Global warming isn't the only reason to pay attention to the environment

Al Gore did not win an Oscar for the movie, "An Inconvenient Truth." He was the star of the documentary on global warming, and the inspiration behind it, but the Academy Award went to director Davis Guggenheim. Everyone wants to make the movie and the issue all about Al Gore. It's not.

In the same vein, the rush to politicize global warming as being about oil-loving conservatives and tree-hugging liberals obscures the real issue.

I've heard plenty of people who claim that global warming isn't happening, or that it's natural and humans can do nothing to stop it, so we shouldn't try.

I'll leave the debate over the specifics to the scientists and psuedo-scientists, because it misses the big picture.

Humans are taking up more and more space on this planet, using more resources, dirtying more water, fouling more air and creating more waste. While one can argue whether people are the main reason for global warming today, there is no doubt that as the world population grows, it will affect the planet in ways that are detrimental to our survival.

What I find fascinating is that the people most likely to deny climate change are the ones who complain the most about the urbanization of rural America, especially in western states like Nevada. They bemoan the influx of Easterners and Californians, yet do not connect this growth with the effect it has on the environment.

When I travel with my wife to her hometown of Ventura, Calif., I am saddened to look out at miles and miles of some of the best farmland anywhere being paved over with new houses and condos. It's what already happened to Orange County, where in a few years the only clue to how the area got its name will be in history books.

This is a trend you can see all over the country, and the world. How long can we afford to take land out of production at the same time we have more people to feed?

We Americans are the lucky ones.

China has roughly the same land mass as the U.S., but more than four times the population. Imagine your town quadrupled in size. Imagine the impact on water, food, energy. India has more than 10 times the population density of the U.S. Imagine what this country would look like with 10 times the people.

Now imagine if every household in China and India were to suddenly have two cars. The impact would not just be on the environment. Think about the effects on oil prices, the world economy, and politics in the Middle East. Cars by themselves may not cause climate change, but fighting wars for the oil to run them might.

Dealing with population growth is a long-term project that encompasses economic development, political reform and education. In the meantime, we need to deal with the impacts of our growing world population, the resources we consume and the pollution we produce.

We Americans like to think of ourselves as leaders of the free world. But when it comes to the global environment, we haven't been doing much leading. Our message to the world is, do as we say, not as we do.

When the world's richest country says it can't afford to control the pollution it creates, or conserve the energy it consumes, what does that say to the rest of the nations?

I'm not as concerned about glaciers melting and Florida being flooded as I am with the kind of world that my daughter will inherit when she grows up. Will the children of the future hate us for dooming them to an overcrowded, polluted planet because we couldn't get past our petty political differences? Will they even care who Al Gore is?

There are a lot of mothers out there - mine included - who direct their children to clean up after themselves, and leave the place they are at in better shape than how they found it. Maybe it's time for Mother Earth to do a little scolding, and for us to leave the planet in better condition for the generations to come.

• Kirk Caraway is editor of, and also writes a blog on national issues at


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