Two Elephants in the Room: Overpopulation And Opportunities We Ignore At Our Peril

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Two Elephants in the Room: Overpopulation And Opportunities We Ignore At Our Peril

David E.
Denver CO: Outskirts Press (165 pages)
Reviewed By:
Ronald J.

As noted in the Foreword, this insightful book by Professor Emeritus of Geography David Christensen tells you not what you would like to know but what you need to know.

Christensen’s title comes from his thesis that there are two elephants in the room (that is, in our media-directed world) “that no one wants to talk about.”  “The Pink Elephant is the Earth’s overpopulation issue” while the Green Elephant stands for “the direct benefits that will come to the human family with the abandonment of war and the establishment of a global government.” (p. 4) Since people don’t want to talk about the critical population problem and also don’t want to talk about world government and its potential benefits, they tend to ignore an extremely crucial problem that isn’t going to go away and also the best hope of successfully dealing with the many problems confronting humanity. This book is an attempt to wake people up, to get them to see the big problem (the Pink Elephant) and the big solution (the Green Elephant), and then to do something about it.

Chapter 2 (The Human Predicament), Chapter 3 (Arable Land and Fresh Water), and Chapter 4 (The Pink Elephant) spell out the various aspects of the population problem in detail.  Our civilization is “built on sand” in three ways:  (1) obsessive dependence on fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, natural gas), (2) economic affluence based on corporations exploiting workers in poorer countries, and (3) consumption of resources that takes no account of “externalities,” that is, of negative environmental consequences.  This neo-colonial system is maintained by huge military establishments supported by taxes.  In addition, “United States citizens, more than those in any other nation, seem to be stuck with a belief in the ‘growth syndrome,’ a notion that everything has to increase every year to be successful.” (p. 16)  But that can’t continue. Christensen calculates that, given the limited amount of arable land, the long-term carrying capacity of the Earth is “about half of the world’s present 6.8 billion population.” (p. 19)  As a result “about a third of the world’s people are now either malnourished or hungry.” (p. 41)  Population growth also means a growing shortage of usable fresh water, which is “only one percent of the Earth’s total water.” (p. 28) The efforts of India and China to deal with population growth have been intensive, but “their populations are still growing.” (p. 56)  Nevertheless there are things that can be done: educating parents on the desirability and means of having fewer children, having non-governmental organizations emphasize limiting population growth, having national governments adopt policies that restrain population growth, getting corporations to take account of the negative consequences of their practices and to stop regarding increased personal wealth as the only desirable goal, having everyone recognize that the effort has to be global in scope, and having religions emphasize our moral obligation to control population growth.

Chapter 5 shifts the focus to the Green Elephant, global government as the only way to deal with the whole range of global problems, starting with war and militarism, things which waste huge amounts of resources while simultaneously diverting attention from other problems.  “The only way the United States can deal with its enormous debt and financial breakdown, find real security and retain a democratic form of government is to cooperate with other nations and become a leader in helping form a new global government . . . .” (p. 87)  “The total yearly cost [of the U.S. military] is over $600 billion” while the “total yearly cost of the UN general operations and its agencies has been less than $20 billion, of which the U.S. pays less than $5 billion.” (p. 90)

Chapter 6 (The Rainbow Cake) describes the additional benefits for the whole world that will come from the creation of a global government.  In chapter 7 (Conclusions and Final Thoughts) Christensen notes that the three ingredients needed to move ahead are education, compassion, and political will.  Appendix A discusses the three possible ways of establishing a global government: amendments to the U.N. Charter, the formation of a federation of “the world’s roughly three dozen true democracies” (p. 138), and a people’s initiative, beginning with “selection of members for a Global Parliament” (p. 139) or a global referendum to show public support for a global government. Other appendices address “Necessary Attributes of a Global Government,” “UN Millenium Development Goals,” “Education Needs for All,” and “Prescription for a Healthy Democracy.”

This book provides a wealth of information and ideas about our current situation (the Pink Elephant centered on increasing global population) and the way forward (the Green Elephant centered on creating a global government).  Although the presentation is a bit uneven in quality, this book is worth reading and then passing on to those who would rather be unaware of the big problems facing us and the ignored solution available to us.