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Environment / Sustainability

CSU's Cafaro: Overpopulation is top environmental concern

January 25, 2013

What's the No. 1 environmental issue facing the U.S. and the world today? Phil Cafaro, professor of philosophy at Colorado State University, believes it's the one we have the hardest time talking about: our ever-growing population.

Cafaro and co-editor Eileen Crist (from Virginia Tech) hope to ignite a robust discussion of population issues among environmentalists, policymakers and the general public with their new book Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation. In it, leading American environmentalists discuss how population growth is a major force behind the most serious ecological problems, including global climate change, food and water shortages, and the extinction of species.

Contributors include author Paul Ehrlich, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder Paul Watson, legendary environmental activists Dave Foreman and Stephanie Mills, former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, University of Colorado emeritus professor of physics Al Bartlett and 16 others. They explore the whole range of difficult moral and political issues surrounding population policy, including contraception, abortion, partriarchal social structures, immigration and limits to growth, arguing that the planet must humanely stabilize or reduce human numbers to preserve wild nature and build a vibrant human future.

Setting limits

“Any environmental cause is a lost cause if we cannot set limits to our population and our consumption,” Cafaro said. “Creating a sustainable society is America’s key challenge in the 21st century—but it is a task we are bound to fail if we cannot stabilize our numbers.”

With current policies set to increase the U.S. population from its present 315 million people to 575 million by 2100, population growth is an issue that cannot be ignored, Cafaro added.

Hot-button issue

Current hot-button environmental issues across Colorado, such as hydrofracking and proposals to build new dams, have a population component that is rarely addressed by politicians, environmental organizations or the media, Cafaro said. Similarly, he added, today’s immigration policies will help determine whether our population stabilizes during the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren.

“Pursuing environmentalism without addressing our ever-increasing population is an exercise in politically correct futility,” argues Cafaro. “If environmentalists refuse to engage with population issues, we are going to have to say goodbye to most of what we have worked to protect.”

Cafaro will sign Life on the Brink at 2 p.m. March 16 at Old Firehouse Books, 232 Walnut St., Fort Collins.