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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

He's Met The Enemy, and it is Us

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Alan Durning’s image of the population problem changed when he started acquiring stuff for his new baby.


CURWOOD: How many is enough? Or rather, how much for whom? Commentator Alan Durning thought he had the answers but then he thought again.

(The sound of many people marching)

DURNING: This is what I used to picture when I thought about the world's exploding population: Chinese, 8 abreast, marching around the equator. Millions of Chinese marching; billions of them. The world's problem seemed to be just too many people.

(Sounds of marching increase to a deafening, echoing roar, followed by a medical beeping)

DURNING: Then last month, I got a different picture of population growth. It was a grainy, black and white image on a sonogram screen: my son. His eyes pointed toward the scanner like he was looking straight at us, thumb in his mouth, sucking. He'll be born any day now.

(Voice on public address speaker; store sounds; cash register beeps)

DURNING: This month, my picture's changed again. You see, we've been making preparations. We've been shopping. To transport the baby we bought a car seat and a stroller. A friend gave us a baby carrier to wear on your chest called a Snugli. But at a consignment store, we saw a used baby backpack and a baby sling. We bought them both. We bought a nursing pillow, 4 used nursing shirts, new nursing bras and breast pads, plus a book on breast feeding. The book said to buy baby bottles and nipples, and a device called a breast pump so I can help my wife with the midnight feedings. So we did.

We bought a baby comb and baby hair brush, baby soap, shampoo, and hair conditioner. Baby oil, two kinds of baby powder. We bought a bunch of pint-sized washcloths and towels with butterflies on them. And picked up a diaper changing table, with a seat belt and a foam rubber top.

We signed up for cloth diaper service, and bought a diaper pail, diaper bag, half a dozen diaper wraps with velcro fasteners, a huge carton of baby wipes. And we stowed away a 24-pack of disposable diapers just in case. We got a digital baby thermometer, a spring-loaded bouncy baby chair, a stuffed dinosaur, and a heap of child-safe plastic toys. Finally, we got a rocking chair to lull him; half a dozen receiving blankets to swaddle him; a bassinet to bed him down; a double-channel, 2-way, AC/DC baby monitor to hear his cries; a cassette of baby songs to calm him; and, for later, a micro-adjustable, pediatrician-certified, stained oak crib with aquamarine bumpers and a Peter Rabbit quilt.

(Sales slip being electronically tabulated)

DURNING: Oh yeah. We also got a complementary video from a baby formula company on how to survive our first year. Just getting all this stuff home was a challenge. It would have filled a small moving van. And all of it for such a little person.

The World Watch Institute, where I used to work, found we Americans consume our entire body weight in natural resources every day. Resources taken from farms, grasslands, forests, and mines. People in poor countries, where the population is growing fastest, consume a fraction as much as we do. Our kind of consumption explains why industrial countries, with just a quarter of the world's people, use half of the world's grain, fish, and fresh water; three-quarters of its timber, oil, and other fossil fuels; and four-fifths of its steel, aluminum, and synthetic chemicals.

(Sounds of highway traffic)

DURNING: So, here's my new picture of the world's population problem. I no longer imagine millions of Chinese marching 8 abreast. I picture a fleet of moving vans. Eighteen-wheelers loaded with the furnishings of American life. Each truck carries the possessions of a single family. Trucks, circling the globe of the equator on a superhighway 3 decks tall and a mile wide.

(Highway traffic increases to a roar, then fades)

CURWOOD: Alan Durning is the Director of the Northwest Environment Watch in Seattle. His commentaries are produced for Living on Earth by Terry Fitzpatrick at the studios of member station KPLU.



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