[See also "Redwoods Or Immigrants?" That's America's Choice On Earth Day 2007, by Brenda Walker]
Just 40 years ago, Enoch Powell began his so-called "Rivers of Blood" speech on April 20, 1968 with a comment that could have been made by an environmentalist: "The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils."
What a concept—that elected officials should actually look forward, and plan to reach an optimum future for the citizenry.
Of course P-L-A-N is the four-letter word that has eluded the vocabulary of Washington, whose denizens can hardly foresee their way to the next election cycle.
If America's elected representatives cared about the country they have sworn to defend, they might consider the future prospects of Americans having an adequate food supply. The increasingly expensive commodity in the headlines recently is gasoline, but food prices are following close behind, with prices for basic staples like rice, wheat and corn rising over 80 percent worldwide in three years.
As I wrote recently, the climate-change controversy has pulled attention away from environmental issues about which everyone can agree. There is no argument that human health and well being require clean air and water. We also need enough farmland to grow the food we eat. But prime agricultural acreage is lost to development at a rate of two acres per minute according to a 2002 study by the American Farmland Trust.
The year 2008 may be remembered as the time when shortages of basic necessities became commonplace.
"Japan's acute butter shortage, which has confounded bakeries, restaurants and now families across the country, is the latest unforeseen result of the global agricultural commodities crisis.
A sharp increase in the cost of imported cattle feed and a decline in milk imports, both of which are typically provided in large part by Australia, have prevented dairy farmers from keeping pace with demand.
While soaring food prices have triggered rioting among the starving millions of the Third World, in wealthy Japan they have forced a pampered population to contemplate the shocking possibility of a long-term—perhaps permanent—reduction in the quality and quantity of its food."[Japan's hunger becomes a dire warning for other nations, By Justin Norrie, The Age, Melbourne, Australia, April 21, 2008]
If Japan's food shortages prove to be a preview for the United States, turning America's productive farmlands into housing developments for an ever-increasing population may seem like another bad policy choice. America is no longer a food-exporting nation, as it was for so long when our productive farmers grew grain to feed a hungry planet.
Indeed, the first signs of food scarcity are already showing up:
"Major retailers in New York, in areas of New England, and on the West Coast are limiting purchases of flour, rice, and cooking oil as demand outstrips supply. There are also anecdotal reports that some consumers are hoarding grain stocks. "[Food Rationing Confronts Breadbasket of the World By Josh Gerstein, New York Sun, April 21, 2008].
Since we are in a "global marketplace" (as talking heads keep reminding us), Washington will do nothing to keep America's home-grown food from being sold to foreign markets, even in the case of food shortages here. Washington's policy on protecting Americans' food supply might be a good question for Presidential candidates, in fact.
Even so, it makes no sense to use prime agricultural land for housing and other development. In this respect, the "smart growth" advocates are correct. It makes even less sense to continue open borders to the world as if there is no cost to be paid.
California has one of the most managed environments in the US. The engineered water system has allowed California to pack in nearly 40 million residents, far more than the environment can support without damaging its natural resources. Every rainy season is faced with hope and dread, now that only one low year of rainfall puts the state at risk for mandatory household water restriction because of increased demand.
Part of water management is wildlife control. That means no semblance of normal life cycles for creatures like salmon. Once the iconic fish of the northwest swam from the ocean to return to the place in mountain streams where it had hatched to breed before dying. Now those rivers have been dammed, diverted or dried up because of human intervention to control water.
This year, the California salmon fishery crashed. Not only was the failure a surprise to experts, but the cause is not understood for sure—largely because there are so many possibilities of what could have gone wrong. Whatever the reason, it may well be the end of a way of life for hundreds of the state's fishermen, not to mention the loss of a valuable and delicious food source: End of coast's 150-year-old fishery looms [San Francisco Chronicle, April 12, 2008].
"Now, for the first time since commercial fishing began on the West Coast more than 150 years ago during the Gold Rush era, no boats will be permitted to put to sea to fish for chinook, the fabled king salmon that is the mainstay of the commercial fishery.
"The ban is only for one year, but it could be a death blow to an industry that has been in decline for years. As recently as 15 years ago, 4,000 small boats fished off the California coast for salmon; now the salmon fleet numbers only 400."
The financial loss in commercial and recreational salmon fishing to California is estimated to be over $20 million for one season. But the failing health of the supporting environment has other indicators as well, in particular the precipitous decline of the delta smelt last year. It's an ordinary little fish, but its plunging numbers show how rapidly the Sacramento River Delta has become more of a sewer than an ecosystem.
In California, the health of fisheries has always taken a back seat to agricultural interests—and, of course, to the omnipresent needs of population growth. When Los Angeles demands more water, politicians salute and obey, if they want to keep their jobs.
Not long ago, fish was an inexpensive source of protein and a tasty addition to meals. Now waste and poor resource management have put some species' survival at risk, not to mention removed them as a food source. With so many additional mouths to feed, it's tremendously short-sighted to treat our natural resources so unwisely.
Overpopulation, both domestic and global, creates more difficult choices. One example is the use of food plants like corn to create ethanol, in order to achieve energy independence from the Saudi oil barons, a worthwhile effort that is decades late. However, food prices have shot up as a result, leading to rioting in countries like Haiti and Egypt that are already on the edge.
Natural resources can only stretch so far. Technology cannot be a savior from human foibles.
On Earth Day, we adults should be talking about reasonable limits—on immigration into the U.S. for example.
In fact, although the environmentalist establishment ducks the immigration issue, responsible environmentalists who are honest about the overpopulation crisis are among the toughest critics of open borders. The word "zero" rolls from their lips far more often than among other groups. Conservationists who look at the numbers grasp that a hundred thousand newcomers today rapidly expand to a million because of children and America's family-based immigration policies are a Ponzi scheme from Hell.
Skyrocketing food prices and looming shortages are a symptom that America is full up.
For Earth Day, citizens should insist that politicians must "provide against preventable evils"—even if they don't mention the controversial Enoch Powell as the source of that wisdom.
Brenda Walker (email her) lives in Northern California and publishes two websites, LimitsToGrowth.org and ImmigrationsHumanCost.org. For Earth Day, she remembers the wisdom of the late Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who remarked, "Population growth and its consequences is not a dramatic event waiting to happen. Rather it is a dramatic event already in progress, just waiting to be noticed. And when we finally do notice, it will likely be too late."