There have been a few changes since you were born in the 1980s. One major change is that there are more of us now. A lot more.
In 1985, the U.S. population was 238 million. Now it’s more than 317 million. One American dies every 12 seconds, another is born every 8 seconds, and people migrate to the U.S. at the rate of one every 44 seconds. Altogether, this means we have a net population gain of one “newbie” every 16 seconds. No wonder we have to wait in line so often.
In the 1960s, about the time your parents were being born, Earth’s population was a little over 3 billion. Now it’s 7.1 billion. In less than 50 years, it more than doubled. According to the United Nations, between 8 and 11 billion humans will inhabit Earth by 2050. I won’t be around to see that, but you probably will.
Some people think there’s nothing wrong with an unending population increase, but not me. I like the wildness and open space of the outdoors. The more people, the less wildness and wildlife there is in the outdoors.
One of the great challenges of living in your time will be saving some of the remaining wild places. It won’t be easy, but it just might be one of the most important things you can do.
When I think about all the changes that have happened since I was your age, I’m glad I was born when I was. I hope I’m wrong, but I think I’ve lived through some of the best times this country will ever know.
When I was a boy, growing up in the 1940s and early 1950s, my parents — your great-grandparents — took my brothers and me with them on trips in a small boat on Puget Sound. We didn’t appreciate it at the time, but we could camp, build campfires and dig clams on almost any island within range of Anacortes, where we launched the boat. Not once did we have to share a beach with another camper, clammer or beachcomber.
We didn’t know it, but those trips into the San Juans would be some of the best times of our lives. Few people boated on the sound for fun, back then. The boats we saw were tug boats and fishing boats. We built tables and benches for our campsite with driftwood. Sitting around the campfire at night, we’d sing, tell stories and watch for shooting stars.
I probably don’t need to tell you this, but you can’t experience much of that anymore. Except for a few state parks, there’s little public access to beaches in Puget Sound. Most of the land on the islands is now privately owned. You’ll pay a fee to use a public beach, and you won’t be able to have a driftwood fire. In summer, finding space to tie up a boat in the few available public anchorages can be difficult. While the number of places where you can enjoy the sound has decreased, the number of people who want to enjoy them has grown.
The “too many people” problem is everywhere. Take the Kenai Peninsula, where I’ve lived since 1978. The Kenai River, the main reason I live there, has gone from being a fisherman’s heaven to other extreme. When the fishing is good, people fight for elbow room on its banks. Cabins, homes and other “improvements” have largely replaced the trees and bushes that once grew beside it. In July, at the peak of the annual fishing frenzy, so many boats are on the river that neither water nor air is ever still. It’s often said that the Kenai is being loved to death, but love has nothing to do with most of what goes on there.
Grandpa may have rambled off course a little, but the point I’m trying to make is that the problems we’re having on the Kenai River — the crowding, the pollution, the destruction of fish habitat, the fighting over salmon allocation — are the same problems people are having everywhere. Sometimes it seems as if we’re all clawing our way through life, desperately trying to get a piece of what’s left before it’s gone, and not caring what or who we step on while getting it.
Most of the threats to the outdoors and natural resources would be lessened if there were fewer of us on earth. The knowledge that such a “fix” is unlikely should give you pause to think about a few things. I hope you’ll take time to think about what you can do to help save a few places where the only sounds are made by wind, water and wildlife.
Les Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.