In answering that question,
this article begins by outlining
The ability to pass on a high quality of life that provides for the present without compromising the ability to provide in substantially the same way for future generations requires that we live in a sustainable manner, husband resources, and preserve and protect ecological systems. Population pits natural systems against consumption of natural capital and environmental systems in order to meet demands for food, land, water, and energy. A society that fails to balance resource use or degrades the ecological life-support systems upon which it depends is not sustainable.
Frightening Energy of
… no substantial benefits will result from further growth of the nation’s population, rather the gradual stabilization of our population through voluntary means would contribute significantly to the nation’s ability to solve its problems.
Looking back only 200 years
(1800) the population of the
By the year 2050, within the
lifetime of current school-age children, the
The “Former” trendline
(lowest/blue) reflects growth under the low Census projection. It includes
domestic and immigrant fertility plus yearly immigration of 250,000. It is
labeled “Former” because it illustrates
It is important to note that
all energy and population growth above the “Former” or low trendline is due to
immigration.3 The graph illustrates precisely what American citizens
need to see and understand.
The “Current” trendline does not consider the Administration’s immigration and amnesty proposals. At a minimum, the proposed immig-ration legislation imply at least a two million per year increase in immigration. A rigorous analysis concludes that legal immigration would leap seven-fold to more than five million per year and result in approximately 103 million legal immigrants over the next twenty years. The maximum number could be as high as almost 200 million.4 In other words, the Mid and Current trendlines must be shifted a great deal higher under the Administration’s proposals.
When is enough, enough?
Select a point on the upper graph trendline that is a suitable growth and
resource objective. Now backup 50 years. That is the time the
The energy, environmental,
economic, and social concerns now present will be intensified and increasingly
intractable as the nation moves to the right side of the graph. For a nation
interested in a sustainable economy and environment, this is the worst possible
scenario. Tightening resources and the decline of eco-systems, loss of
wildlife, biodiversity, and natural areas, increasing pollution, and sprawling
cities,5 have already reached serious conditions because of the
Land use and development
decisions are being driven by population pressures. Most of the original
It is policy. Change
Ecological Footprint and Sustainability
The combination of biological systems and development impacts is described by some scientists as the “Footprint.”6 Briefly stated, the Footprint is consumption. It is the biological human carrying capacity equivalent of the well known environmental I = PAT formula. Impact = population(P) x living standard (AT).7 When the Footprint or consumption exceeds the region’s biological productive capacity, there is an ecological deficit and the area (the United States or Planet Earth) is not sustainable—the local or global ecological capacity and Footprint is above the balance of population and capacity. This is the lesson of Easter Island.8
Nations consuming capacities in excess of their domestic capacities must employ the resources of other nations, perhaps depriving those nations the possibility of reaching their chosen balance point. Exporting biological capacity is a sovereign national decision carried out because the nation believes it to be in their best interest. A consequence can be that neither the deficit nor the apparently surplus exporting nation is practicing sustainable long-term policies.
Almost a decade ago, 1997,
the world exceeded its ecological carrying capacity by 39 percent or more than
2.3 billion people. If the world’s average Footprint at the time were the goal,
the result would be that the world could support roughly 3.5 billion
inhabitants. The UN currently projects the world’s population at 2050 to be
between nine and ten billion. In order for that population to be sustainable,
the highest average possible living standard would be a Footprint of
approximately 0.8, about today’s living standard and Footprint of profoundly
The following table demonstrates that both high and low Footprint nations can be in serious sustainability circumstances.
Currently the U.S per capita
Footprint is approximately 24 acres, or a 12-acre per person deficit. In terms
of consumption, if the
A crucial reason is that population sustaining basic oil and natural gas resources are rapidly diminishing.
Energy Resources: PeakOil and the Natural Gas Cliff
Resource wars?10 Addicted to oil?
Above all else, an energy policy is a population policy.
Populations grow by increasing energy consumption. Unless the
The two primary sources of energy for industrialized societies are oil and natural gas. The world’s production of oil is now peaking and will soon begin its inexorable decline. The arrival of PeakOil signals the end of the brief cheap petroleum era. The world’s reliance on cheap oil implies that almost every sector of every society will be affected—everything from transportation to electricity to food production and clothing and plastic products.
Contrary to those declaring the world is running out of
oil, there remains to be extracted about as much oil as has been consumed
through all of history. Thus, there is time, a little, to adjust. The remaining
oil however, will be increasingly costly, more difficult to extract, and due to
lower quality, require increasing processing. In addition, the world is using
substantially more oil every day than in any previous era.
World production of
conventional oil peaked in December 2005 and
discovery peaked in the mid 1980s and despite the best available exploration
technology, today only about a single barrel of oil is discovered for roughly
every four or five extracted.14 With many now in decline, the major
reservoirs were discovered more than fifty years ago in the 1960s. The
A serious environmental
consequence is mounting pressure to develop remote and protected areas such as
The following graph overlaying world pop-ulation and oil production illustrates the preceding.
The graph unmistakably illustrates the brief fossil fuel era, that the peak in oil extraction is upon us, and suggests possible population repercussions if resources are unsustainably consumed. It also suggests the benefits of lower resource consumption with lower population levels and rates of growth.
The dilemmas are evident. Moreover, the magnitude of the trends indicates that there are no alternative energies remotely capable of replacing fossil fuels.
Because of its healthier environmental impacts —with backing from environmentalists—electricity generation using natural gas has been the dominant source of new generation. There are also those who claim that if we start running out of oil, the shortfall can be replaced with natural gas.
However, North American
natural gas has gone over what is fittingly called the “natural gas cliff”. The
more natural gas consumers in the
Although storage reservoirs remain high at this time (due to several years of mild weather), injections to natural gas storage has been low since May. For the first time this decade, two weekly summer declines in storage occurred when normally a build of 60-80 Bcf is made.16
Forty-five new LNG ports and
additional LNG ships for each facility are planned to replace, temporarily, the
natural gas decline. This implies that roughly every 100 miles of the
The relationships between United States consumption of ecological carrying capacity and rising energy demand from growth in an era of declining resources has not been adequately addressed by the nation. ■
Population And The American Future: The
Report Of The Commission On Population Growth And The American Future, John
D. Rockefeller 3rd, Chairman,
-For an explanation of how and why the population issue became a secondary matter, see, “The Environmental Movement’s Retreat From Advocating U.S. Population Stabilization (1970-1998): A First Draft of History”, Roy Beck and Leon Kolankiewicz. The long version is recommended. See at < http://www.mnforsustain.org/author_beck_roy.htm >.
2. Population projections, data, and sustainability issues are at < http://www.mnforsustain.org/united_states_population.htm >;
-For a critique of the Census Bureau’s projections see, “Projections are only as good as their assumptions. The Bureau’s assumptions of the course of future fertility and migrations certainly invite criticism.” “A Faulty Demographic Roadmap to the Future”, B. Meredith Burke, Spring 2000. See at < http://www.mnforsustain.org/burke_m_faulty_roadmap_2000_census.htm >.
-Immigration numbers. “How many illegal
aliens are in the
-Billing itself as, “THE #1 Site For Real-time Immigration Statistics”, ImmigrationCounters.com. See at < http://immigrationcounters.com/ >;
-The September 20, 2004 Time Magazine issue
reported 20 million illegal aliens with three million entering annually. See,
“Who Left the Door Open?”,
“Senate Immigration Bill
Would Allow 100 Million New Legal Immigrants over the Next Twenty Years”,
Robert Rector, The Heritage Foundation, WebMemo #1076,
5. Sprawl: Authors Roy Beck and Leon Kolankiewicz in an excellent research report concluded that, “at a minimum, 50% of national sprawl is due to population growth”. See < http://www.numbersusa.com/interests/urbansprawl.html >.
Our Ecological Footprint:
Reducing Human Impact on the Earth; Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees, 1996.
New Society Publishers,
-Also, “Revisiting Carrying Capacity: Area Based Indicators of Sustainability,” William E. Rees, Population and Environment : Volume 17, Number 3, Human Sciences Press, Inc. January 1996.
7. I = PAT: See definition at < http://www.mnforsustain.org/population.htm >. If each American (population in total or each unit of increase) has the footprint equal to 25 other world residents, the correct implication is that reducing the number of Americans is 25x more important than similar demographics in lower footprint nations.
See, “Easter’s End”, Jared Diamond,
Population Levels Using Footprint Data”, Dell Erickson,
-Garrett Hardin’s famous essay “Living on a
Lifeboat” stimulates thought about implications for the
10. “The Coming Conflict:
Natural Resources are Fuelling a New Cold War”, Erich Follath,
11. See itemized natural gas storage data at AmericanOilman < http://americanoilman.homestead.com/GasStorage.html >;
–See EIA weekly storage data and graph at < http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/oog/info/ngs/ngs.html >;
–See “Natural Gas” at,
Oil Review, Tom Whipple, Editor, Association for the Study of Peak Oil
& Gas, Vol.1 No. 29,
–For a state-by-state brief summary of
prospects for major oil producers, see, “Commentary: Chris Skrebowski on OPEC
trends and CERA’s new report”, Chris Skrebowski, Editor, The Petroleum Review.
Peak Oil Review, Vol.1 No. 32,
Oil Review, Tom Whipple, Editor, Association for the Study of Peak Oil
& Gas, Vol.1 No. 30,
14. Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, < http://www.peakoil.net/ >. For a graph of the growing gap between discovery and production, see at < http://www.peakoil.ie/peakoil >.
“What CNBC Didn’t See: ‘Addicted to Oil’ Commentary Analysis”, Jim Puplava and
John Loeffler, The Big Picture, Financial Sense Newshour, Transcript of
–See also, “Is oil production crashing?”, Oil
Scoop, George Ure,
inventory drops. Blip or the beginning of a trend?”, Michael Vickerman,