U.S. population growth threatens global
by Jay Lustgarten
Last year world population soared to over 6 billion, and
this continues to place burdensome stresses on, and take heavy tolls from,
the natural world. Our potable water and arable land are finite resources
that continue to shrink on a per capita basis as world population grows
annually by 78 million people. The unrelenting population boom in the U.S.
(at 1.2% growth, double Europeís rate) is causing the U.S. to lose its
natural resource base that makes a sustainable society possible. The annual
loss of native forests and the crucial habitat they provide for plants and
animals, unique plant and animal species and wilderness regions (which might
be the one thing that all Americans agree on: the need to hold on to our
natural heritage) are all in decline. This spells doom for nature, the
foundation of a sustainable economy.
At 6 billion people and a dwindling water supply, one
historian comments that "The wars of the 20th century were fought over
oil. The wars of the 21st century will be fought over water."
Population growth is a double edged sword since we need to extract more for
a growing population from a smaller pool. A growing population with itís
accompanying sprawl leaves less resources (land and water) to extract from.
While this population/environment balance certainly is
not unique to the U.S., the U.S.ís 4.5% of the worldís population
consumes 30% of the worldís natural resource base. India, which last year
topped 1 billion people would seemingly cast a larger footprint on the
planet with almost 4 times as many people as the U.S. (population 281
million), is not even close. Itís estimated the average American has an
environmental impact 40 times the impact of someone from a developing
country like India which makes U.S. population growth all the more serious.
Itís not long before todayís immigrant is tomorrowís American visiting
the new mall to buy TVís, VCRís, tapes, DVDís, with all the
accompanying packaging. Donít forget about the oil to transport these
items or coal (the top two contributors to global warming) which provides
the energy to play these appliances. In such a world, it is not surprising
that people everywhere are put off by G.W. Bushís rejecting the Kyoto
Protocol for the selfish, misguided notion that Americanís lifestyle would
Some Americans will be surely inconvenienced in a world
where surface temperatures will increase anywhere from 3 to 10 degrees
Fahrenheit by 2100.
If present population trends continue, the U.S. Census
Bureau estimates the U.S. population will more than double to 571 million by
2100. Peter Ward, a Washington Univ. professor describes this as a world
where "Every forest, every valley and every bit of land surface capable
of sustaining plant life will have to be turned over to crops if our species
is to avert unprecedented global famine. In such a world, animals &
plants not directly necessary to our existence will probably be a luxury not
affordable." In this world, the U.S. would lose the $40 billion made in
food exports & arable land would drop from 400 to 250 million acres by
2050. Worldwatch Instituteís "Vital Signs" comments that
"today we live in a world that is economically richer than could have
been hoped for a half-century ago, but one that is ecologically poorer than
hardly anyone could have imagined."
Embedded deep in the American psyche, is the concept of
infinite expanse and endless horizon. "Go West young man," Horace
Mann told his protege but that doesnít work today. Going west winds you up
in California, the largest state in the union with 34 million people and
about 12% of the countryís population. The endless highway is a myth
Following the World Trade Center bombing, will anything
ever be the same? Maybe now weíll live a world where people will be
conscious of their impact on it. Will there be a strong cutback on U.S.
Will Americans stop being so wasteful? Will there be a
renewed appreciation for plants, animals, the natural world & the
concept of sustainability? If we donít save and protect the natural world
for the plants and animals themselves, considering the benefits humans
derive, we must save the natural world for our own self-interests. Plant
medicines canít be discovered and distributed from extinct species.
Sustainability means long-run equilibrium which currently
does not exist with soaring population and global warming life-styles.
Contact: Negative Population Growth at http://www.npg.org or
Population-Environment Balance at http://www.balance.org for more info on
Jay is a writer hoping to relocate to the West Coast ASAP
but in the meantime, he is stuck in N. Bellmore, NY. E-mail: Jaylbird1@juno.com