By George Plumb
World Population Day was last week.
Many, if not most Vermonters, think that population size and growth is primarily a world problem, maybe a U.S. problem, but certainly, being a rural state, not a Vermont concern. In fact, economists and developers keep on saying that Vermont’s population has to grow more in order to keep the economy healthy and meet the financial needs of our population.
However, when looking at the issue scientifically, population size and growth also need to be a Vermont concern if we care about the Earth, what Vermont will be like if we keep on growing and most importantly what life will be like for future generations given the huge impacts that scientists tell us that climate change and species extinction are going to have on our habitat and ecosystems.
The real issue is what is sustainable? Before determining that, we have to define what is meant by “sustainability.” The Vermont Chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, out of compassion for all living species, and not just Homo sapiens, recently adopted the following definition:
“Populations in a given politically or geographically defined area become truly sustainable…
-when living within the limits of that area’s renewable resources, both in inputs (energy and materials) and outputs (food, goods, etc., and the area’s capacity to absorb damage and regenerate).
-when such populations purchase or trade only with environmentally responsible sources, for those necessities unavailable locally.
-when population density and manner of living support the health and well-being of all species and habitats, for the present generation, and all those to come.”
The Vermont chapter of the Sierra Club has adopted a similar definition, as have other organizations and businesses. Note that there are three very different aspects to this definition. It says that we have to put it in the context of a geographical area, we have to depend entirely on renewables, and all life is important and not just the human species. Hopefully, all organizations, institutions and businesses that use the term “sustainable” or “sustainability” in their mission or public relations will also adopt a similar definition so that there is common public acceptance of what exactly that term means and it is not just green-washing.
The worldwide precedent setting “What is an Optimal/Sustainable Population for Vermont?” report (www.vspop.org) uses 16 different measureable indicators to make the projection of what is an optimal/sustainable population size. Some, like ecological footprint or how many people Vermont can feed, are very objective and scientific. Others, like scenic beauty and quality of life, are more subjective and personal. The 16 indicators average out at about 500,000 people compared to Vermont’s current population size of approximately 626,000.
Let’s keep in mind that Vermont is part of the world also, and what we do here in terms of consumption and the numbers of consumers has impacts on both Vermont and the world.
George Plumb is the executive director of Vermonters for Sustainable Population.
Keeping Vermont sustainable
By George Plumb