Building With the Future in Mind Since 1955

Rick Dubrow’s “On The Level” Column in the Cascadia Weekly; Published 7-11-07

A July 5th Bellingham Herald editorial hammered City Councilwoman Barbara Ryan for her concern with our most recent, local, published growth rate which is “….a stronger growth rate than I expected.  We’ve had an awful lot of excellent publicity, which many of us would like to stop.”

The editors “….. imagine Ryan, and others in our community who echo her sentiment, aren’t thinking clearly.”

From April 2006 to April 2007 WhatcomCountygrew at a rate of 2.2% which represents a population doubling time of about 32 years.  Simply put, our county population will double by 2039 if our growth rate is assumed to remain fairly constant. (The doubling-time formula is quite simple and, given how useful it is, one that I suggest you memorize. You divide 70 by the percentage rate of growth to find the doubling time of anything. So 70/2.2% = 31.8 years. The importance of this formula is but a part of Dr. Albert Bartlett’s speech entitled ‘Arithmetic, Population and Energy’ at I agree with David McLeod’s comment that….. “it should be required listening for every activist, environmentalist, planner, politician, scientist, theologian, philosopher, and thinker.”)

Allow me to define one other item: the word ‘herald’.  As in Bellingham Herald.  Herald means “…a person or thing that proclaims or announces: A good newspaper should be a herald of truth.” (I did not add these italics to the dictionary’s definition!)

Does our local newspaper live up to its name by proclaiming truth?

Let’s go back to 1972.  35 years ago; just a hair longer than our current doubling time. The national Commission on Population and the American Future, chaired by John D. Rockefeller, III, concluded that “we have looked for, and have not found, any convincing economic argument for continued population growth.  The health of our economy does not depend upon it, nor does the vitality of business, nor the welfare of the average person.”

Dr. Albert A. Bartlett, Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Colorado challenges us by asking: “Can you think of any problem, on any scale, from microscopic to global, whose long-term solution is in any demonstrable way, aided, assisted, or advanced, by having larger populations at the local level, the state level, the national level, or globally?”

The Bellingham Herald editors clearly disagree with Dr. Bartlett and the Rockefeller Commission and seem to feel aided, assisted, or advanced, by having larger populations at the local level.  If they view profit as more important than human welfare, we may have arrived at their self-serving, economic argument for continued population growth……… more consumers, each with an increasing appetite.  Higher sales; greater profits (and decreased human welfare).

Let’s draw an analogy with driving a car.  The first obvious step a driver should take in order to slow down, or stop, their car is to take their foot off of the accelerator, right?  Sure, we can argue forever about how soon we should start braking in order to come to a halt at the visible traffic light, but keeping our foot on the accelerator clearly makes coming to a halt more problematic.

This is Barbara Ryan’s point, isn’t it? The least we can do is stop fanning the growth flame. People and organizations do this by marketing the greatness of this place, waving our flag, pointing to our entry gate.

No, the growth fire won’t go out if we simply tend to it, as opposed to fan the flame. We can tend to human welfare instead of the interests of private business or others who are enriched by rapid population and economic growth.

The health of our economy, the vitality of our businesses, and the welfare of the average person depend upon slowing, and ultimately stopping, population growth.

Thank you, Barbara Ryan, for suggesting that we take our foot off of the accelerator.


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