Letter: Population growth in Colorado and the southwest is ‘inevitable,’ but how will we react?
Recent letters to the Vail Daily concerning population bring up an important, but often ignored, problem (“A rambling commentary about population,” Terry Quinn, Sunday, Dec. 10; “A response to ‘A rambling commentary about population,’” Jamie Harrison, Thursday, Dec. 14).
Population growth is one of the most fundamental issues we as a society need to address. And it’s not just because of the inconveniences it causes. Parking at the Eagle Post Office was often bad in the middle of the day 20 years ago, and Yellowstone has seen massive midsummer crowds for decades.
Population growth is nothing new, but our consistent and predictable inability to handle it outside the limited politically circumspect margins that Jamie mentioned is a huge part of the problem. But it’s a problem we need to face, especially with limited resources such as water.
Population growth is exponential. Population growth doesn’t follow a steady linear climb. There is a consistent doubling rate where that “line” into the future curves upward at a steadily steeper rate. Colorado’s population has doubled every 40 to 45 years since 1876. Go ahead and look it up.
In 1975, when I came here, there were about 2.5 million people in Colorado. Now, 42 years later, we have more than 5 million. The recently adopted Colorado Water Plan was focused on a doubled population of 10 million by 2060, 43 years hence. With nothing to stop it, Colorado’s population could just follow the trend and double again to 20 million by the turn of this century.
I am constantly told that “something” will happen to stop it, to stabilize population and stall out the huge pressure growing populations put on very finite (and shrinking) resources such as water. Really? Tell me what and how. And don’t blame immigration, domestic or foreign. Coloradoans’ homegrown self-perpetuation has as much or more to do with it.
Nature has its historic means of dealing with overpopulation, most of which we’ve been fighting to prevent for hundreds of years — war, disease, famine and their cousins. We’ve had great success in stopping some of these, especially in developed countries. We also have some human-created illusions of population control. Most of these are economic and tend to revolve around degrees of collapse: the Great Depression and earlier collapses, the recession of the 1980s and the recent Great Recession.
Unfortunately, all of these economic population controls are temporary, halted and reversed by our technological genius just as famine and disease have been forestalled.
But this growth in population has not been limited to Colorado. All of the southwestern states and the rest of the country, and the world, have been doing the same thing.
Colorado is known as the “Mother of Rivers.” We are the source of many significant rivers of the western United States, including the Colorado, Arkansas, Platte and Rio Grande. More than 40 million people depend on the water from Colorado for food, domestic and recreational needs. The environment and nearly all of the wildlife in Colorado and our neighbors also depend on this water. And the populations of all these dependent neighbors is growing just as much as we are.
All of our rivers are maxed out, facing a future of less, not more, water because of climate change and our current “lifestyle.” Storage isn’t the answer. Storage can play a limited role, but you can’t store what you don’t have.
What’s the answer? It won’t be simple, that’s for sure, and simply saying “its inevitable,” or that there is nothing we can do about it, won’t work anymore. Any solution has to start with taking a long, collective look in the mirror and recognizing the reality of that old Pogo cartoon that “We have met the enemy and he is us.”