An Open Letter to the Board of Science

Leon's picture

By Leon Kolankiewicz

Leon is an Advisory Board Member and Senior Writing Fellow with CAPS. A wildlife biologist, and environmental scientist and planner, Leon is the author of Where Salmon Come to Die: An Autumn on Alaska's Raincoast, the essay “Overpopulation versus Biodiversity” in Environment and Society: A Reader and was a contributing writer to Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation.

In a career that spans three decades, three countries and more than 30 states, Leon has managed environmental impact statements for many federal agencies on projects ranging from dams and reservoirs to coal-fired power plants, power lines, flood control projects, road expansions, management of Civil War battlefields, NASA's Kennedy Space Center operations and a proposed uranium mine on a national forest. He also has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop comprehensive conservation plans at more than 40 national wildlife refuges from the Caribbean to Alaska.

The writer's views are his own.

November 1, 2011

Dear AAAS President and Board,

I am very disappointed to learn that AAAS has denied the nonprofit advocacy organization Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) the opportunity to operate an educational booth at the upcoming February 2012 meeting of AAAS in Vancouver, Canada.

Only 12 years after it reached 6 billion, the human population on earth is now surging past 7 billion, provoking a good deal of consternation, discussion and debate over the implications of this unsustainable population trajectory. Thus, CAPS’ presence in Vancouver could hardly be more timely.

Your rescinding of CAPS’ proposed exhibit is especially ironic and unfortunate in view of these two pertinent facts:

  1. In 1968, AAAS’ flagship journal Science published the classic essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” by Professor Garrett Hardin of UC Santa Barbara, which for several decades was the subject of more reprint requests than any other paper ever published in Science. I used to see it reprinted all the time in environmental anthologies, with appropriate reference to its first appearance in Science. Dr. Hardin was a founder of CAPS in 1986 and closely associated with it until his death in 2003.The late Constance Holden wrote a remembrance on Hardin for Science to mark his passing.
  1. Vancouver, BC, specifically the University of British Columbia, my alma mater, is the birthplace of the Ecological Footprint (EF) concept and analysis, co-developed in the 1990s by UBC Professor William E. Rees (my M.Sc. thesis advisor) and his PhD student Mathis Wackernagel. EF explicitly acknowledges the roles of both population size and per capita consumption in driving environmental degradation on earth, and in undermining the prospects of sustainability for our civilization. EF calculates that even now, with current population and consumption levels, to say nothing of those predicted for later this century, humanity in aggregate is consuming the equivalent of about 1.5 Earths. This “ecological deficit” is made possible only by the continuous drawdown of natural capital like the fossil fuels and the corresponding buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The growing “ecological debt” cannot continue indefinitely.

To deny a population advocacy and educational organization like CAPS the chance to share its perspective on these important matters is ill-considered, and I earnestly hope you will reconsider.

Alternatively, and as requested by the Canadian and American petitioners, I hope you will allow the Population Institute of Canada to operate a booth in lieu of CAPS. The population issue is too  important, and in the last couple of decades, it has been consistently and irresponsibly avoided by a variety of institutions. AAAS should be part of the solution, not the problem.


Leon Kolankiewicz

Senior Environmental Manager
Mangi Environmental Group
7927 Jones Branch Drive, Ste. 150
McLean, VA 22102

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