2020 was a year of several state, national, and world records. Of course, Covid-19 was and still is on almost everybody’s mind. The world reached a record of almost 2 million deaths since the start of the pandemic. People living in a more densely populated areas are at greater risk for contracting the disease. Many health experts believe that the new strain of coronavirus likely originated in bats or pangolins and spread because of the closeness of the two populations.

There were many other important records set or closely exceeded in 2020.

Global heating. 2020 tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record. The temperatures globally were an average 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than preindustrial times. Parts of the world are now hotter than the human body can withstand. We witnessed massive forest fires, melting ice sheets and rising oceans, and droughts. Last year’s exceptional heat “is another stark reminder of the relentless pace of climate crisis, which is destroying lives and livelihoods across our planet,” said United National Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century.”

Species Extinction. 36 animal and plant species were declared extinct in 2020. This is all part of the “Sixth Great Extinction.”

World hunger. 690 million people go hungry each day affecting approximately 8.9 percent of the world population. There are nearly 60 million more undernourished people now than in 2014.

Migration. An estimated 260 million people were living outside their country of birth in 2017. It is projected that there will be 405 million international migrants by 2050. This is due to poverty, lack of food, and political strife and wars.

Some of these records like global heating could have long term devastating effects that are worse than Covid19 because unlike COVID19 there is no quick solution like the vaccine.     

However, these especially important records were seldom if ever discussed by the media and political leaders. The cause behind all of these records was past if not current population growth. The 2020 world population was almost 8 billion with the annual growth rate about 1% or 80 million per year.

Yet, many of our political leaders keep on saying in essence that we have to grow the population if we want the economy to thrive and our needs to be met. Being almost 84 and having grown up and being a young parent from the forties to the sixties that is not what I remember about population size. In 1950 Vermont’s population was 376,000 compared to the 2020 population of 627,000. But back then life was in general very prosperous. In my town of Washington there were many dairy farms, and they were doing so well that a farmer across the valley owned “the highest airport in Vermont”! And our downtowns were thriving instead of being full of empty stores.

In 2014 Vermonter’s for Sustainable Population published a groundbreaking report titled “What is an Optimal/Sustainable Population for Vermont” It used fifteen different indicators that were written by experts in their fields. As an example, one of the indicators was Food Self Sufficiency. The author projected that for a sustainable population it should not be greater than 433,000. The average of all the indicators was a population size of 494,210.

We don’t need to grow the population if we want to be able to have our children and future generations to have a high-quality life. Instead, we must encourage young adults to have “one or none.” And then economy wise we need to work hard to protect our Vermont environment, grow as much of our own food as possible, generate more of energy by renewables, produce and consume as much as we can locally, and support what is known as a “steady state economy.”

A steady state economy is an economy of stable or mildly fluctuating size. The term typically refers to a national economy, but it can also be applied to a local, regional, or global economy. An economy can reach a steady state after a period of growth or after a period of downsizing or degrowth. To be sustainable, a steady state economy may not exceed ecological limits.

A steady state economy entails stabilized population and per capita consumption. Birth rates equal death rates, and production rates equal depreciation rates. Minimizing waste allows for a steady state economy at higher levels of production and consumption.

George Plumb

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