By Joseph Chamie | 26 May 2023
Among America’s various troubling addictions, one that has particularly worrisome consequences for the country is its addiction to population growth.
But when it comes to the climate crisis, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, natural resource depletion and pollution, maintaining the same level of population growth poses a serious threat to America’s future sustainability. Concerned with its serious and far-reaching consequences, climatologists, environmentalists, scientists, celebrities and many others have repeatedly called for population stabilization.
Despite this, proponents of demographic growth have disregarded the widely available evidence on the consequences of population growth in both their policies and actions, and have dismissed the notion of population stabilization.
Countdown to COP26- 6 days. Ruminant numbers are soaring. As an important part of the climate emergency, https://t.co/2wOEoRRr6x policy makers at COP26 need to address methane, nitrous oxide, and CO2 emissions from animal agriculture. pic.twitter.com/2Yk5qp7Ies
— Dr. William J. Ripple (@WilliamJRipple) October 26, 2021
In February, then-Republican Texas state Rep. Bryan Slaton introduced a bill providing gradual property tax relief to married couples with four or more children, with 100 percent relief for those with 10 or more children. Slaton said in a statement, “With this bill, Texas will start saying to couples: ‘Get married, stay married, and be fruitful and multiply.’”
Ideas such as these support the claim that the numerous, cited consequences of population growth are greatly exaggerated. They argue that the repercussions — including higher average temperatures, severe droughts and hurricanes, excessive heat waves, floods, rising sea levels and high tides — should be calmly and resolutely brushed aside.
Some 50 years ago, when America’s population reached the 200 million mark, the U.S. Commission on Population Growth and the American Future concluded that in the long run, no substantial benefits would result from the further growth of America’s population. Moreover, the commission recommended that the gradual stabilization of the U.S. population through voluntary means would contribute significantly to America’s ability to solve its problems.
Since the commission’s report, the U.S. has added more than 100 million to its population, which today, stands at approximately 335 million. By mid-century, the U.S. Census Bureau expects the U.S. population to reach 400 million, or about double its size when the commission submitted its final report to then-President Nixon and Congress. It is expected to continue growing throughout the 21st century, possibly reaching as much as 500 million by 2100.
Still, any slowdown or stagnation in the growth of America’s population is typically viewed with panic and fear. Economic growth, advocates claim, requires sustained population growth. In brief, they see a growing population producing more goods and services leading to higher economic growth.
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Dasgupta is not a degrowther, but he's still trying to integrate the biosphere into economic analysis.
An excellent short account of his work is here. 👇https://t.co/UKSUuVD4HZ
— Dr. Genevieve Guenther (@DoctorVive) October 15, 2022
Calls to limit immigration in order to achieve population stabilization are strongly resisted, especially by businesses and special interest groups. Reducing the level of U.S. immigration, they often claim, is incompatible with America’s history of being a nation of immigrants.
But beyond that, many consider population growth essential for taxes, the labor force, politics, cultural leadership and global power. Therefore, any slowdown in the country’s demographic growth is met by political, business and economic leaders ringing alarm bells and warning of economic calamities.
Some have even claimed that population decline due to low birth rates is a far bigger risk to civilization than global warming. Others have stressed that worker shortages coupled with an aging population are causing serious problems for the solvency of the Social Security program.
The bottom line is, many of those calling for increased population growth through higher fertility rates, as well as more immigration, are simply promoting Ponzi demography. The underlying strategy is to privatize the profits and socialize the economic, social and environmental costs incurred from the growth. By and large, population stabilization is viewed as “stagnation,” which suppresses economic growth for businesses and reduces job opportunities for workers while simultaneously contributing to worker shortages.
On the contrary, many believe that lower fertility and smaller populations should be celebrated rather than feared, and for good reason. In addition to positive consequences for the environment and climate change, lower birth rates are frequently linked to increased education of women, greater gender equality and higher living standards.
Elon Musk says 'population collapse' is more dangerous than global warming. Experts say that won't happen. https://t.co/ZsTEpPJjvR
— Insider Tech Business (@insidertechbiz) September 2, 2022
But as it stands, the repeated warnings about the consequences of demographic increase appear insufficient to modify America’s fixation on population growth any time soon. As a result, any future U.S. policies and programs that aim to address those consequences are likely to be not only exceedingly costly, but also too little and too late to mitigate their profound effects on the nation.
Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and the author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, “Population Levels, Trends, and Differentials”.
Reprinted with permission from the author.
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