of 300 million inhabitants is a number that cannot be sustained by the
renewable services that nature can provide, like supplying clean water and
maintaining clean air indefinitely. In fact, it is estimated1 that
population would have to be half that in order sustain current living
standards, that is, leaving the
and the Earth such that those who follow us can live in the
with the same or better quality of life that we enjoy.
In their monograph on projecting U.S population
growth to 2050, the authors, Jack Martin and Stanley Fogel2
recognize that, even under the best immigration reform scenario, U.S.
population will continue to grow some 22 percent (65 million) by 2050 because,
even after instituting policies which slow rapid growth, it is expected to take
some time before growth stops and begins a gradual decline to the desired
But the authors estimate that, if Congress and
the Administration carry out “current proposals to increase immigration, give
legal status to those currently here illegally and create a new guest worker
program,” an additional 135 million will be added by 2050, bringing U.S.
population to the half billion mark by mid-century. Such
growth in the twenty-first century would be comparable to the rapid growth
the twentieth century which brought their populations at century’s end to
around the 1 billion mark.
From an environmental perspective, the addition
of 200 million people to today’s
population of some 300 million over the next 45 years would be extremely
destructive because population size is the major determinant of environmental
It would be of more than just domestic concern
population size and consumption have a larger global effect than that of people
anywhere else, an impact currently greater than that of
combined! Our cars and industrial processes cause some 30 percent of all
greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, climate change, and
increasingly destructive weather events. And the
is the major contributor of the gases which cause thinning of the protective
stratospheric ozone layer.
Up close, considering “environment” as our immediate
surroundings, it’s obvious that the increase would bring more congestion,
delays, crowding, public expenditure for additional needed infrastructure, and
faster depletion of finite resources (coal, oil, gas, and mineral commodities)
which would be reflected in higher prices, as is already happening.
While humans can adapt to change relatively
quickly, plants, and animals generally cannot. So, the impact on ecosystems and
even on inanimate systems such as glaciers would be far greater than the impact
on people, at least initially.
But a 67 percent increase in
population, within a timeframe of about three-fifths of an average
lifetime, is so large and so fast that, even for humans, adjustment would not
While our concerns are global, an environmental focus on the
is our habitat. We want to maintain its natural endow-ments for future
generations. Second, the
population is growing, albeit needlessly, at a far faster rate than that of any
other large industrialized nation. Third, the
is looked upon as an example by many
Third World nations
whose people equate our pop-ulation growth with economic success. Fourth, as
noted above, because of our huge ecological footprint, the Earth can’t afford
any more Americans.
Our population growth impacts other species
mainly through competition for habitat and food. It impacts inanimate nature
through increasing use of topsoil, pasture, forest, and waters, often in
irreversible ways like wind- and water-erosion, salinization, coastal
salt-water intrusion, desertification and pre-empting of lands and waters
through paving, mining, drilling, damming, over-pumping of ground- and
surface-water sources, draining of wetlands, siltation, and air and water
pollution, particularly toxic pollution.
The environmental impact of a huge, rapid
increase in U.S. population, today due mainly to a continuing immigration boom,
the highest numbers in American history (Fig.1), would be greater than the
considerable impact of the post-WWII Baby Boom (1945-70), a 46 percent jump
over a 25-year span, occurring when our population was some 170 million, less
than 60 percent of today’s.
That earlier pop-
ulation surge had
an enormous impact on urbanization, growth in energy demand, and in expansion
of highways and other infrastructure, encouraging sprawl. It ushered in new
concerns about pollution, smog, acid rain and nuclear accidents.
Today the Boom would be starting from not only a much larger
population number but also a much-depleted natural base.
population is already so large that many water supplies are no longer being
renewed naturally at a sustainable rate. Air pollution is endemic in urban and
industrial areas and downwind from them. Even
Great Smoky and other National Parks are impacted! Less than half of
waters are safe enough for fishing and swimming. Even the
Lakes are seriously polluted,3 particularly from
heavily populated areas like many others where expenditure for sewage treatment
and overflow-prevention facilities have not kept up with population growth.
In efforts to meet the demand for fossil fuel,
minerals and timber, natural areas are increasingly encroached upon and
exploited. Our overpopulation has put some 1,300
plant and animal species on the threatened and endangered list.4
Some have already been rendered extinct.
population growth is mainly the result of adoption by Congress and the
Administration of outdated nineteenth century-era open immigration,
pre-environmental-preservation policies. And our government encourages the
births of more than replacement numbers of children by offering tax credits and
other incentives and by instituting impediments to family planning.
An environmental perspective recognizes that
long-term sustainable population numbers are limited by the essential,
ecosystem services that nature can provide renewably. And it recognizes that
numbers have exceeded that limit since the 1950s. Government policies which
directly or indirectly encourage increase in
population are therefore irresponsible, rob the future and must be
Paul & Anne Ehrlich, “The Most Overpopulated Nation,”
Elephants in the Volkswagen, Ed. Lindsey Grant, W.H. Freeman
Jack Martin &
Fogel, “Projecting the
Population to 2050: Four Immigration
Scenarios”, FAIR, March 2006.
& Wildlife Service, http://ecos.fws.gov/tess_public/Boxscore.do
Regional Breakdowns of U.S. Foreign-Born Population:
The pie chart shows the ethnic composition
of California public schools (2002-2003); two graphs (above) visually show the regional origins and educational levels of the foreign-born
population in the U.S.
Copyright 2007 The Social Contract Press, 445 E Mitchell Street, Petoskey, MI 49770; ISSN 1055-145X
(Article copyrights extend to the first date the article was published in The Social Contract)