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7 Billion: More of Us, Fewer of Them

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Remember this from your sex ed class?

"Wear a condom and save an endangered species. This little piece of latex may be your best chance at ever seeing a polar bear in the wild."

Me neither. But what if?

The result might be fewer people on this planet -- and fighting chance for polar bears, Florida panthers and scores of other plants and animals being driven to extinction by human overpopulation.

On Monday, the world population hit the 7 billion milestone -- and we're still adding more than 200,000 people to the planet every day.

While sex ed classes are still showing excruciatingly boring videos, apparently trying to use ennui as a prophylactic, the Center for Biological Diversity launched a new campaign, 7 Billion and Counting.

We're giving away 100,000 Endangered Species Condoms, packaged in colorful images of imperiled species to get the conversation and titters started about how overpopulation is driving the planet's six largest mass extinction crisis.

"Hump smarter, save the snail darter." "Cover your tweedle, save the American burying beetle." Who knew talking about extinction could be such fun?

The condoms are a huge hit: more than 1,000 volunteers are distributing them in all 50 states, handing them out and talking about overpopulation. They're being passed around at concerts, health centers, colleges, libraries, bars and even a research station in Antarctica.

The conversation is deadly important.

Species around the globe are being driven toward extinction at more than 100 times the natural rate as the human footprint expands. Our growing numbers gobble up pristine wildlife habitat, suck waters dry, pollute the air, poison with pesticides and alter the climate in a way that makes life -- especially for plants and animals already on the brink -- more difficult than ever.

That includes species here in the U.S.

The Florida panther once ranged throughout the southeastern U.S. but now survives in just 5 percent of his former range. Its habitat has disappeared with the rise of urban sprawl and fragmented landscapes and now just 100 to 120 panthers are left.

The Atlantic bluefin tuna is being overfished to feeding growing populations. The western Atlantic bluefin that spawns in the Gulf of Mexico has declined by more than 80 percent since 1970.

In California, the San Joaquin kit fox -- relatively common until the 1930s -- has declined as its Central Valley habitat has been lost in conversion to agriculture. The four counties where this endangered fox lives today have added 1.5 million people in the last three decades.

The overpopulation crisis only stands to worsen if we don't act.

Demographic projections have us exceeding 9 billion by 2050. Simultaneously, we are witnessing one of the most rapid plant and animal extinction waves ever known on the planet.

The connection between population growth and species extinction is unavoidable. Intensified by consumption levels in the developed world, particularly the buffet-style abundance of American consumption, it's also the number of people that makes the problem so much worse.

While the population growth rate has slowed in many countries, virtually all are still growing, still eating up more land and water, still polluting the air, and still driving species to extinction.

The United States is among those countries growing too fast despite a decrease in its rate of growth. It has one of the highest fertility rates in the developed world. And its per capita consumption is off the charts.

The familiar solutions for preserving the diversity of life on our planet -- reducing our carbon emission, ending fossil fuel dependency and preserving our remaining wildlands -- must remain in our priorities. However, recognizing that population growth jeopardizes all this work and the basic right of species survival (humans alike) is also critical. Every essential human need depends on the diversity that exists in the natural world.

The costs of doing nothing about overpopulation are steep and profound. Indeed, they are unacceptable. Left unchecked, the human species is lining up to wipe thousands of other species out of existence. If that happens, this planet will indeed be a very lonely place, left only with the remnants of the wild world this place once was.

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