Too Many Surfers

Rob Caughlan

Rob Caughlan too many surfers

Too Many Surfers by Rob Caughlan (written in 2000)

When I started surfing in 1960, surf historian Ward Smith estimates that there were only 1200 surfers in California. Now there are more than one million. No wonder surfers sometimes lose their aloha spirit and act like New Yorkers in the water.

There are simply too many of us competing for a limited resource. It's the predictable, "too many rats, not enough cheese" situation.

When I started surfing there were also three billion fewer people on the planet!

The world is now growing at the rate of a new Los Angeles every three weeks! And, as the late David Brower, the Yoda of the environmental force said, “It doesn't take much logic or much arithmetic to realize that we can't keep on doing that.”

But we are. The right wing Republicans don't like abortions or welfare. But they don't like sex education either. The Democrats are better on funding international family programs, but have certainly not made this a priority issue. And now the President Bush wants to completely eliminate the measley 35 million dollars that we give to international family planning services.

The population clock keeps ticking. Every second one person dies. Every second four babies are born. If we continue to ignore the issue and keep failing to take action, the world population will be 11 billion by 2050.

And, according to a projection published by the California State Department of Finance, the California population will reach 50  million by 2025. We will then have more than 2 million surfers. If you floated their surfboards together, tip-to-tail, they would reach from Seattle to Tijuana. Gnarly thought, eh?

I've spent 35 years at the barricades of the environmental movement, as a co-founder of Friends of the River, President of the Surfrider Foundation, campaign manager on many environmental elections, and as a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game's endangered species campaign. I have worked on environmental issues for the State Legislature, the Congress, the EPA and in the Carter White House.

With all those perspectives, I am firmly convinced that unchecked population growth is the driving force behind practically all of our environmental problems. Unless we candidly and forcefully address population, all our efforts to preserve endangered species, stop wrecking the oceans and attempt to clean  the air will be overwhelmed by sheer demographics.

I attended the International Conference on Population in Cairo six years ago. It was historic. The representatives of l80 nations reached a consensus about the importance of this issue. They crafted a 20 year global action plan. If we take action on the action plan, future population growth can be cut to one third of what it otherwise would be... two billion more instead of five billion more.

After twelve years of denial under President's Reagan and Bush, the United States and the Clinton Administration took a positive leadership role in Cairo: And rightly so. The United States has a moral obligation to be a leader on this issue. We are the fastest growing industrialized nation. California has the highest teen pregnancy and birth rate in the industrialized world.

And because we in the United States are such gluttonous consumers, the 2.5 million people we add every year will consume as many of the world's resources as 80 million Indians.

But the new Bush administration has gone back into denial about the issue. The Congress recommended a modest increase in family planning funding. But in this situation, modesty is not the best policy. We need to triple the family planning funds to live up to our fair share of implementing the Cairo Action Plan! Runaway population effects the environment, the economy and political stability. Planetary security must be treated with the same degree of seriousness as homeland security.

Perhaps a surfer advocating sexual responsibility might seem somewhat out of stereotypical character. But with regard to population, exercising both ecological and sexual responsibility is one of the most intimate and important local actions that any of us can take.

- Robert “Birdlegs” Caughlan is a lifelong surfer and political activist who produced a television documentary about population called Future in the Cradle.