I suggest that one of the dominant environmental issues in the West's future will be: How many people can live satisfied lives here? Population size is a factor of three variables: birth rates, death rates, and immigration. Birth, death and territory. Can any other issue cover such deep atavistic feelings? The issue will divide friends and even family, but it will not go away.
We know from the tragic
pictures we see on our television screens that Africa holds the
dismal record as the continent with the highest rate of annual
population growth (2.93 percent). Less known is that the West has
similar growth rates.
Nevada (3.9 percent),
Idaho (3.1 percent), Colorado (2.9 percent), Utah and Arizona (2.7
percent), New Mexico (2.2 percent), and Montana (2.1 percent) make
the West among the fastest-growing regions in the
California is growing at the same rate as
India. When I moved to California in the 1950s, 10 million people
were living there. Now the state's population is 32 million. The
total is projected to double by the year 2040, as are the
populations of the other Western states. Who benefits from this
growth? Who pays?
Why does anybody want two
people for every one now in the West, where we are already
straining to accommodate growth?
Los Angeles has
many problems: intolerable traffic, unhealthy smog, inadequate
water, ethnic conflict. All have their genesis in population. Acid
rain, climate change, loss of ozone, disappearance of species, loss
of habitat - whatever the issue, at its root is population: too
many people consuming too much in too little space.
Given present realities, why do we want our
children to face an America of 400 million
It is axiomatic that infinite growth
cannot take place in a finite world. We ignore this issue at great
peril to our children. Population has its own
The first census in the United States,
taken in 1790, found 4 million people. Since that time, America's
population has doubled six times over, to 256 million. Two more
doublings would give us 1 billion people - the same as China has
today. Four doublings would give us almost as many people in the
United States as now exist in the whole world!
Most environmentalists recognize high birth rates as a problem.
Daniel Koshlad, editor of Science magazine, says we must inevitably
"curb our primordial instinct to increase replication of our own
species at the expense of others because the global ecology is
threatened. So, ask not whether the bell tolls for the owl or the
whale or the rhinoceros; it tolls for us."
population is a problem, we must also inevitably deal with the
painful issue of immigration.
presently accounts for approximately 40 percent of our population
growth. Put another way, without immigration, the U.S. birthrate of
two births per woman puts us on the road toward a stable
population. With immigration, the relentless increase stretches
endlessly into the future.
sense when we were an empty continent in need of labor, but we are
now a continent of 258 million people with 10 million unemployed
and another 28 million discouraged workers outside the labor force.
What public policy reasons today dictate bringing in approximately
1.5 million immigrants per year?
environmentalists feel awkward about raising the immigration issue
because the United States consumes such a disproportionate share of
the earth's resources. But as David Simcox writes, "Arriving here
from less developed countries, grain and legume eaters become meat
eaters, walkers or bus riders become car drivers, and users of one
gallon of water daily consume 50 here."
solution to American over-consumption is not to multiply that
consumption by immigration, but to attack the problem directly. The
environment is little helped by our guilt if we express it by
allowing tens of millions of people to immigrate and become
Let's raise the gas
tax $1 per gallon, let's require recycling and reuse, and let's
show America how over-consumption is irrevocably damaging the
environment - but let's not compound our problem by more
immigration in the name of guilt.
Hillaire Belloc observed, "Truth, like roses, often comes with
thorns." One truth the West must eventually understand is that its
population cannot continue to grow forever. The West has a fragile
ecosystem and humans are part of the ecosystem. We are not immune
from the laws of nature - however clever our technologies. We must
ultimately worry about carrying capacity, sustainability and how we
affect our surrounding environment. We must worry about