It's hard not to draw a comparison between Long Island's...

It's hard not to draw a comparison between Long Island's exploding deer population and the environmental crisis we are facing. Credit: Ed Betz

Years ago, we saw a beautiful white-tailed deer nibbling on some leaves from one of the shrubs in our backyard in Nissequogue, something we’d never seen before. As time went by, more deer started to appear, and soon virtually every last sliver of green had disappeared from the bottoms of our trees and shrubs. With no natural predators in the area, the deer population expanded rapidly, and the shrubbery around our neighborhood was their cafeteria.

As their numbers increased, almost all the low-hanging greenery around us was devoured and the deer began to eat vegetation they'd never paid any attention to before. First, the ivy in the surrounding woods began to disappear, then even the lower branches of nearby evergreens. They haven't started eating the pachysandra yet, but perhaps it's only a matter of time.

Now, with the local deer population exploding exponentially, they're thinner, some actually emaciated. It's so sad to see them peering anxiously around our backyard every day, looking for anything to eat that somehow previously escaped their last such desperate search for food. We've even heard from friends and neighbors that some of them have died of starvation. And as their numbers continue increasing, the situation is getting worse.

Having witnessed what's been happening, it's hard not to draw a comparison with the environmental crises our world is now facing. In particular, having remained relatively constant for over 200,000 years, the number of people on Earth has risen from about 1 billion in 1803 to approximately 8 billion today, and it's projected to reach 11 billion by the end of the century. Furthermore, the world's fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions have skyrocketed over the past century and, as our planet’s human population grows, an increasing percentage of that population is consuming far more energy and natural resources than ever before.

Putting things in perspective, in 1803, neither Thomas Edison's electric light bulb nor the gasoline engine had been invented and the Wright Brothers wouldn’t fly airplanes for another 100 years. Consequently, back then, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions was infinitesimally low. Now, many of our 8 billion people contribute heavily to the burning of fossil fuels by driving automobiles, having homes, working in office buildings and factories that require heating and air conditioning, and flying to faraway destinations on fuel-guzzling jet airplanes, not to mention the many other ways we consume huge amounts of energy every day. And as more people populate the earth, humanity is inexorably expanding its habitat, destroying the rainforests and foliage that serve as a counterbalance to the burning of fossil fuels by consuming carbon dioxide.

As many environmental scientists have warned us, we must act now before the situation becomes irreversible. However, a solution to the world's environmental woes will be much more complex than just gradually converting to solar and wind power and using more electric vehicles in the years to come. Those environmentally friendly efforts may be overwhelmed by the huge impact of future population growth and our continually increasing consumption of energy and natural resources.

The ramifications of the world becoming heavily overpopulated have been treated in movies such as "Soylent Green" and "Logan's Run." While the solutions to the problems presented in those films are unthinkable, if more palatable alternate solutions aren’t found, we’ll undoubtedly be facing a major existential crisis. And to see what could happen, all we have to do is to look in our own backyards.

This guest essay reflects the views of Paul Richman, former chairman and chief executive of Standard Microsystems Corporation, and a 2012 inductee into the Long Island Technology Hall of Fame.

This guest essay reflects the views of Paul Richman, former chairman and chief executive of Standard Microsystems Corporation, and a 2012 inductee into the Long Island Technology Hall of Fame.

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