Letters to the Editor
October 2015

Very good to see an emphasis on water in the June issue of Population Connection. Although some media have emphasized almonds, which use 10 percent of all water in California, more relevant is that meat and dairy use up to 47 percent. We can lower our impact by moving toward a plant-based diet.

Linda A. DeStefano
Syracuse, New York

Thank you for offering a complimentary copy of Population Connection magazine to my friend Maurice English. He has been elected to the water board of our county and is very concerned about clean water for people to drink.

W. Joan Lane
Glen Rose, Texas

Animal agriculture and feed crop production comprise the vast majority of the water use in California. It takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef and 880 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of milk. However, it only takes 132 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of wheat and 119 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of potatoes. Producing one hamburger uses the water equivalent of two months of showers! Almonds require, possibly, up to a gallon of water per nut, however, forage and alfalfa, grown exclusively to feed beef and dairy cattle, use about four times more water than almonds. And California exports about 100 billion gallons of water every year in the form of alfalfa to feed cows in Asia.

You have a responsibility to consider how we are going to feed the 9 billion humans expected by mid-century. It’s disingenuous to publish essay after essay about water use and conservation, repeatedly mentioning the length of showers, lawns, and almonds, and never mentioning animal agriculture.

As the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and our own USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has recommended, we all need to evolve to a more plant-based diet. It is simply not going to be possible to keep up with the current global demand for meat and dairy; there isn’t enough land or water to grow the feed crops, house the animals, or dispose of their waste, not to mention absorb the greenhouse gasses, quell the deforestation, and avert the massive species extinction that are all linked to our current food system.

Please don’t be afraid to call out the agricultural sectors that use the most water. While many humans may like their animal-based foods, I don’t think we will be able to sustain this type of diet for much longer, and luckily we don’t have to. Plant-based diets have been scientifically proven to be healthier for humans, preventing and sometimes even reversing our most common diseases. If we could transition to a more plant-based diet, there might be food and water for all, a reversal of global warming, and a healthier population.

Debra Shapiro, M.D., F.A.C.O.G.
Women Caring For Women
Burlingame, California

The cover of the June issue is stunning and effective. Made me want to look and read—like a good website. The water theme and environmental connections drew me in, and the population connection is made naturally. I am not just a proud Board member, I actually was engaged.

Robert K. Musil, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Board Chair, Population Connection Action Fund
Bethesda, Maryland

With reference to the timely articles concerning worldwide water shortages, I wonder how many readers know that all H2O on this planet is part of a system. Water present at the time Neanderthals walked this earth is still here today. Water cycles from vapor to rain, down the rivers and through the aquifers, into the oceans, only to return again as part of the cycle. Unfortunately, energy companies have now devised a way to take water out of the cycle. It is called fracking.

With this process, millions of gallons of fresh water are pumped thousands of feet into the crust of the earth below the water tables and out of the water cycle, never to be recovered unless by volcanic action.

Norman Tempel
Estes Park, Colorado

I loaned out this month’s magazine and cannot get it back, as everyone is so fascinated by it. Is there a means by which I can purchase two more?

Joseph Stokes
Idaho Falls, Idaho

Amongst economists it’s currently fashionable to downgrade Thomas Malthus.

So it’s important to understand just where Malthus was right and where he went wrong.

Malthus pointed out that populations grow exponentially. He used the word “geometrically” as in geometric progression, but in modern usage we would say exponentially. And he was certainly right. The population of any species will grow exponentially if there are no checks. Normally there are no enduring population explosions in wild species because nature provides checks. But there is one species that has learned to defeat all the checks, and that, of course, is the human species. This has resulted in the human population explosion.

Everyone agrees that death control, such as improving public health, is good. It would be even better if it were balanced with birth control. But for every one hundred dollars spent on death control, only one dollar is spent on birth control.

Malthus also predicted that eventually England would not be able to feed herself. He was right about that, as well. England has not been able to feed herself for more than one hundred years. It endures on imported food. This works well for England, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see that if every country tried to be a food-importing country, there would be problems.

Today, the world is so over-populated that 45,000 people die every day from starvation and malnutrition. But even with those deaths, global population is still increasing by more than 220,000 people every day.

Some claim that technology is going to save us. As a technologist, I can assure you that not every problem is amendable by a technological solution.

Then there are those who claim that an increase in population will give us more geniuses who will save us through their bright ideas. The geniuses I know all say the same thing: Our planet is being destroyed.

The human species is the only species that pollutes. And now we have soil pollution, water pollution, and air pollution levels that threaten all forms of life on our planet. Thirty-thousand species are being destroyed every year. It is the greatest mass extinction in the last 65 million years.

Few people realize the power of exponential growth. Gabor Zovanyi has pointed out that if our species had started with just two people 10,000 years ago, and then increased at a rate of 1 percent per year, humanity today would be a solid ball of flesh many thousands of light years in diameter. I thought this must be an error until I did the math. For the last 200 years, population has grown not by 1 percent, but by 1.9 percent. Stephen Hawking has calculated that if this continues, with population doubling every 40 years, by the year 2600 there will be standing room only on our planet.

Fred Brown
Palomar Mountain, California

I worked in a bacteriology lab in a hospital in the mid-1950s where we put swabs in a tube of sterile yellow sugar solution and then into an incubator. The following morning, the tube would have a faint white thread of bacteria in the center. A few hours later, the thread would ‘blossom’ out into a much bigger cloud. The following day, however, the solution in the tube would be almost colorless and there would only be a small amount of grey-white residue at the bottom of the tube. The bacteria colony would be gone.

The bacteria consumed all the available sugar in their environment and then died. It is taking humans more than 48 hours obviously, but the disaster for us will be the same as for the bacteria!

Phillip J. Crabill
Little Elm, Texas

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