How Many……….?

How Many……….? October 4, 2019

When Ronald Reagan first ran for governor of California, there was an environmentalist movement to save the redwoods in northern California from loggers who wanted to “harvest” them for their wood. Reagan’s knowledge of environmental issues, except for air pollution, was minimal. Even the geography of the north coast, where trees outnumbered people, eluded him. During the 1966 campaign, a reporter asked Reagan a question about the Eel River (a battleground between those who wanted to dam its middle fork and those who sought to preserve it as a wild river). Reagan asked where it was. The reporter told the embarrassed candidate that he was standing alongside it.

How much of the remaining fraction of California’s old-growth redwood forests should be preserved against commercial logging interests and converted to protected national parkland was a hot-button political issue at the time, pitting the timber industry against conservationists. When candidate Reagan was asked about it, he (in)famously asked:

““How many redwoods do you need?”

For me, that was when I realized what the Republican Party was all about, and that they were my enemy. Their intent is to exploit the natural resources of the planet with no consideration for future generations. I have seen no evidence since then that would alter my opinion. They call it “conservative,” but it seems to me it is the anthesis of the meaning of that word. The support for this by Christian Religious Right is even more appalling. What happened to the idea of “good shepherd” of the planet?

My wife has been a travel agent for more than forty years. Her specialty is Africa. She has taken the interminable flights to get there more than forty times. Africa has been, and still is, a stunning example of man’s destruction of the natural world, and decimation of wild animal populations. Just as we have done here in the good old USA.

Now, the questions that are being asked are: “How many elephants do you need?” Or the same question for lions, rhinos, leopards, cheetahs…and more.

Without exception, the populations of all of those are dwindling. Most people probably don’t care. I was not energized about it until I accompanied my wife on one of her trips about twenty years ago. Since then, I have gone back many times, and taken thousands of photos. We stayed in a lodge in a private game preserve, and went on “game drives” out into the bush twice a day, at daybreak and at sunset. Those are the times when the animals are most active. Watching the animals from an open Land Rover is a life-changing experience. These are not caged animals in a zoo. They are living as they have lived for centuries, perhaps millennia. We watched as predators stalked and killed prey animals. You think that’s gruesome? It’s not. It is how nature works. We too are predators, but we hide the killing of food animals behind the doors of factory farms. I dare you to think about the baby lamb that was slaughtered to provide that tasty leg-of-lamb that you enjoyed for dinner last night.

The question we should be asking, instead of how many redwoods or elephants we need, is: How many humans do we need? The exploding human population is causing catastrophic changes that threaten the plants, animals, air, oceans and the land masses of the earth.

We are the ultimate predators and destroyers of the natural world. If we don’t limit our population, and the depletion and degradation of our planet, we will be the authors of our own extermination.


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