Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Real Threat

(reindeer photo courtesy of

The Biggest Threat to the Biosphere

It is always difficult to make a stand on a sensitive issue, especially something that will surely make you unpopular. Time and again, we blamed this and that for the continued degradation of our environment. We challenged most of them, and sometimes became selective on sensitive matters. Either we do not think it’s worth our time, or we fear that we may get ridiculed, or simply hope that the issue is in fact not the case.

Climate Change

Today, the widely accepted, and much talked about environmental threat to our survival is Climate Change. We know for a fact that we’re in the brink of global climatic disaster.
Concerned nations started making policies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, financial institutions and businesses started significant investments on carbon offsets and sustainable energy source. But is this trend enough to fight global warming?

What people do not want to talk about is the fact the CO2 emission is directly proportional to the population growth and consequential change in lifestyle. From 1960’s until today, we have exploded Earth’s population from 3 billion to about 6.7 billion today. How come we’re wondering why the carbon emission has spiraled up that much? It’s all about high increase consumption. It is true that majority of the well-developed nations contribute to more than 50% of the CO2 dumped in the atmosphere. But looking at it from a local scale, each country has produced more carbon dioxide because of increase in the local population – alongside an increase in energy-consuming activities of course.

Moreover, recent study has concluded that today, we’re consuming 130% of Earth’s resources based on sustainability measure, and that applies not just to ocean, forest and general land resources – it also covers fossil fuel and its actual use. We’re OVER-USING our resources, a situation called “ecological debt”.

It should be no surprise that alongside the humungous depletion of our natural reserves, are the production of equally monstrous garbage and waste products. And yes, these does not only include toxic waste, but greenhouse gases as a by-product of our energy-consuming activities. All of these wastes increase, as our population increases. Simple.

Unregulated Population as the Real Threat

It’s not a question if over-population is a threat to our society, or even to humanity in general. History will tell us this. The collapse of various empires and civilizations like the Mayans and people of the Easter Islands are thought to have caused by economic decline. But recent findings will tell us that the true reason is simply - environmental degradation. Easter Island used to be heavily forested teeming with wildlife and abundant resources. Over time, people cut down the forest and depleted its reserves and until that time that the last tree was cut, the last boat was built and last fish was caught, people went to war to survive. Eventually, inhabitants either died out, or reduced to a few surviving members.

This is the same story of the Mathew Island. During WWII, the US government ‘installed’ 19 reindeers in the island to provide extra meat ration to the men stationed there. After the war, the island was revisited in the early 1960’s the visitors were surprised to see 3,000 plus reindeers inhabiting the small island, thriving on the patches of greenery surviving in the coastal areas. A few years after, it ballooned to 6000+ individuals. And before the decade ended, the residents have wiped out their resources and the next research visit offered them a sighting of only 40+ females and 1 unhealthy male with no younglings. And a few years more, all remaining reindeers eventually died out.

As cause and effect, the environmental degradation can only be attributed to one thing – unregulated population growth!

One Planet

Earth is a rather small planet and even with today’s population of 6.7 billion, we are already depleting more than what the planet can sustainably supply. We’re focusing on the climate change issue, but the bigger threat is something that nobody wants to tackle head-on.
Imagine doubling our population – that means more greenhouse gases like CO2 or methane, and over-using Earth by maybe more than 200%. In some parts of the world, the Mathew Island story is already happening, and in the next decades or so – that would be Earth’s own story.


Our country overshot UN projection by 4-5 million. In the 1960’s Thailand and Philippines have an almost similar number of individuals, but today – Philippines has almost 90 million compared to Thailand’s 63 million. And with any attempt to improve economy and basic resources for the poor – the demand had simply grown faster than the supply and the economy is already failing to keep up.

I am a Catholic and I am Pro-Life. I believe that pro-creation is a special gift that is given to man. But if pro-creation will eventually lead to annihilation – then it’s time we talk about secondary principles.

Quality vs. Quantity

Time and again we’ll hear some clergies and pro-life groups saying that contraceptives and family planning are not morally acceptable. It’s difficult to see a different perspective if we have never experienced the hardship that 40 million or so Filipinos are experiencing today, of surviving on a 40peso per day cost of living and even less for a few millions. This isn’t about ‘quantity of soul’ or quantity of life on Earth, it’s about the quality that we can give to each and every living human individuals. A hungry man will find it difficult to pray and give thanks to his Creator. An abandoned and starved 10-yr old boy will not see the moral implication of snatching a fish for food, nor would he even think the word “sin”. Maslow has clearly demonstrated this with his chart. And we’ll never have the time and right setting to think of higher values or aspirations if our daily struggle is to find food, water and shelter to survive.


There is no easy solution for any problems that is at a global scale. Implementing China’s 1-child policy in the Philippines and around the globe may slow down the process – but will most likely anger the mob of anti-family planning groups.
Introducing changes and solutions to combat other issues like pollution and climate change may be helpful short-term, but the increasing sources of these (us, humans) would simply be too much to keep up with.

With the ever-increasing problems in natural habitat destruction, over utilization of ocean resources, increasing pollution and garbage, global warming and exploding population – it would be difficult to wage a war when the very army that you’re supposed to fight with is fighting a different war against you.

And so, after the last tree is cut, after the last bird is shot, and the last fish is eaten – only then that we’ll realize, that we’re all but reindeers in this Mathew Island called Earth.

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