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CHAPTER 18 The Environment and Overpopulation In my youth, the Chesapeake Bay was a cornucopia. I was only a second grader when my family moved to Oakington in 1935, but I still vividly recall watching the Susquehanna Flats off the mile-long waterfront our farm had along the bay. In winter the area turned white from the huge flocks of migrating swans. Canvasback ducks soaredandtwirledanddivedintothegrass-filledwaters,whilehugeflocks of redhead and blackhead ducks crisscrossed the gray winter sky. In steamy summers, the other boys on the farm and I would set trot lines and easily pull in five, six, sometimes even seven dozen blue crabs a day, which we then could sell for maybe thirty cents a dozen at Joe Good’s grocery store in Havre de Grace. Or we would push through the tea leaf on the shoreline to find an even more profitable delicacy—softshell crabs, or “peelers,” which were just getting ready to molt their hard outer shell. Fishing was bountiful, too—pike, perch, and bass. The seaweed and wild celery that grew so plentifully throughout the Upper Bay provided food and shelter for all kinds of marine life. The water was clean, sparkling, beautiful. Our natural world seemed healthy back then. When I returned from Germany in 1947, I began to notice changes. The number of ducks began to decline, as did our ability to catch crabs and rockfish. When I moved into the Maryland House of Delegates in 1955, I began what has become a lifelong passion for me: trying to find better ways to protect our environment and natural resources. I am sad to report, however, that despite hundreds, perhaps thousands , of new laws and regulations at the federal, state, and local levels , and the expenditure of millions of taxpayer dollars; despite the determined work of our smartest scientists and university researchers; 278 CHAPTER 18 despite the good intentions of many public officials, environmental groups, enlightened business leaders, teachers, parents, and others; and despite my own best efforts, we are steadily losing this fight. We have clearly made some progress in recent years, but the long-term trend in the Chesapeake and the tributaries to it is one of decline. It may be unpopular to say so, but the reason for this decline is that there are more people living on the shoreline than it can support, and more people on earth than our planet can support. This is particularly true in Africa, Asia, and parts of Latin America. Even if the United States and every other developed nation were to provide generous aid programs to the less developed parts of the world, it would not be enough. Our planet simply cannot keep up with the population expansion. In those blissful days of my youth at Oakington, the world population was a little more than 2 billion. By 1960, when John Kennedy was elected, it had increased to 3 billion. When I left the Senate just a decade later, it had reached 3.3 billion—a level that brushed up against what some scientists said would no longer be sustainable. Since then, the global population has more than doubled, to 7 billion. One of the scariest effects of this surge in population is that we are rapidly running out of fresh, potable water. Over half of the global population lives in countries where water tables are falling and wells are drying up, due in large part to global warming and overuse. At the same time, the planet is adding tens of millions more mouths to feed each year. According to the World Health Organization, each year more than one million children die, directly or indirectly, either from lack of water to survive or from diseases they got from drinking polluted water while trying to survive. The United States is no longer immune to this water crisis. We now know, for example, that the huge Ogallala Aquifer, which lies beneath portions of eight states throughout the Great Plains, is being depleted by our demands for agricultural irrigation. Here and elsewhere in the world, water is becoming more precious and expensive than oil. In rural areas of many developing countries, increasing numbers and concentrations of poor people are being forced to destroy their own natural resource base in the search for food, water, fuel, or fodder. In a desperate quest for money, they slaughter elephants for their ivory, or 279 THE ENVIRONMENT AND OVERPOPULATION tigers for their skins, or rhinoceroses for their tusks, thus driving more species...


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