There Are Just Too Many Of Us

Too many of my friends these days flinch at the sight of me. They look away, strike up a conversation with someone else, move to another room.

They fear my rants. I am in my 70th year and, as is the wont and privilege of old folks, I grow increasingly impatient with the obtuseness of politicians, plutocrats and, yes, even my fellow professors and pensioners.

So I rant, here in “Mostly Politics” and in person to whomsoever I can buttonhole.

Sometimes, friends, colleagues, strangers on the street wait for an opening in my monologue and offer a rant of their own. As a professional courtesy, ranters must listen, however briefly, to other ranters.

One of my fellow West Oahuans launched a rant at me. “I don’t drive on weekends,” she says. “The weekend traffic, every weekend, is like the weekend before Christmas. Gridlock on the freeway; can’t find a parking place at the mall. Even going to Pearl City from Kapolei at 4:30, the traffic’s terrible.”

She’s right, of course. But the source of Hawaii’s traffic problem, east and west of Red Hill, during rush hour in Kona and on Kauai and Maui as well, lies deeper than too many vehicles on roads too narrow and too few.

We are simply too many, almost 1.4 million of us resident in these islands, each of whom, it sometimes seems, is operating a motor vehicle. Add 8 million tourists annually filling buses, taxis, trolleys and rent-a-cars, and it’s no wonder freeway grid-lock besets us almost every day of our Oahu lives.

But the problems caused by our growing numbers – locally, nationally and globally – go far beyond clogged roads.

Consider health care. At just under 340 million people, the United States now boasts the world’s third-largest population, some 40 million of whom, until recently, were without health insurance. Whatever the flaws in President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, extending access to health-care to 11 percent more of the country’s 340 million people was going to cost much more money.

Then take it global. In 2011, the world’s population eclipsed 7 billion. It’s estimated by the United Nations’ Population Fund that by 2025 it will hit 8 billion. Then, some demographers feel, it will begin to slow. To be sure, 7 billion people farm, build, produce – and reproduce. But they also consume, pollute, congest, war and warm the earth.

The yearly rate of world population growth has dropped from 2.2 percent per year in the early 1960s to 1.1 percent today. But it remains above 2 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and in some countries in South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. And it’s estimated that Hawaii’s population growth rate has been 2.35 percent since the 2010 census.

Which explains my colleague’s aforementioned complaint about West Oahu’s traffic. Or environmentalists’ denunciations of urban sprawl. Or Kauaians demanding the regulation of products made with genetically modified organisms, not to mention a fix for Kapaa traffic. Or the opposition of some Big Island residents to expansion of geothermal energy.

Usually corporate interests are vilified in these controversies, sometimes justifiably. But the ultimate villain is ourselves. People, at home and around the world, demand more energy, more food, more water.

Yet conservative religionists and politicians have muted the discussion of family planning, the old ZPG – Zero Population Growth – of the 1960s and ’70s. Anti-abortion terrorists have taken away a woman’s right to choose in many parts of our enlightened nation, forcing Planned Parenthood clinics to close.

Overpopulation, however, remains the core problem.

Thus endeth the rant.