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To Save Endangered Species, Wear a Condom

5 years ago
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Want a good laugh while learning a bit about human overpopulation, a not very funny topic? I highly recommend Dave Gardner's video on Endangered Species Condoms.

Using a light touch to lay out a serious issue, Gardner stops people on the street to chat about the dangers of overpopulation -- particularly how it is crowding out the rest of the animal kingdom -- and to hand out condoms with a message: Save an endangered species by checking human procreation. He is acting in conjunction with the Center for Biological Diversity, which last month began distributing 100,000 packages of free condoms with original artwork and such aphorisms as "Wrap with care, save the polar bear," and "Hump smarter, save the snail darter."

But the video raises a question that I believe our culture and media ignore at their peril. And ignore we do! Since the 1960s and 1970s, when human overpopulation in the United States was regularly addressed in the media, it has become politically incorrect to discuss the matter in public. In fact, it's more politically correct to curse, name-call or go ballistic online or in public than address this most-important of issues, according to polite society.

More on why that has happened in another column, and back to the video by Gardner, the anti-growth activist, blogger and filmmaker who is working on a documentary project called "Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity.'' His condom video shows us how ignorant most Americans are of overpopulation and how most of us become indignant when the topic is raised. His series of man/woman-on-the-street interviews are funny to watch, but not so funny to one who is intimately aware of our collective lack of action.

Gardner limits his video to one point about human overpopulation: that we are wiping out species by destroying habitat, paving over open space and abusing natural and non-renewable resources. Polling has shown over the years that while some Americans care about bio-diversity, that is not the best way to get America to take overpopulation seriously.

A more compelling argument and one that resonates heartily with the self-absorbed public is that while destroying large chunks of the environment, we are also making the quality of life much worse for our own species. We are increasing traffic and traffic jams, carving up farmland that once produced locally grown foods, destroying and polluting local streams and water sources, and creating if not adding to that most vexing and seemingly unstoppable of environmental problems: climate change.

Still, Americans would rather fiddle while the country (if not the planet) burns -- no lessons learned from Nero's inaction.

Occasionally a species goes extinct and catches the attention of at least a small segment of our citizenry. I was horrified to learn that the last known wild jaguar in the U.S. was killed last year. Poor "Macho B" (as he was named by concerned local citizens in Arizona) had to endure the fate of having no other big cats to hang with, or with whom he could mate and procreate. He was "euthanized" by a state game agency after veterinarians said he had a severe and incurable kidney failure.

To honor his life and spread the critical message about saving endangered jaguars, the Center for Biological Diversity staff and supporters marched late last year in Tucson's 20th annual All Souls' Procession -- an event celebrating El Día de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday to honor the dead.

I remember reading about Macho B's death last year and being so overcome I could not think or write about it. Jaguars used to roam South America up and into almost the entire south and central U.S. They were worshiped by the ancient Mayans and Aztecs. They were hunted into extinction in the East 300 years ago. But Macho B managed to hang on as the last of his kind until 2009. This species was both hunted and habitat-deprived into extinction.

Despite the wonderful work of the Center for Biological Diversity and a sprinkling of environmental groups devoted to species and land conservation, we are in an era of unprecedented species devastation. It's all caused by the overpopulation of one species: our own.

At 6.8 billion people, the human race is the most populous large mammal on Earth, and providing for the needs and wants of this many people, the center says, has pushed man to absorb 50 percent of the planet's fresh water and develop 50 percent of its land mass. As a result, other species are running out of places to live.

"Under relentless pressure from exploding human populations, species are going extinct at 100 to 1,000 times the natural rate,'' the Center for Biological Diversity said. "The diversity of life that sustains both ecological systems and human cultures around the world is collapsing, and the Center's programs to save unique species and lands now reach beyond American borders from the Antarctic to the North Pole and Asia to North Africa.''

I wish we could rely on environmental leaders to take up the U.S. overpopulation issue once more. But for the most part, they have deserted it quicker than soldiers fleeing a hand grenade with the pin removed. Last week I interviewed a board member of a prominent American land conservation group and asked her how her group handles U.S. overpopulation and its impact on preserving open space and farmland. She side-stepped the population issue and said it's more of a problem in the East than out West and somehow we'll muddle through. No we won't. Dave Gardner gets that. I hope more fellow Americans start understanding the cost soon, too.
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