goes too far, though, when he raises doubts about whether we are better off today than our parents and grandparents who lived during the Depression.
It is unquestionable that the developed nations squandered resources and polluted the environment as they rose to prominence. America and other rich nations have a responsibility to help developing nations avoid making the same mistakes.
Image worth emulating
But it is unfair to lay all of the world's environmental woes at the feet of the American lifestyle. Rather than feeling guilty, we should be proud that our very affluence has afforded U.S. researchers the opportunity to advance environmental protection and share that knowledge. America's demand for consumer goods has helped pour needed money into countries to feed their populations and build sound economies.
Rather than the ticket to our global downfall, America's success story offers an image -- falling acorns and all -- worth emulating.
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