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Mary Ellen Harte and John Harte

Mary Ellen Harte and John Harte

Posted: February 21, 2011 06:29 PM

There are some universal goals that every US citizen can agree on: less environmental pollution, less catastrophic weather resulting from climate change, a better future for our children. Many people would also like to have lower taxes and smaller government. An important way for us to achieve ALL these goals is through bringing our populations to sustainable levels humanely.

How do taxes and population size connect? One of the insidious effects of population growth is that we create a much greater increase in needs and problems than the proportional increase in population itself -- numbers do matter. Try this simple exercise: draw 3 dots, then connect them in every possible way. Three lines, right? But with 5 dots, you need not 5, but 8 lines. When those lines represent routes for transportation, communication, and epidemic disease vectors, for example, or the breakup of ecosystems that supply clean water and air, suddenly the much larger impact of a bigger population becomes clear. To address all these added needs and problems, governments need to get bigger and need much more money -- read taxes.

Unsustainable growth exacerbates the situation. Many demographic experts now believe that we passed our globally sustainable population level around the 1970s. According to the 2010 Living Planet Report, we now use about 1.5 of the planet's renewable resources yearly to survive and grow. Let's say there are 4 people living in the only universe they know, a finite space just big enough for them and 10 magic baskets that refill daily, providing them with everything they need -- food, water, clothing, etc. If this symbolic population increases to 5, either a person or basket must go to provide room. At this point, we're chucking out the baskets, in the form of arable land, clean water, wild foodstocks, and optimum climate. More people, less resources -- a potent combination for fueling higher taxes, riots and resource wars, and we're seeing it all right now across the globe.

Some argue that if we consume less individually, either through greater efficiency or living more simply, we'll be able to sustain more people. To a certain extent, that's true. But let's do a reality check. According to a recent report on global food production and climate change , about 18,000 children starve to death daily. Indeed, the failure of many global charities to raise needed funds is a symptom of "population fatigue" -- with such escalating demands on our resources by so many others, we tend to zone out their problems. Think about it: how much did you spend last year on vacation, pets, entertainment, unnecessary and wasted food, clothing, etc., and how much did you spend on keeping a poor human being in the developing world from starving? Yes, we fail this "humanity test", too. Most of us are not Mother Theresa. So, when estimating sustainable population sizes, the costs of cultural sustainability and population fatigue must be included.

Re-evaluating economic health is also essential. As we point out early in our free online book, the health of our economies must now be measured in terms of sustainability, not growth -- it's not the DOW or NASDAQ we should be tracking, but the state of our world's resource bank. Economists worldwide are beginning to realize this. The international Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) notes that a growing economy, especially in wealthy nations, creates more problems than it solves.

Starvation, wars, economic disparity (as when we cut essential services for the poor), and environmental disasters are inhumane, effective and inadequate ways of culling our populations, which we tolerate, despite all our chest beating. Fortunately, a better alternative exists. Experience shows that there are far more effective and proactive humane ways to bring our populations to sustainable levels. At a social level, it is promoting women's reproductive rights and education throughout the world. Pragmatically and economically, it is providing women with the information and materials needed to plan their families, something currently denied to an estimated 200 million women worldwide. Planned Parenthood and other organizations epitomize this pathway. Funding them ultimately ensures economic prosperity, a better future, and lower taxes for all of us.