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300,000,000 and Counting
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by Kim Stenley | 2006

What is the impact of the burgeoning American population?

In the United States, a baby is born every seven seconds; someone dies every 13 seconds; and one international migrant enters the country every 31seconds, for a net gain of one person every 11 seconds.

Last month, the U.S. population reached 300 million.

According to Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute, “With births exceeding deaths by nearly two to one, the U.S. population grows by almost 1.8 million each year, or 0.6 percent. Adding nearly 1 million immigrants per year brings the annual growth rate up to 0.9 percent, raising the total addition to 2.7 million. As things now stand, we are headed for 400 million Americans by 2043.”

When we talk about growth, pollution and global warming, it’s typically in terms of the economy and services or inanimate objects, such as vehicles, houses or wells. We talk as if the number of people weren’t a problem. But it is.

Each new person requires food, clothing and shelter and will likely become a worker who will need a job, a driver who will need transportation, a renter or homeowner, a consumer, who by his or her mere existence demands a share of available resources—resources that are drying up.

U.S. rivers and lakes are disappearing, and more farmers are selling their water rights to cities. The city of Frederick is planning to draw water from the Potomac, thus diverting water away from communities downstream.

Water is also a growing concern in Carroll County, as the incidences of drought and contamination continue to rise.

According to the nonprofit Population Connection, “Only 0.3 percent of the planet’s water is available for human use. Due to mismanagement, over 40 percent of the groundwater in the U.S. in contaminated by industrial, agricultural and household pollution, making it extremely difficult and costly to purify.”

And we’re burning fossil fuels faster than we’re moving to renewable energy. More people require more appliances, electronics, lighting, heating and cooling and vehicles, thus more coal and oil, both finite resources that will run out.

Brown asserts, “The United States, richly endowed with oil, has largely depleted its petroleum reserves within two generations. The use of oil has exceeded new discoveries in the United States for some 25 years. As reserves shrink, U.S. production falls and imports climb, helping to drive up world oil prices. And as population increases, so do the emissions of the Earth-warming gas carbon dioxide.”

More people require more food. More beef, chicken, pork and dairy products take more energy and water to produce. It takes 23 times more water to produce 1 ton of beef than it does to produce 1 ton of grain. And the land we depend on to grow crops is threatened by development while fish species in our coastal waters are threatened by overfishing.

A growing population also affects quality of life. Habitable places become too crowded as more roads or developments are added. One can’t traverse Carroll County without encountering traffic congestion somewhere along the way. Brown claims “Traffic congestion in the United States in 2003 caused 3.7 billion hours of travel delay and wasted 2.3 billion gallons of fuel.”

All of this stress affects personal well-being and family life. And it’s getting harder to get away for a little while as public spaces and vacation spots are increasingly crowded.

In his book, In Growth We Trust, available at the library, Edwin Stennett, founder of Growth Education Movement Inc., asserts that “failing to address U.S. population growth will increasingly diminish the quality of life of our children and grandchildren; our mushrooming population is neither inevitable nor economically necessary; and U.S. population stabilization can be achieved by voluntary means supported by the vast majority of Americans.”

Brown and the nonprofit Negative Population Growth Inc., among others, advocate for a “national population policy that would lead to population stabilization sooner rather than later.”

I hope we can start talking honestly about population, as I’m concerned about the world my son, an only child by choice, and his peers are inheriting.

The more we can do for them now, the better off they and the world will be.. 


Kim Stenley is Chair of the Catoctin Group. Column reprinted with permission of  The Carroll County Times.

> 2006 Table of Contents


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