NOTE: I sent the following letter (with minor changes) to the Editor of the New York Times on April 25, 1995. The editors have apparently decided not to print it.
- To the Editor:
- Gregg Easterbrook's op-ed on "The Good Earth Looks Better" [April 21, 1994] performs an important service by highlighting the cynicism at the root of current congressional efforts to roll back many of our important environmental laws.
Unfortunately Mr. Easterbrook confuses the issue with his assertion (unsupported by any evidence) that congressional anti-environmental initiatives have been made possible partly by "fashionable environmental doomsaying on the left." The battle between developers and the environmental movement is perennial and it is merely the circumstance of Republican control of congress which gives development forces an opportunity not available since the 1920s.
But even more confusion is likely to be the result of Mr. Easterbrook's insistence on an optimistic reading of the present state of the environment. Certainly it is true that important gains have been made in some areas as a result of environmental legislation over the past 25 years. Nevertheless such gains should be placed in their proper perspective.
The fact is that even if we could maintain the status quo, our forests, air, water and food supplies would be under terrific assault from development pressures in many parts of the country. New York City's water supply is an example of an invaluable resource that is threatened by proposed development in the watershed area, as well as the lack of effective regulation which currently allows contamination by untreated human, medical and industrial waste.
Our vaunted agricultural system is under attack not only by the continued use of pesticides but also because more than a million and a half acres of countryside, mainly good farmland, is paved over every year. Our surpluses and eventually the supplies necessary to feed our people are threatened in the long term because we are eroding our own resource base, as we lose topsoil and farmland itself.
But the glaring omission in Mr. Easterbrook's analysis is the lack of any consideration of the overwhelming U.S. and world overpopulation problem which acts a spur to developers and to the politicians who represent them. The present U.S. population of almost 262 million is more than 100 million more people than we carried only 40 years ago. It took about 100 years for the world to add a billion people after the first billion was reached in the 1830s. We have added successive billions in increments of 30, 14, and 13 years respectively. And we are expected to reach 6 billion in 1998, only 11 years after our fifth billion was reached.
For how many more decades do optimists like Mr. Easterbrook believe we will maintain our standard of living if current population trends and all the forces they bring with them, continue?