Anglers are elbow-to-elbow near the Russian River. The RVs and construction are clogging the roadways. The perennial debates about fish allocation, North Slope drilling, river access and (farther afield) tax cuts, government regulations, AIDS, poverty, violence, climate change, school quality, foreign wars and the growing gap between rich and poor fill up this newspaper and other news outlets.
I lump all these problems together to point to one thing that links them all and seems -- inexplicably -- off the public radar screen.
That thing is population increase.
I've been writing about the census results in this area, and the numbers have me worried.
When pollsters and news outlets in 2000 compiled their lists of the "world's top news stories" of the 20th century, I was astonished that most overlooked the addition of about 5 billion people. At present, more people live on this planet than lived here cumulatively in all previous eras.
The United States Census 2000 count of 281.4 million is roughly equal to the world population at the time of Christ. By 1900, the world had about 1.5 billion people.
While the world's population increased about four-fold during the past century, the Kenai Peninsula's went up about 50-fold.
Alaska census numbers for 1900 are sloppy. But with an official peninsula count of 740, it seems fair to say about 1,000 people lived here. Those numbers included gold miners on the verge of giving up on Alaska and seasonal cannery workers.
Now our official Census 2000 number is 49,691.
With only a bit more than three people per square mile, the borough still has plenty of elbow room unless your neighbor has a dog that barks all night, you plan to open a gravel pit or you want one of those king salmon on a weekend.
Face it. This is one of the least populated, most unspoiled wilderness areas in the world.
But if the Kenai Peninsula population increases at the same rate in the 21st century as it did in the 20th, it will have about 2.5 million people by 2100.
Maybe we could send some of those people to unsettled spaces such as the North Slope, Antarctica or West Texas. But people in Southern California, Colorado and Wisconsin might head here to make up the difference.
Increased population densities cause disproportionate increases in stress, crime, pollution and disease.
Let's set those concerns aside for the moment.
Based on current services, we can make a few projections about a 50-fold increase in people.
We would need 2,000 schools (unless we make them much bigger), about 7,400 acres (12 square miles) of landfill, some major new sewage treatment plants and a radical number of new parking spaces, unless we figure out some more efficient ways to handle our affairs. People might have to embrace zoning. And just think what it would do to our bag limits on hunting and fishing.
What are the alternatives?
There are three ways to head off major population increases. The traditional way in most human cultures is to kill off people (especially children) through war, famine and disease. The newfangled way, which became popular in some parts of the world during the 20th century, is contraceptives. A third possibility, still is only in the theoretical stage, is to ship them off as colonists to other planets.
The first is rather unpleasant. The third remains, for now, literally out of reach.
The second is increasingly popular, but an astonishing number of people in the United States, including many in positions of authority, refuse to endorse it, and it has yet to get ahead of the problem.
I am amazed that so many people refuse to see population increase as a problem.
Years ago in college I studied biology and math and took an extremely enlightening seminar in world food problems. I learned that we have done some amazing things to improve people's lives, but the present and future are scary places.
The Kenai Peninsula has been insulated from the worst ravages of overpopulation. So far.
But it is time for us to question the attitudes that our "frontier" is unlimited, that growth is always better and that we should pay poor people to have children they cannot afford.
What do we love about this place, and can it survive our children and our grandchildren?
Shana Loshbaugh is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.
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