We Lied to You
Editors’ note: To promote Brad Meiklejohn’s courageous and insightful new book The Wild Trails, the Rewilding Earth editorial team has selected two essays from it. This is the second and you can read the first here. Brad serves on our Rewilding Leadership Council and has guided many in our community on fine wilderness excursions. He is a rewilding champion, who has led The Conservation Fund in successful efforts to secure hundreds of thousands of wild acres in Alaska and to remove several fish-blocking dams from Alaskan rivers. The Wild Trails is expertly crafted and will inspire readers to be more effective advocates for their wild neighbors – especially those big enough to weave Wild Trails across the land. Readers keen to have their own copy of Brad’s book can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or you can get the book straight from us: Until our supply runs out, TRI will send donors of $100 or more a signed copy of The Wild Trails as a thank you for your generous donation.
We said you could eat whatever you want, drive as far as you can, buy all the toys you like, and have a big family. We never asked you to make any sacrifices, just to keep sending us your donations and we would take care of the environment for you.
We lied to you.
Things are way worse than anyone has told you. We have been cooking ourselves over this slow fire for so long that we got used to the water.
I was down by the Rio Grande in Big Bend recently and it isn’t either grande or a rio. If it hadn’t been putrid green I could have walked across and kept my ankles dry. The vast western public lands that look so lovely in the calendars we send you are plastered in cow poop, everything eaten but the prickly pears. The Arizona grasslands were so dry that I encountered no sparrows in places there used to be millions. Last fall hundreds of thousands of migrating songbirds plummeted from the skies over New Mexico after losing the battle to climate-chaos wildfires. And much further north, Alaska’s Brooks Range is still stunningly beautiful but is nearly empty of birds.
You don’t really want to hear about it, which is why you outsource your compassion to us. To keep the money flowing in we tell you nice stories with pretty pictures. Doom and gloom is not an effective fundraising strategy.
Here’s the main thing we have been lying to you about: human population. The planet groans under eight billion people now and adds 80 million more each year. The human population has doubled in my lifetime and everywhere I go the spoor of man is the dominant experience.
When I was in grad school, in the last week of my course on population ecology, Professor Gotelli put up a graph of the growth of an unspecific animal population exhibiting a dramatic nearly-exponential curve. He asked us to speculate on the fate of that population based on all we had learned during the course. We all guessed that, like every other animal population that grew like this, this human population too would crash. Professor Gotelli ended the semester by noting that our choice to have children would be the most consequential environmental decision of our lives.
The other curve that neatly replicates human population is the familiar “hockey stick” of carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere, the signature of global warming. It’s fairly obvious that the two curves should resemble each other because they both express the same thing. More humans produce more carbon dioxide.
In the 1980s environmental groups were honest about the population problem. Nowadays none of the major organizations go anywhere near the topic out of fear of being targeted by social justice warriors as racist, patriarchal, colonialist, misogynistic, and xenophobic. The Weeden Foundation recently endured this fate from a woke cabal for their steadfast work on human population.
A recent book with the title One Billion Americans is terrifying to contemplate. Everything I care about would be three times worse with three times more people than the 330 million currently here. I am waiting for the rejoinder book One Hundred Million Americans because I think we need to start rapidly downsizing. Humans are doing just fine but the rest of nature is not.
Brad Meiklejohn is an Alaska conservationist and writer who has received numerous awards. His most recent book is The Wild Trails. He directed The Conservation Fund’s work in Alaska for a quarter century, saving hundreds of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat. Brad’s previous articles in Rewilding Earth addressed the need for a wildlife crossing at Bowman Divide in northern New Hampshire, dangers to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the successful story of dam removal on the Eklutna River. Brad is a member of our Rewilding Leadership Council.