Environment and the consequences of immigration-driven population growth

Carrying capacity is number of a given species that can be sustained indefinitely in a given bioregion. Although we would like to claim immunity from the laws of nature, humanity is not immune from the laws of carrying capacity. This will become all too clear over the next few decades as we draw down the remaining petroleum reserves across the planet.

The overarching environmental equation states that environmental impact is a function of population numbers and the per-capita consumption. The United States has the world's highest per-capita consumption. Unfortunately, unlike other developed nations, America's population is projected to double within the lifetimes of children born today, as a result of unsustainably high immigration numbers. If we are to adhere to principles of intergenerational justice - to provide future generations with a sustainable environment - both population numbers and consumption must be addressed. For more in-depth discussion and references, see CAIRCO's Population and immigration concerns.

Here is a formal Environmental Impact Statement on United States Immigration Policy. Because immigration has a large impact on the overall size of the U.S. population, and because population numbers can be an important factor in determining a variety of environmental impacts, federal immigration policy would seem to be a likely subject for review under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).

For an in-depth analysis of the impact of immigration-driven population growth, see the article Immigration, Population Growth, and the Environment, by Leon Kolankiewicz, Center for Immigration Studies, April 2015.

For an excellent perspective on the population/environment issue, we highly recommend the article The Numbers Game - Confronting Growth and the Environment, by Jim Motavalli, E/The Environmental Magazine, January/February 2004. Excerpts follow:

There’s a minefield in the American environmental movement, and its name is population. Because negotiating that minefield is so dangerous, many environmental groups and leaders have stopped trying to cross it. But to ignore population as a central issue while talking freely about sprawl, air and water pollution, loss of biodiversity, agricultural land and animal habitat, global warming and many other crucial environmental issues is to deny reality.
Without a doubt, high consumption rates and rapid population growth work together to degrade the environment, and both need to be addressed globally. Unfortunately, however, reducing consumption is very difficult to achieve on a national basis, and international momentum is toward emulating high American levels of it, not modeling Third World frugality. ... The overall news is not good.
It’s unambiguously true that population growth is a global problem needing global solutions, but these are in woefully short supply. Groups such as Population Connection (formerly Zero Population Growth) speak vaguely about solving global poverty to ease emigration pressures but are short on specifics. Although we definitely do need global solutions, the late Garrett Hardin pointed out that population policy is actually set on the national level, and it is therefore at the whim of localized cultural and religious norms.
Americans must address the full consequences of high immigration numbers in the U.S. As Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute has argued, high emigration may offer countries a “safety valve,” allowing them to continue with high fertility rates. This situation can reverse itself, as in Ireland, where historically high fertility and record high emigration have been replaced with below-replacement level fertility and immigration surpassing emigration.
It’s one of the most polarizing issues of our time, so it’s not surprising that population discussions usually end in shouting matches. But if we don’t soon get a handle on this critical issue it may be too late, for the planet and for ourselves.

Read the complete article.

Immigration, Population Growth, and the Environment

Immigration, Population Growth, and the Environment
by Leon Kolankiewicz, Center for Immigration Studies, April 2015
Leon Kolankiewicz is a wildlife biologist and consulting environmental planner
Reducing current immigration levels is a necessary part of working toward sustainability in the United States.
Population and Consumption Task Force, President's Council on Sustainable Development, 1996.

Environmentalists have long recognized the impact of human population growth on the environment. Both common sense and a large body of research make clear that the number of people living in a given land area has significant implications for the environment.

This fact does not mean that human beings are plague on the land. Nor does it mean that per capita consumption of resources does not matter.

What it does mean is that a sound approach to protecting the environment nationally or internationally must recognize the importance of population size and growth.

As this paper shows, in many cases per capita reductions in resource use or environmental impact are offset, sometimes entirely, by population increase. Choosing to ignore the implications of population for the environment in the United States will make it much more difficult to effectively protect it.

This paper also demonstrates the importance of population growth to the environment, particularly in the United States. Since the early 1970s American women have chosen to have about two children on average — roughly the number necessary to maintain the size of the U.S. population. However, federal immigration programs have added significantly to the American population by bringing in over a million legal immigrants annually and tolerating widespread illegal immigration.

Of course, immigrants and their descendants are not fundamentally different from natives in their environmental impact. But legal immigration levels are set by elected officials, as is the level of effort devoted to controlling illegal immigration. High levels of immigration have added significantly to the number of human beings living in the United States, and this has environmental consequences.

Census Bureau projections released in December 2012 confirm that despite somewhat lower levels of immigration in recent years, absent a change in immigration policy, the United States will grow by over 100 million people to a population of 420 million by 2060. Future immigration is expected to account for about three-fourths of the increase. That is, immigrants who have not yet arrived, but who will if policy is not changed, will account for the overwhelming majority of future population increase.

If American environmentalists decide to do nothing to prevent this growth from happening — either because they think it is inevitable or because they are too focused on more immediate environmental threats, or because they fear alienating their liberal political allies — they should at least acknowledge the tradeoff such a decision implies. If stabilizing the U.S. population is a lost cause, safeguarding the American environment may be as well.

Introduction, or Why Human Population Matters

At the most basic level, biologists classify all living organisms by ecological function into two groups: 1) producers, or plants, and 2) consumers, or animals. All consumers, including all humans, extract low-entropy matter and energy from environmental sources and excrete wastes into environmental "sinks". In so doing, each and every human being exerts a tangible load on his or her biophysical milieu.

Cumulatively, over the course of a typical human lifetime, the sheer quantities of resources consumed and wastes generated are staggering, especially in wealthier, developed societies like our own. For example, from birth to death, the average American uses over 1,400 tons of newly mined minerals. 1 Consuming resources and discarding the ensuing wastes entail a myriad of environmental consequences or impacts.

This then is why the number of human beings — our population size — matters. It is why population size and growth rates matter, or should matter, to ecologists — scientists who study living systems, or ecosystems — and environmentalists — citizens concerned about the environment. The "environment" includes pretty much everything under the sun, both natural and manmade. It is not only clean air and water, the climate, soils, forests, wetlands, wilderness, and wildlife; it is also croplands and rangelands, open pit mines, and the "built environment" — human settlements from historic villages to modern mega-cities, cultural monuments, and glistening or tottering infrastructure — as well as such intangibles as the "quality of life".

One striking measure of just how thoroughly our own species, Homo sapiens , has come to dominate the rest of nature is that at present, even with more than 30,000 species of land-dwelling vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians) living on earth, more than 90 percent of the total biomass (weight) of all these creatures combined is comprised of humans and domestic animals (dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, etc.). Ten thousand years ago this figure was a mere 0.1 percent. 2

Wherever and whenever human population growth occurs, it changes the environment or exacts a cost. One of these costs is to other species that have inhabited earth alongside us since the very dawn of time, and with which our own species competes for habitat, resources, and energy. Human overpopulation has led to dramatic declines in the populations of thousands of species and pushed hundreds to the edge of extinction. 3

Population Growth, the American Environment, and American Environmentalists

Four million Americans were counted at the time of the first Census in 1790, most of them huddled along the Eastern Seaboard. That modest number has undergone six doublings, adding about 316 million of us to those initial four million, and we are well on our way to a seventh doubling sometime between 2050 and 2100.

The stunning transformation of a continent's virgin forests, prairies, mountains and rivers into the most prosperous and powerful nation in history is a shining success story, but one that has come at an environmental cost. The impact on America's natural environment has been significant and, in some ways, permanent and irrevocable.

Much of the transformation and exploitation of the American landscape occurred simply due to the skyrocketing needs and demands of an explosive increase in the number of Americans. The U.S. population quadrupled from 1900 to 2010.

Over time, this growth has been driven at different times by high immigration rates, high birth rates, or both. It has also been driven by the long-term decline in death rates (increasing longevity) that all developed and developing countries have experienced and welcomed. At times immigration has been the dominant factor in U.S. population growth; at times high birth rates have been more important. When the U.S. population grew by 28 million in the 1950s "baby boom" era, high birth rates drove almost all of that growth. However, birth rates decreased sharply from the 1950s to the 1970s, even as immigration rates began to soar, partly as a result of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (Hart-Celler Act) of 1965.

By the 1990s and 2000s, depending on the methodology used, immigration directly and indirectly accounted for about 60 to 80 percent of American population growth. And at least numerically this growth reached levels never before seen: Between 1990 and 2000 some 32 million more Americans were added to the population — the largest increment of any decade in our history — and in the 2000-2010 period, an additional 27 million joined our ranks — the third-most of any decade. 4 Immigration will continue to exercise a dominant role for the foreseeable future.

In December 2012 the Census Bureau released population projections that reflected a downturn in immigration levels, particularly illegal immigration, that has been well documented. 5 Nevertheless, the Bureau's new projections show that the U.S. population will grow from 309.3 million in 2010 to 420.3 million in 2060 — a 111 million increase. Based on these new projections as well as prior research, an estimated 82 million (74 percent) of population growth will come from future immigration. 6 And this estimate assumes a historically low level of immigration. If immigration turns out to be higher than the Census Bureau assumes in its newest projections, then it will add more than 82 million new residents to the U.S. population.

As noted in a Center for Immigration Studies Backgrounder 7 , immigration's preponderant role in driving American population growth has not been at the center of the nation's immigration debate, in spite of the fact that increasing the nation's total population is one of immigration's clearest and most direct effects on the country. Neither has it been a focus of concerted environmentalist angst or advocacy, in spite the spirited activism of a few diehard population activists, and regardless of the fact that, as noted above, population growth has important implications for environmental degradation, congestion, habitat and species loss, and resource depletion, even as it thwarts the pursuit of sustainability.

As discussed above, the Census Bureau projects that the U.S. population will grow by 111 million between 2010 and 2060 with future immigration accounting for the overwhelming majority of future population increase. If this immigration and subsequent population growth occur, the consequences for the American environment will almost certainly be starkly negative. Even if American environmentalists decide to do nothing to prevent this growth from happening — either because they think it is inevitable or because they are too focused on more immediate environmental threats, or because they fear alienating their liberal political allies — they should at least acknowledge the tradeoff such a decision implies. If stabilizing the U.S. population is a lost cause, safeguarding the American environment may be as well.

Assumptions and Predictions

"It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future", baseball great and homespun sage Yogi Berra once said. And the further into the future one peers, the tougher it gets. Demographers themselves are wary of making projections much beyond 50 years because they have learned the hard way that the longer the time frame, the greater the likelihood of one or more unanticipated phenomena making hash of the careful assumptions upon which their deceptively precise projections rest.

Making predictions of future environmental trends, impacts, and conditions is even more fraught with risk because, 1) natural systems are highly complex and often behave in a counterintuitive or nonlinear manner; our understanding of nature is incomplete and constantly evolving, and 2) the human factor — both technological and social — is a continually moving target. One thing we do know about both natural and human systems is that both are capable of sudden, unexpected change, as well as gradual change, stasis, inertia, and lags.

Natural scientists use terminology such as "discontinuity", "tipping point", "state shift", and "phase shift" — some of which have entered the vernacular — to describe the precise moment when a system undergoes an abrupt change from one state to another. Sometimes these sudden shifts are reversible — as when water evaporates into a gas only to condense again into a liquid — sometime not, as with extinctions. Sometimes they produce new stable states, sometimes instability or chaos reign.

In the social sciences, scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb has coined the expression "black swan" as a metaphor of rare, unforeseen events with outsized, disruptive effects on history, politics, finance, science, and technology. 8 The straw that broke the camel's back was a black swan.

The predictions of ecologists, other scientists, and environmentalists as to the future state of the world are like snowflakes — infinite in variety. No two are exactly alike.

In 1972, a team of young systems dynamics modelers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) under Professor Jay Forrester countered the widely accepted notion that continuing exponential population growth and economic growth would result in a world that was ever more populated, polluted, and richer ad infinitum . Instead, The Limits to Growth warned that within a century, the likeliest outcome of the world system was "overshoot and collapse", in which human population and industrial output both contracted uncontrollably instead of either growing forever (which most economists believed) or stabilizing in an orderly, planned manner (which most ecologists and environmentalists advocated). 9

In the four decades since Limits , a number of analyses and scenarios have emerged to challenge the conventional wisdom of both the mainstream environmental movement and the mainstream political/economic establishment that the future will merely be an extrapolation of the recent past. A 2008 article in New Scientist asked whether the demise of civilization was inevitable 10 due to the inherent unsustainability of ever more complex systems, a theory advanced in the 1980s by the anthropologist and historian Joseph Tainter, author of The Collapse of Complex Societies . 11

In 2012, in the prestigious British scientific journal Nature , a distinguished team of scientists from the United States, Canada, South America, and Europe warned that human population growth, extensive degradation and destruction of natural ecosystems, and climate change may be driving our biosphere toward an irreversible change, which they called "a planet-wide tipping point". 12 The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO) warns of potentially severe economic, environmental, and social disruptions related to what they believe to be the imminent peaking of worldwide conventional petroleum production. 13 Many climate scientists and advocacy groups assert that climate change will become increasingly disruptive to weather, agriculture, ecosystems, and the economy. 14 Author Chris Clugston in his 2012 book Scarcity argues that ever-increasing global scarcity of scores of non-renewable natural resources threatens a "new normal" of geologically imposed austerity. 15 Trend forecaster and best-selling author Chris Martenson offers "insights for prospering as our world changes", 16 while the Post Carbon Institute claims that economic growth is all but over and touts itself as "leading the transition to a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable world". 17 None of these believe that "business as usual" can prevail to the year 2060.

However, the predictions of this Backgrounder , to a large extent, do assume business-as-usual trends extrapolated and projected to 2060. The reason is that any predictions at all become all but impossible if one attempts to incorporate all of the possible game changers and black swans that may well swoop out of the sky and intervene between now and 2060, casting the United States and the world in a different direction … or into an alternative dimension entirely. It is also an exercise in futility to try to guess what the odds are between the different possible fates that await us.

In attempting to quantify environmental effects, this Backgrounder does not merely assume that each and every numerical increase in population has an exact proportionally greater effect on the resource or environmental attribute in question. In recent decades, substantial strides have been made in reducing the energy, resource, and water intensity of our economy. That is, it takes less energy and less water to generate a given dollar of GDP as a result of improved energy and water efficiency. Average per capita energy and water consumption have also declined modestly over the last several decades, even as per capita income has grown, as a result of higher prices, incentives, both institutional and individual conservation efforts, and implementation of energy and water efficient technologies. Likewise, per capita land consumption has been declining in the last several years (in contrast to decades-long trends before that), as younger Americans appear to be opting for higher-density living, partly in response to economic pressures associated with higher gasoline and overall energy costs (shorter commutes and smaller, attached homes entail less energy use and expense).

The net effect of these improvements is not to eliminate entirely, but to reduce the marginal impact on the environment of each added increment of population. In some instances, this reduction is sufficient to offset, or almost offset, the added environmental load represented by a growing population. In other instances, population growth is of such a magnitude that it overwhelms the offsetting influence of conservation and efficiency measures. But whether population growth simply offsets reductions in per capita environmental impacts or adds to it, the fact remains that population increase makes the environment worse off than it otherwise would have been had it not occurred.

Traffic Congestion

The degree of traffic congestion on American streets is a function of the populations of people and vehicles in comparison to roadway capacity. In recent decades, as urban populations and vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT to transportation planners) have grown faster than roadway capacity, congestion has worsened considerably. More and more motorists sit for longer and longer hours in gridlocked traffic breathing one another's fumes.

Every year the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) issues Urban Mobility Reports that provide updated data on traffic congestion for cities and towns around the country. 18 The 2011 report concluded:

Traffic congestion levels have increased in every area since 1982. Congestion extends to more time of the day, more roads, affects more of the travel, and creates more extra travel time than in the past. And congestion levels have risen in all size categories, indicating that even the smaller areas are not able to keep pace with rising demand. 19

Not surprisingly, traffic congestion is worse in larger urban areas than in smaller ones. Figure 1 displays this relationship. It is not unreasonable then, to assert that as the populations of cities and suburban areas grow, on the average about 36 percent by 2060, traffic congestion will worsen substantially. Washington, D.C., metro area motorists, who even now waste more than 70 hours every year sitting in traffic, may likely to find themselves idling for 100 hours a year by 2060 if population grow continues, even with ongoing and foreseeable transportation improvements.



A 36 percent increase in population does not necessarily equal a 36 percent increase in VMT for a variety of reasons. For example, more people can hypothetically opt to use public transit (e.g., buses, subways, light rail), although recent experience has provided little evidence of this. And a 36 percent increase in VMT does not necessarily signify a 36 percent increase in congestion and wasted time. Roadway capacity can expand at a faster pace, provided public or private funding to construct and maintain such capacity is available, less and less a sure proposition in this day and age of fiscal constraints and limited capital. Other possible game changers are driverless car technology under development by Google, which would reduce congestion by allowing vehicles to safely travel in a more compact fashion (closer together), and increases in gasoline prices, which could reduce congestion by reducing the number of cars on the road because driving has gotten far more expensive.

On the other hand, some roads operating at capacity now may be pushed over the tipping point by further population increases and become chronically congested. The funds or space to improve such roads may be limited or not available. In these cases even a modest number of new drivers could result in significant increases in traffic congestion and wait times. Federal, state, and local governments as well as the private sector will surely respond to increased population density. In fact, they have. But these responses have not prevented traffic congestion from growing worse. It seems almost certain that adding 111 million people to the U.S. population over the next half century will worsen our already overcrowded roads and freeways.

Energy Consumption

Energy is vital because it keeps the economy running. Energy production and consumption each entail significant environmental repercussions ranging from oil spills and air pollution to nuclear power plant risks and nuclear waste disposal. Although so-called green or renewable energy sources have certain advantages, they are not environmental panaceas. Wind farms can cause bird and bat mortality, generate objectionable noise and other issues for nearby residents, interfere with radar at airports, as well as mar unspoiled mountain or coastal scenery. Centralized solar energy facilities in Southwestern deserts obliterate habitats and wildlife in those areas. Hydroelectric dams destroy runs of anadromous fish like salmon and shad.



Thus, the rate of annual energy consumption is a key index of environmental stresses even when that energy is produced by renewable sources. Americans are heavy energy users, among the highest per capita users on Earth and second only to colossal China in aggregate energy consumption. Moreover, both domestic and global energy consumption rates can be seen as unsustainable in the long run because some 85 percent of primary energy derives from non-renewable fossil fuels, which, when burned, are used up irrevocably and not replaced, leading to their inexorable depletion.

If per capita energy consumption were to remain unchanged, increasing America's population 36 percent by 2060 would increase energy consumption and its environmental impacts by roughly 36 percent as well. Fortunately, per capita energy use has decreased slightly in recent decades and is projected to continue this downward trend for the foreseeable future; by 2035, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that energy use per capita will only be 80 percent of what it was 55 years earlier in 1980, or about a 12 percent decrease from 2010. 20 Likewise, energy use per dollar of GDP will only be about a third of what it was 55 years earlier (Figure 3), a function both of energy efficiency improvements and structural changes in the U.S. economy (such as shifting energy-intensive industries overseas and moving more toward a "post-industrial" and information-based economy).



If U.S. population were to remain constant, a 12 percent decline in per capita energy use would result in a 12 percent reduction in aggregate energy use, not exactly a cause for celebration but at least a solid step in the right direction. However, because our population is projected to grow by 36 percent instead, the net result would be a 20 percent increase in the annual rate of aggregate energy use.

How will we meet this demand for energy? A nuclear "renaissance" appears increasingly uncertain after the costly 2011 nuclear disaster and partial core meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, and there is very little scope for additional hydroelectric output from America's rivers, especially in light of the concerns about the impact dams have on the ecosystem. Capital-intensive and expensive renewable solar and wind projects are likely to expand exponentially with government support (such as feed-in tariffs and statewide renewable energy standards) — and, at the same time, face stiffer headwinds and opposition as sensitive and valued landscapes and "seascapes" like Nantucket Sound near Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts (where the battle over the Cape Wind project has been waged for a decade) are increasingly threatened with development.

In order to meet this predicted 20 percent increase in demand, it is very likely that the country will look to expand production of oil and gas on both public and private lands over the next five decades, including the use of hydrofracking, which is controversial. Increasingly, the oil and gas industry is "scraping the bottom of the barrel" to get at the fossil energy resources that remain, running faster and faster to stay in the same place, as the Red Queen explains to Alice:

Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!
— Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass , 1871.

Cumulatively, since the first commercial well was drilled at Titusville, Pa., in 1858, America has already drilled far more wells and extracted far more oil than any country on earth. Just since 1950, more than 2.6 million oil and natural gas wells have been drilled in the United States. 21 In recent years there have been more than 820,000 producing oil and gas wells in operation at any given time. 22 In 2010, over 36,000 new exploratory and development oil and gas wells were started, drilling a combined total of 239,247,000 feet (45,312 miles) in search of recoverable hydrocarbons. Figure 4 shows the jump in the number of rotary drill rigs (which bore the well holes) from 2009 to 2012 in response to higher crude oil prices up until 2008.



It requires more and more effort, energy, and money to obtain a diminishing quantity of fossil fuels, in a perfect illustration of what economists call the law of diminishing marginal returns. As energy analyst Chris Nelder emphasizes: "Over the past century, world energy production has moved progressively from high quality resources with high production rates and low costs to lower quality resources with lower production rates and higher costs, and that progression is accelerating." 23 Put simply, we have already harvested the "low-hanging fruit." In trying to obtain what remains, it seem very likely that it will cost us increasingly more both in our wallets and in terms of damage to cherished environments — fragmented wildlife habitat, threatened aquifers, loss of tranquility in the countryside for many rural residents, localized air and water pollution, blighted scenery, heavy truck traffic on erstwhile quiet country roads, and so forth.

As America's growing energy needs — driven entirely now by population growth, not rising per capita consumption — become more difficult to meet in the face of depletion and greater global competition for remaining supplies of fossil fuels from developing countries, the political pressure to open up public lands such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in northern Alaska will only grow.

Just as there is considerable pressure now to construct the Keystone XL pipeline to carrying syncrude from the Athabasca tar sands in the Canadian province of Alberta to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, there may also be a concerted push to finally exploit in earnest the hypothetically vast quantities of oil resources in the oil shale (actually kerogen) of the Green River Formation in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. An estimated three trillion barrels of oil resources are found here, 24 more than the entire quantity of conventional oil left on earth. However, the operative word is "hypothetical," for while these resources have been known for well over a century, they have always been and may always be a resource of the "future". Their time may never come. Their EROEI (energy return on energy invested) appears to be very low. That is, producing a barrel of oil from kerogen may take almost an equivalent amount of energy in some form. Furthermore, processing would require large amounts of water in an arid region, and land surface reclamation would be difficult. 25 Moreover, the low EROEI and the vast quantities of oil shale in combination would pose a serious threat to the climate due to enormous carbon dioxide emissions.

These are just a few of the energy-environment issues raised by U.S. population growth, which, as we have seen, is driven by immigration policy. In sum, the environmental implications of the Census Bureau's population projections for the United States raise important concerns for the environment that cannot be ignored.

Water Resources

Water is essential to all life; both economies and ecosystems wither without it. The United States is comparatively well endowed with water resources and uses prodigious volumes of both surface water (withdrawn from reservoirs and rivers) and groundwater (pumped from subterranean aquifers) in agriculture, industry, and municipalities. In 2005, about 410,000 million gallons of water was withdrawn for use in the United States every day — over four million swimming pools' worth or about 5,000 Rose Bowls filled to the rim. About 80 percent of our water supply is from surface water and the remaining 20 percent from groundwater. 26 Water is used to irrigate our crops, to manufacture all manner of products ranging from steel to silicon chips to soft drinks, to water our lawns, fill our cooking pots, wash away our wastes, and even to cool our thermal power plants. About 80 percent of water is used in U.S. agriculture, 27 which is very water-intensive because crops (like all plants) need it for photosynthesis and transpiration. Protecting water quality by avoiding and cleaning up water pollution is as important as managing and conserving water quantity.

Both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems depend on water of adequate quantity and quality as well. It is obvious that freshwater fish, shellfish (clams, mussels, crayfish, etc.) and aquatic plants need water of sufficient depth, flow, clarity, and temperature to survive, and unpolluted, well-oxygenated water at that, but it is less obvious that adjacent riparian plant communities, wetlands, and many species of wildlife are equally dependent on the water coursing through streams and rivers.

In taking water from natural environments for human use, it is important to leave enough water behind for ecosystem services and functions. And these functions not only include supporting fisheries and wildlife, but commercial navigation, hydroelectric generation, recreation (e.g., boating, fishing, swimming), even sight-seeing and tourism (think Niagara Falls).

Water conservation and reuse strategies and technologies have advanced considerably in recent decades, and can be applied in all water use sectors. They include water metering, drip irrigation, low-flush toilets and low-flow showerheads, lawn watering restrictions, xeriscaping (using drought-tolerant plants adapted to arid environments for landscaping), use of grey water for irrigation, and a host of others. With enough engineering and expense, we can literally cleanse our water "from toilet to tap".

All of these methods and devices taken together are capable of reducing per capita water consumption to such an extent that many regions of the country could accommodate projected population growth and still have enough water both for humans and nature without major new water projects. However, in the driest and one of the most rapidly growing parts of the United States — the American Southwest – the same cannot be said. This arid region was formerly thinly populated, but it burst from just three million in 1900 to 45 million at present. 28 The Southwest could soon be facing, in the words of New Mexico native Kathleene Parker, "twice the people, half the water". 29 This region, served by two over-allocated, over-stressed rivers — the Colorado and the Rio Grande — is both extremely hot and dry, its large-scale settlement made possible only through the advent and spread of air conditioning. Witty cowboy humorist Will Rogers once quipped of the Rio Grande ("Big River" in Spanish) that it was "the only river I ever saw that needed irrigation."

One of the largest municipal water districts in Texas is implementing state-of-art conservation-efficiency-reuse measures — reducing consumptive water use per capita by 20 percent or more — but because its population is projected to more than double in the coming 50 years, it has no choice but to embark on economically and ecologically expensive new dam, reservoir, and pipeline projects.

After another disappointing 2014-2015 winter of anemic precipitation, California is now four years into the worst drought in its recorded history. Its Sierra snowpack and huge reservoirs are at unprecedented lows, and scientists are warning of the possibility of an incipient "megadrought" that could last decades. In March 2015, Governor Jerry Brown declared statewide mandatory water restrictions for the first time in California's history, ordering towns and cities to reduce their water use by 25 percent. Yet at the same time, California's governor is a gushing immigration enthusiast who eagerly welcomes any and all newcomers to his state, legal and illegal alike. Both in his earlier incarnation as "Governor Moonbeam" in the 1970s and his recent governorship, Brown enjoys prattling on about the imperative of embracing limits, except when it comes to population growth, about which he says nothing. But in the real world, the fact that California already has 39 million residents, and continues to add millions more every decade surely has some bearing on whether there is enough water to go around. For cornucopians of Brown's ilk, admitting that the problem may be more a "longage" of people than a shortage of water (in Garrett Hardin's memorable turn of phrase) is apparently beyond the pale.

In a nutshell, water resources in America are already stressed in many parts of the country, and projected population growth will stress them further, though a commitment to good planning can buy time and alleviate some of that stress. One way stress will be relieved is buying farmers' water rights, which is happening in California and elsewhere. To accommodate the water demands of a growing population, we are reducing our ability to feed that population, and overseas populations that depend on our food (especially grain) exports. It's called "robbing Peter to pay Paul" or a zero-sum game, as opposed to "win-win," which is what Americans and everyone else prefers.

Wildlife and Its Habitats

People need a place to live. Every person lives in a home — whether an apartment, condo, townhouse, or single family dwelling — that takes up space that was once natural habitat. But everyone also uses other structures, facilities, and infrastructure that displace additional habitat as well, such as roads, parking lots, office buildings, shopping centers, recreation facilities, and schools. Yet all of these facilities occupy just a small portion of the overall land area that each person co-opts. Farmland, rangeland, timberland, and mines extend across large areas and are exploited to provide food, fiber, and minerals to each consumer. Most of the energy we use comes from oil and gas wells and coal mines that disturb or eliminate wildlife habitats.

Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are used heavily to provide the food we eat; the former can harm wildlife because of its toxicity, while the latter two can impair water quality and aquatic life. A notorious "dead zone" up to 6,000-7,000 square miles in area now appears every summer near the mouth of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico; this zone of severe hypoxia or oxygen deprivation is caused by the runoff of fertilizers (plant nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus) from farmland in the Mississippi watershed. Animal wastes and sewage contribute nitrogen and phosphorus as well. Nutrients cause algal blooms (i.e., algal population explosions) which, when the algae die en masse, deplete dissolved oxygen, upon which almost all aquatic and marine life depends.

Increasing the U.S. population by 36 percent will severely exacerbate pressures on wildlife and wildlife habitat. Even if more people opt to reduce their per capita impact by living more compactly and recycling and eating less meat or no meat at all (which reduces the amount of land and water required to feed animals), about the best we could hope for voluntarily is to perhaps trim the increase in aggregate impacts down to 20 percent. In our most overpopulated and biologically diverse state, several years ago the California Department of Fish and Game counted more than 800 imperiled species, including half of all mammals and one-third of all birds. 30 The department identified the major stressors affecting California's wildlife and habitats. It emphasized that: "Increasing needs for housing, services, transportation, and other infrastructure place ever-greater demands on the state's land, water, and other natural resources." Of course, all of these are a direct function of population size.

Ecological Footprint

The Ecological Footprint (EF) is a measure of the load that aggregate human demands impose on the biosphere, or "ecosphere". EF compares the demands of the human economy, or subsets of it, with the earth's (or a given country's) ecological capacity for regeneration and renewal, its "biocapacity". EF represents the amount of biologically productive land and water area needed to regenerate the renewable resources a given human population consumes and to absorb and render harmless, or assimilate the corresponding waste or residuals it generates. The global EF now exceeds global biocapacity by some 50 percent, 31 which is not a sustainable situation over the long run; it means we are drawing down "natural capital" and running up an "ecological debt". 32

Mass immigration is increasing America's population size and national EF, pushing our country deeper into ecological debt. See Figure 5, in which our EF is estimated to have exceeded our biocapacity by the late 1960s. At over 320 million, U.S. population currently is well in excess of the carrying capacity of our land and resource base. If everyone in the world consumed resources like Americans, the ecological footprint would be 4.05 earths. 33 High immigration levels that will drive our numbers to a projected 420 million by 2060 will only exacerbate this situation.



Assuming the Census Bureau's official population projections for 2060 actually do happen, the U.S. population will be 36 percent larger than at present. Even if there were no further increase in the U.S. per capita EF, which is, as can be seen from the 45-year trend in Figure 5, a rather generous assumption, a 36 percent increase in the U.S. population would correspond to a further 36 percent decrease in biocapacity per capita, even without continuing land and resource degradation. The 2012 U.S. EF was 17.8 global acres (GA) per capita and the biocapacity 9.5 GA per capita for an ecological deficit of 8.3 GA per capita. By 2060, if current U.S. demographic trends and projections hold, the biocapacity per person will have been reduced to 7 GA per capita. If the per capita EF remains at the 2012 value of 17.8 GA, the ecological deficit in 2060 will widen to 10.8 GA per capita.

The Global Footprint Network conducts ongoing research on the EF and keeps track of individual country trends through its National Footprint Accounts. In a 2011 report, the network states that, "As resource pressures increase and our populations expand, countries compete with one another in an auction for Earth's limited biocapacity." 34 In allowing its population to expand by another 36 percent, the United States only aggravates the plight of the planet and its inhabitants.

Sprawl and the Loss of Rural Lands

A series of studies conducted by Kolankiewicz, Beck, and Camarota in the early 2000s, and resumed by Kolankiewicz, Beck, and Manetas in 2014, has quantified the role of population growth in driving urban sprawl, and trends in this role over time. 35 Using data and surveys compiled painstakingly over several decades by the Census Bureau and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the sprawl studies in the early 2000s — covering the last three decades of the 20th century (1970-2000) — documented that population growth accounted for about half of sprawl, with decreasing population density (or conversely, increasing per capita land consumption) accounting for the other half. The role of population growth in driving sprawl was highest in the urban and developed areas of the West, South, and Southwest, the regions of the country that are growing the fastest now and that are projected to continue growing the fastest for decades to come.

The studies in the early 2000s revealed some ominous trends. In the 15 years from 1982 to 1997, America converted approximately 25 million acres (39,000 square miles) of rural land — forests, rangeland, pastures, and cropland — to developed land, that is, to subdivisions, freeways, factories, strip malls, airports, and the like. That was an area about equal to Maine and New Hampshire combined. These losses occurred at an average rate of 1.7 million acres per year, 17 million acres per decade.

If this rate of 17 million acres per decade were to continue to 2060, which is consistent with the Census projections, the United States will have lost an additional 107 million acres of rural countryside. That's 167,000 square miles, about equal to the combined areas of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia. Added to the loss of an area equivalent to Maine and New Hampshire from 1982-1997, that amounts to much of the Eastern Seaboard. Anyone who has ever flown at night from New York to Florida and seen the galaxies of twinkling lights below sweeping to the horizon and beyond gets a feel for how far advanced this process of mass urbanization already is. The future will see more of the same if U.S. population grows by 36 percent, barring a marked change in where and how Americans choose (or are forced, as by higher gasoline/energy prices) to live.

The 2014 national level study revealed that the role of population growth in driving urban sprawl has increased markedly over time, from about half (50 percent) in the last few decades of the 20th century (1970 to 2000), to approximately 70 percent in the first decade of the new century (2000 to 2010). (See Figure 6.)



In some of the nation's most rapidly growing states, such as California, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado, population growth accounted for virtually all sprawl during the 2000-2010 decade. One of the consequences of sprawl is disappearing farmland (in particular cropland), and if current U.S. demographic trends and rates of cropland loss were to persist until the end of the century (admittedly a big "if"), there would be a shocking decline in per capita cropland availability, from 1.9 acres per person in 1982 to a mere 0.3 acre per person in 2100. (See Figure 7.)



Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the most important of which is carbon dioxide (CO2), raise the concentration of these gases in the earth's atmosphere, and in the case of CO2, in the upper layers of the ocean as well. Most scientists think the increase in atmospheric concentrations is causing average global temperatures to rise. There is widespread concern that such warming may result in far-reaching, long-term impacts on the earth's climate, biosphere, agriculture, and coastal communities from sea level rise. 36 About 30 to 40 percent of anthropogenic CO2 emissions are absorbed by the world's oceans, helping scrub it from the atmosphere, but threatening the marine environment instead. In water, CO2 is converted into carbonic acid (H2CO3), gradually acidifying the ocean and impeding the process of calcification, by which creatures such as corals and shellfish form their shells. 37

In an earlier study, it was found that greenhouse gas emissions in the United States from fossil fuel combustion grew by almost 13 percent from 1990 to 2000. U.S. population grew by almost an identical amount — slightly over 13 percent in the same decade. Thus, the increase in greenhouse gas emissions closely matched the increase in population. 38 Put a different way, the growth in aggregate emissions was driven entirely by population growth, not growth in per capita emissions.

More recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that, "between 1990 and 2010, the increase in CO2 emissions corresponded with increased energy use by an expanding economy and population, although the economic downturn starting in 2008 influenced the decrease in emissions in 2009." 39 And the U.S. Department of State, in projecting future emissions, noted: "These rising absolute levels of CO2 emissions occur against a background of growing population and GDP." 40

Because CO2 emissions are a direct result of fossil fuel combustion, which represents 85 percent of our energy consumption, the predictions above for energy consumption are also germane to CO2 emissions. With projected population growth of 36 percent by 2060, and moderate economic growth, but at the same time with declining per capita energy use and declining energy intensity (energy per dollar of GDP), it is reasonable to suggest that aggregate American CO2 emissions will rise by about 20 percent (one-fifth) by 2060. Two important caveats must be made about this estimate. First, CO2 emissions from the United States are already enormous, accounting for roughly one-sixth of the world total. Second, this estimate assumes no change in the mix of our energy technologies, that is, no significant shift away from the carbon-intensive fossil fuels toward renewables and nuclear power for electricity generation and little penetration of all-electric vehicles in the market. If a serious push were made toward these alternative technologies and further improvements in energy efficiency, the predicted increase in U.S. CO2 emissions might be reduced or avoided, but this would require far greater national resolve than witnessed to date.

Nevertheless, this is in the context of a call by climate scientists and activists for reductions in the GHG emissions of industrialized nations by 70-80 percent by the middle of this century to lessen the risk of dangerous climate destabilization. 41 Merely reducing the rate of increase falls far short of the drastic reductions advocated; with a projected U.S. population increase of 36 percent by 2060, any such reductions seem unrealistic.

Other Effects of Projected Population Growth

Adding another 111 million resource consumers to America's population by 2060 will have other adverse effects on the American landscape and environment in addition to those described above. These are depicted by the schematic in Figure 8. The table of contents of a typical Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) includes topics such as soils, air quality, vegetation, noise, recreation, visual resources (aesthetics), cultural and historic resources, waste management (including hazardous and toxic wastes), and environmental justice. A substantially larger population extracting more resources from the environment and extruding more residuals into the environment will adversely impact all of these.



Conclusion – Piling On the Pressure

Four decades ago, the transmittal letter to the President and Congress of the Report of the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, said:

After two years of concentrated effort, we have concluded that, in the long run, no substantial benefits will result from further growth of the nation's population, rather that the gradual stabilization of our population through voluntary means would contribute significantly to the nation's ability to solve its problems. 42

More than 20 years later, in 1996, this statement was echoed by the Population and Consumption Task Force of President Clinton's Council on Sustainable Development. The task force concluded that: "reducing current immigration levels is a necessary part of working toward sustainability in the United States." 43

In spite of their common-sense logic and the respectable political pedigree of those making these calls for a halt to U.S. population growth, they have largely been ignored, sometimes scoffed at, for more than 40 years. In these four decades, the U.S. population has grown 50 percent — by over 100 million — and pressures on the environment have increased more or less at a commensurate pace. Now over the next five decades, the Census Bureau is projecting that America's numbers will swell by yet another 36 percent and high levels of immigration are the primary driver.

In 2060, if Americans acquiesce to this fate, and barring one or more of the black swans or tipping points discussed earlier, the U.S. population will still be growing very rapidly. The Census projections show it will be increasing by two million people at the end of 2050s. An ever-larger population cannot help but move the country ever further away from the goal of environmental sustainability.


End Notes

1 Mineral Information Institute . 2012. Per Capita Use. Every year — 38,052 lbs. of new minerals must be provided for every person in the United States to make the things we use every day, including: 8,148 lbs. of stone; 5,775 lbs. of sand and gravel; 11 lbs. of lead; 7 lbs. of zinc; 37 lbs. of soda ash; 6 lbs. of manganese; 372 lbs. of other nonmetals, and 25 lbs. of other metals. The annual per capita energy consumption of each American is provided by 951 gallons of oil, 6,439 lbs. of coal, 80,905 cubic feet of natural gas, and 0.25 lbs. of uranium.

2 G. Vince. 2011. "An Epoch Debate". Science 334 (6052):32-37.

3 Butchart, Stuart, et al. 2010. "Global Biodiversity: Indicators of Recent Declines". Science 328 (5982): 1164– 1168.

4 U.S. Census Bureau .

5 Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler. 2009. "A Shifting Tide: Recent Trends in the Illegal Immigrant Population" . Center for Immigration Studies; Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler. 2008. "Homeward Bound: Recent Immigration Enforcement and the Decline in the Illegal Alien Population" . Center for Immigration Studies; Jeffrey Passel, D'Vera Cohn, and Ana Gonzalez-Barrera. 2012. "Net Migration from Mexico Falls to Zero — and Perhaps Less" . Pew Hispanic Center.

6 See Table 1 in the December 2012 Census Bureau Projection , which shows a total U.S. population of 420.3 million in 2060. In prior projections, the Center for Immigration Studies has estimated a U.S. population of 338.3 million in 2060 assuming no net immigration after 2060. Also see Table A1 in the CIS projections . Thus immigration by itself will add roughly 82 million residents to the U.S. population (420.3 minus 338.3.) While 82 million may seem like a large number, the new Census Bureau projections show net immigration (the difference between people coming and going) will total 51.1 million from 2015 to 2060 and this figure does not include the children and grandchildren these future immigrants will have once in the country.

7 Steven Camarota. 2012. "Projecting the Impact of Immigration on the Size and Age Structure of the American Population in the 21st Century" . Center for Immigration Studies.

8 Nassim Nicholas Taleb. 2007. The Black Swan , New York: Random House.

9 Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William Behrens III. 1972. The Limits to Growth . Universe Books.

10 Debora MacKenzie. 2008. "Why the demise of civilisation may be inevitable" . New Scientist .

11 Joseph Tainter. 1988. The Collapse of Complex Societies . Cambridge University Press.

12 Robert Sanders. 2012. "Scientists uncover evidence of impending tipping point for Earth" . UC Berkeley News Center. Anthony D. Barnosky, et al. 2012. "Approaching a state shift in Earth's biosphere" . Nature 486: 52-58.

13 Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas-USA . As shown by recent low prices of crude oil, gasoline, and natural gas, the advent of "tight oil" and shale gas derived from hydraulic fracturing (hydro-fracking or just "fracking") of geologic shale formations in the United States like the Haynesville, Marcellus, Eagle Ford, and Bakken, as well as from unconventional sources like the Athabasca tar sands in the Canadian province of Alberta, have delayed the global peak production of "all liquid hydrocarbons" by a matter of years or decades.

14 See 350.org , Think Progress , and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

15 Christopher O. Clugston. 2012. Scarcity: Humanity's Final Chapter? Booklocker.com, Inc. Port Charlotte, Fla. Chris Clugston. 2012. "Geo Scarcity: Geo Destinies in the Coming Age" . Presentation at the 2012 Social Contract Writers Workshop in Washington, D.C. See also, "America the Vulnerable! The impact of depleting Earth's nonrenewable natural resources (NNRs)" . The Social Contract , Vol. 25, No. 2, Winter 2015.

16 See PeakProsperity.com .

17 See the Post Carbon Institute website .

18 Texas Transportation Institute. 2011. 2011 Urban Mobility Report and Appendices .

19 Ibid.

20 U.S. DOE Energy Information Administration (EIA). 2012. Annual Energy Outlook 2012 .

21 EIA. 2012. "U.S. Crude Oil, Natural Gas, and Dry Exploratory and Developmental Wells Drilled" .

22 EIA. 2010. "United States Total 2009 Distribution of Wells by Production Rate Bracket" .

23 Chris Nelder. 2012. Abstract of paper entitled, "The Future of Fossil Fuels: A Century of Abundance or a Century of Decline?" presented to American Geophysical Union 45th Annual Fall Meeting, 6 December 2012, San Francisco, Calif..

24 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). 2012. "Unconventional Oil and Gas Production: Opportunities and Challenges of Oil Shale Development" . Testimony of Anu K. Mittal, Director, Natural Resources and Environment, GAO, before the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, Committee on Science, Space and Technology, House of Representatives. May 12.

25 Walter Youngquist. 1997. Geodestinies: The inevitable control of Earth resources over nations and individuals. Natl Book Co.

26 N.L. Barber. 2009, Summary of estimated water use in the United States in 2005: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2009–3098, p. 2.

27 David Pimentel, et al. 2004. "Water Resources, Agriculture, and the Environment" . Report 04-1, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University. July.

28 Kathleene Parker. 2012. "The Southwest: Ground-Zero for Global Warming" . NPG Forum Paper. See also, Kathleene Parker. 2010. "Population, Immigration, and the Drying of the American Southwest" . Center for Immigration Studies.

29 Ibid.

30 California Department of Fish and Game. 2007. California Wildlife Action Plan. California Wildlife: Conservation Challenges.

31 Global Footprint Network. 2011. "2011 Annual Report: What happens when an infinite-growth economy runs into a finite planet?"

32 Leon Kolankiewicz. 2010. "From Big to Bigger: How Mass Immigration and Population Growth Have Exacerbated America's Ecological Footprint" . Progressives for Immigration Reform. March.

33 Global Footprint Network. 2012. "Country Trends – United States of America" .

34 Global Footprint Network. 2011. "2011 Annual Report: What happens when an infinite-growth economy runs into a finite planet?"

35 Leon Kolankiewicz and Roy Beck. 2001. Weighing Sprawl Factors in Large U.S. Cities: A report on the nearly equal roles played by population growth and land use choices in the loss of farmland and natural habitat to urbanization . NumbersUSA. Roy Beck, Leon Kolankiewicz, Steven A. Camarota. 2003. Outsmarting Smart Growth: Population Growth, Immigration, and the Problem of Sprawl . Center for Immigration Studies. Leon Kolankiewicz and Roy Beck. 2000. "Sprawl in California" ; Leon Kolankiewicz and Roy Beck. 2000. "Overpopulation = Sprawl in Florida" . Arlington, VA: NumbersUSA; Leon Kolankiewicz and Roy Beck. 2003. "Population Growth and Sprawl in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed" ; "Leon Kolankiewicz, Roy Beck, and Anne Manetas. 2014. "Vanishing Open Spaces: Population growth and sprawl in America" ; Leon Kolankiewicz, Roy Beck, and Anne Manetas. 2015. "Vanishing Open Spaces in Florida: Population growth and sprawl in the Sunshine State" .

36 Committee on the Science of Climate Change, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences. 2001. Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions . National Academies Press: Washington, D.C.. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2007. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis — Summary for Policymakers. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK; World Bank. 2012. Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4º Warmer World Must Be Avoided .

37 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Carbon Group. No date. "Ocean Acidification: The Other Carbon Dioxide Problem" .

38 Leon Kolankiewicz. 2003. "Population Growth — The Neglected Dimension of America's Persistent Energy/Environmental Problems" .

39 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2012. "Greenhouse Gas Emissions" .

40 U.S. Department of State. 2007. Fourth Climate Action Report to the UN Framework on Climate Change: Projected Greenhouse Gas Emissions .

41 Union of Concerned Scientists. 2007. A Target for U.S. Emissions Reductions .

42 The Rockefeller Commission. 1972. Population and the American Future: The Report of The Commission on Population Growth and the American Future .

43 President's Council on Sustainable Development. 1996. Population and Consumption Task Force Report .

The Numbers Game - Confronting Growth and the Environment

by Jim Motavalli, E/The Environmental Magazine, January/February, 2004

There's a minefield in the American environmental movement, and its name is population. Because negotiating that minefield is so dangerous, many environmental groups and leaders have stopped trying to cross it. But to ignore population as a central issue while talking freely about sprawl, air and water pollution, loss of biodiversity, agricultural land and animal habitat, global warming and many other crucial environmental issues is to deny reality.

Population and - in particular - immigration are never easy topics. At least in the U.S., population growth is closely tied to immigration. If you subtracted post-1990 immigration, the U.S. would have a population around 310 million in 2050; with current immigration, the Census Bureau says it could be 438 million. The population could double by 2100, with two-thirds of that growth attributed to immigration.

Some of the consequences of our rapid growth: With U.S. population growing by three million a year, we lose two acres of farmland every minute, according to the American Farmland Trust. Traffic congestion costs drivers $78 billion a year, says the Road Information Project. A serious water shortage is developing nationwide, with aquifers once considered inexhaustible drying up. Syndicated columnist Lou Dobbs argues that immigration-fueled population growth is putting a "heavy burden" on our abundant natural resources, and that at the present rate the U.S. won't be exporting food at all by 2025.

Some of these problems feed on each other. Population growth increases U.S. greenhouse gas production, which in turn makes existing crises more acute. For instance, one study suggests that most of the entire western United States - already severely water-challenged - could experience a 40 to 76 percent drop in precipitation levels because of climate change. The U.S. experience is reflected internationally. From 6.3 billion people on the planet today, the United Nations projects 8.9 billion in 2050. (And that's just the middle of three possibilities; on the high end, the population could grow to 10.6 billion, while 7.4 billion is on the low end.) If fertility were to remain constant - which is not likely - the UN projects that the population of the world could actually double by 2050, to 12.8 billion.

We need a new understanding of the effects of population growth, because much of what passes for accepted wisdom on the subject is either wrong or only partly right. In many cases these commonly held notions grew out of political expediency - they're what we want to believe - so it's all the more necessary to subject them to an objective review. So here's a look at some myths, half-truths and truths, with all the shading in between:

"World population, far from being a problem, is actually shrinking because of the global ‘birth dearth.'"

There is indeed a population shortfall trend developing in Western Europe, Russia and Japan (see "The Birth Dearth," Currents, September/October 2003). In Ireland, for instance, families have an average of 1.8 children today, slightly below replacement level. Couples in Italy, Germany and Spain have just 1.2 to 1.3 children each. The average fertility rate in Europe is 1.45. Both Russia and Japan are at 1.3.

But it's simply not true, as the conservative Center for Bio-Ethical Reform writes, that "the problem today is not overpopulation; it's under-population." The reason that isolated "birth dearths" don't produce lower numbers is the very rapid population increase in the world's least-developed countries. The population of the most heavily industrialized regions of the world grows at an annual rate of just .25 percent, reports the UN, compared to a rate of 1.46 percent - six times faster - in the less-developed countries.

We are currently adding 77 million people to the globe annually, with 21 percent of that increase coming from India, 12 percent from China and five percent from Pakistan. Three countries, Bangladesh, Nigeria and - surprise! - the United States each contribute four percent of the world's annual growth. Half of the projected increase will occur in just eight countries, seven of them in Africa and Asia. Population grows rapidly in the U.S., despite a near zero-growth fertility rate of 2.05 in 2002, because of the impact of immigrants and their descendants (who tend to have large families, according to the Census Bureau). Because of this, American population is growing as fast as in some of the more populous Third World countries.

The bottom line is that population in 30 developed countries (excluding the U.S.) will likely not grow much at all through 2050, but in the U.S. and the Third World it will rise steadily, to 7.7 billion or more.

"Sprawl and the rapid decline in open space are caused by bad development policies and our love of the automobile."

Obviously, the car is a major culprit in the sprawl phenomenon. America now has more automobiles than it has drivers, and the auto industry (in close consultation with the highway lobby) has been influencing, if not controlling, development policy since the end of World War II. Cheap mortgages courtesy of the GI Bill made suburbia possible. Each new subdivision claims open space.

The rush to the suburbs was also spurred by the urban riots of the 1960s, which emptied out inner cities. But population growth, plain and simple, is the 900-pound gorilla that gets ignored when "sprawl" is discussed.

The U.S. had 150 million people in 1950, when the suburbs were new. By 2000, just 50 years later, we had 275 million. Each year, says the organization Population-Environment Balance (PEB), we convert to human use an area the size of Delaware, including 400,000 acres of arable land.

We can, and should, get serious about "smart growth," "greenbelts," "New Urbanism," redevelopment "infill" and "land-use planning." But we can't solve the sprawl problem by simply moving people to high-density cities, even smartly managed urban centers like Portland, Oregon. "Ecological footprint" studies show that cities use the resources and waste disposal capacity of an area many times their size in the surrounding countryside. That's why New York's "garbage barge" became famous.

Immigration exacerbates sprawl because it is a primary contributor to population growth: A study by Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) concluded that immigration was responsible directly and indirectly for 98 percent of California's soaring population. The common perception is that immigration does not exacerbate sprawl, because new immigrants move to urban areas. But half the country's immigrants now live in suburbs, and only 24 percent of immigrant homebuyers settle in central cities.

Although some formerly industrial "rust belt" cities spread out even as they are losing population, the general rule is that sprawl accompanies population growth. On average, according to the Center for Immigration Studies report "Outsmarting Smart Growth," states that grew in population by more than 30 percent between 1982 and 1997 sprawled 46 percent. States that grew by 10 percent or less sprawled only 26 percent. Add 10,000 people to a state's population and you'll lose, on average, 1,600 acres of land to development.

Both True and False:
"Population isn't the problem; it's high western consumption rates and waste."

There is certainly a very solid basis for this argument. According to the TV documentary Affluenza, "Even though Americans comprise only five percent of the world's population, in 1996 we used nearly a third of its resources and produced almost half of its hazardous waste. The average North American consumes five times as much as an average Mexican, 10 times as much as an average Chinese and 30 times as much as the average person in India." It's obvious that reducing our sky-high western consumption rates would be a big help.

Without a doubt, high consumption rates and rapid population growth work together to degrade the environment, and both need to be addressed globally. Unfortunately, however, reducing consumption is very difficult to achieve on a national basis, and international momentum is toward emulating high American levels of it, not modeling Third World frugality. As William Ryerson pointed out in his "16 Myths About Population Growth," published by the Carrying Capacity Network, developing countries want cars, televisions and other signs of western prosperity. China, which is rapidly expanding its highway network and encouraging private car ownership, will likely surpass the U.S. as a global warming gas emitter by 2015.

The overall news is not good. The UN's panel on climate change projects that by 2025 developing countries could be emitting four times as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as they do today. What's true of CO2 is also true of other measures of consumption. The rapid Third World switch to a meat-based diet is one measure of the trend.

"Efforts to reduce fertility and population size in the Third World are anti-woman."

The most prominent spokesperson for this viewpoint is probably Betsy Hartmann, director of the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College and a co-founder of the Committee on Women, Population and the Environment (CWPE). Population stabilization (which she calls "neo-Malthusianism") "is powerful in the U.S. because it resonates so well with domestic racism and sexism," she wrote in 1999. "Images of over-breeding single women of color on welfare and bare-breasted, always pregnant Third World women are two sides of the same nasty coin. And both groups, it is believed, are excellent candidates for social engineering. Insert Norplant, tie their tubes, put them to work in fast-food chains or sweat shops, and give them a little micro-credit and education if you're feeling generous."

Hartmann says in a message to E that "it's virtually impossible to detach the immigration debate from race." Her group, CWPE, "rejects the notion that population size and growth are primarily responsible for environmental degradation. This notion is created and spread by an alliance between the mainstream media, environmental organizations and population control advocates, especially in the United States."

Asked by New Statesman how she reconciles her pro-choice, anti-population control views, Hartmann responded, "A lot of people find this hard to understand. But for me, family planning is about human rights and women's health - not population control. It is about freeing women to have the number of children they want, not blaming them for a whole host of social problems." She believes that "family planning should be detached from population control," and its primary goal should be to "meet women's needs first."

While China has a coercive policy that legally restricts births and presents human rights challenges, Hartmann goes further and concludes that even voluntary programs are oppressive to women. But there is considerable evidence that women (and their children) are primary victims of overpopulation and, when asked, seek out family planning aid. According to the National Audubon Society's Patrick Burns, "Women started the family planning movement, lead the family planning movement, and buy almost all the contraception in the entire world. Why? Women want to have control over their lives and determine the number, timing and spacing of their children." William Ryerson of the Population Media Center adds, "Women who live in societies where they have power over their own lives tend to use family planning much more frequently than in countries where they are relatively powerless."

Although Hartmann and CWPE support "women's right to safe, voluntary birth control and abortion," they strongly oppose "demographically driven population policies." In other words, they're in favor of making contraception widely available, but against tying it to any national plan to address population growth. They decry not only China's coercive program, but also, because its stated aim is reducing population size, Iran's commendable grassroots effort to make birth control widely available, which has cut the growth rate in half. (The policy encourages women to wait three to four years between pregnancies, discourages childbearing for women younger than 18 or older than 35, and encourages three-child limits, which would certainly appear to be "demographically driven.")

Hartmann has energetically attacked what she sees as a nefarious cabal promoting anti-immigrant and anti-population growth attitudes in the U.S. ("the greening of hate," she calls it), but in fact the media treats the subject gingerly, if at all. Population activist Virginia Abernethy, a PEB board member and Vanderbilt University professor, offers this rejoinder, "In an interview with New Scientist [Feb. 2003], Betsy Hartmann attacks so many eminent scientists without good reason... that perhaps we should feel honored by all the attention."

"Education will greatly contribute to the reduction of fertility rates."

Education usually does produce smaller families, but there are exceptions. Tanzania had achieved 90 percent female literacy by the early 1990s, but parents in 2002 had an average of 5.3 children, more than double the replacement rate. A study by Charles Westoff of Princeton University's Office of Population Research found a strong relationship between education and family size in some countries, and a "weak or non-existent" connection in others.

Studies done for the Demographic and Health Surveys in the 1990s indicated that half of the women identified as having an "unmet need" for contraception would not use it even if it were available. Specific education about family planning could make a difference in this number, since "lack of knowledge" was the most frequently cited reason for not using birth control in a Kenyan survey. It's interesting to note that soap operas presenting birth control in a positive light led to increased contraceptive use and changed attitudes in India, Kenya and Mexico.

Obviously, cultural beliefs are not necessarily altered by educational attainment, and they play a big part in attitudes toward birth control. Religion might also be expected to play a large part, but it's plain that family planning is firmly embraced in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and in the Catholic countries of Europe, which have some of the lowest fertility rates in the world. But no matter how their congregants actually behave, some religious denominations, including Catholicism, some Islamic orders and the Southern Baptist Convention, continue to be strident voices against family planning. "The ban on artificial birth control is total and absolute," wrote the popular magazine The Catholic Answer.

"Population growth does not lead to hunger and starvation; it's an equitable distribution problem."

While it is undeniably true that the world currently produces enough food for our burgeoning population, and that it is uneven distribution that produces hunger, the long-term production outlook is ominous. Worldwatch reports that the growth in agricultural production has slowed steadily since the 1960s as populations soar, crops approach their biological maximum yield, arable land is lost and global fisheries crash. Genetic engineering, seen by some as a panacea for increasing yields, could actually backfire and make the situation even more desperate, reports Innovest Strategic Value Advisors.

While the raw numbers on global malnutrition are declining, in countries such as Haiti rapid population growth has led to an ongoing human rights crisis. Nearly 70 percent of all Haitians depend on subsistence agriculture in one of the most devastated environments on Earth, where only 30 percent of the land is suitable for cultivation. "In Haiti (fertility rate 4.3 in 2002), a substantial share of poverty is also traceable to rapid population growth pressing upon limited endowments of soils and clean water," says an American University report entitled "Deforestation in Haiti." It adds, "Deforestation and population growth, coupled with years of repression and colonial intervention has caused the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Haitians."

Haiti has the fourth most undernourished people on Earth, says the World Bank, and only 40 percent of its eight million people have access to fresh water. Haiti, then, has a population problem coupled with a political problem. International aid plus the dedicated work of foreign support groups such as Partners in Health are not able to compensate for a devastated environment supporting too many people.

Arguments that equitable distribution would feed the world, while possibly true, would have more weight if the world was actually moving in that direction. In fact, Tracy Kidder reports in The Nation that development aid to Haiti has actually declined by two-thirds since 1995.

Mia MacDonald of Worldwatch notes that a billion people are likely to be added to the Indian subcontinent in the next 50 years, at the same time the region faces a huge freshwater crisis. "One has to wonder whether it makes sense to spend scores of billions of dollars to revamp irrigation systems and build new dams, when so little money is invested in tackling the root of the problem - human population growth," she writes. Pakistan is likely to double its population, to 332 million, by 2050. The $11 billion it is spending on the Kalabagh Dam could double Pakistan's investment in family planning for the next 50 years.

Contraceptive use is widely accepted, and U.S. aid is increasing availability.

As the Population Resource Center notes, "The amount of [population] growth in the developing world will depend largely on women's access to education and health care, especially family planning services." Since most population growth is in these countries, this is where the world's attention should be focused.

Family planning aid can lead to dramatic reductions in population growth, but unforeseen obstacles can also prevent that from happening. In Kenya, where the Catholic Church has led public condom burnings, there is 90 percent access to contraceptives but only a third of the population is using them, according to Kenya's own figures. A 1991 study indicated that only half the women characterized as having an "unmet need" would use condoms if they were available.

The 1994 UN conference on population and development defined access to reproductive and sexual health services as a human right. Unfortunately, that right is not being met. Although 60 percent of married women worldwide use contraception, only 10 percent of married women in sub-Saharan Africa do. The current "unmet need" for contraception averages 70 percent in Asia and Latin America. Around the world, 123 million women do not have adequate access to family planning.

The country most able to help is AWOL. The U.S. has traditionally been the largest source of family planning assistance, but under President Bush it has drastically changed course for political reasons. In the face of unprecedented demand, the Bush administration (which continues to simplistically link birth control with abortion) has cut funding dramatically for international family planning aid, and consistently attempts to eliminate all aid for the agency best able to guide global population policy, the United Nations Population Fund.

The Bush administration's policy will undoubtedly mean more abortions, not fewer. "Widespread family planning availability tends to reduce abortion rates, as has been well-documented in several recent studies," says Robert Engelman, vice president for research at Population Action International (PAI). "Family planning - and good reproductive health - can only contribute to making all pregnancies wanted pregnancies and reducing abortion rates," adds MacDonald.

According to the coalition Saving Women's Lives, the consensus reached during the 1990s at various UN conferences was that global spending for family planning should total $17 billion by 2000, and $18.5 billion by 2005. That's the goal. In reality, in 2000 donor countries actually provided only half of the $5.7 billion they pledged.

"Population growth can only be addressed globally. It's selfish to worry about immigration levels in the U.S."

It's unambiguously true that population growth is a global problem needing global solutions, but these are in woefully short supply. Groups such as Population Connection (formerly Zero Population Growth) speak vaguely about solving global poverty to ease emigration pressures but are short on specifics. Although we definitely do need global solutions, the late Garrett Hardin pointed out that population policy is actually set on the national level, and it is therefore at the whim of localized cultural and religious norms.

Americans must address the full consequences of high immigration numbers in the U.S. As Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute has argued, high emigration may offer countries a "safety valve," allowing them to continue with high fertility rates. This situation can reverse itself, as in Ireland, where historically high fertility and record high emigration have been replaced with below-replacement level fertility and immigration surpassing emigration.

Another important fact is that immigrants quickly adopt the high consumption patterns of their host country, putting larger strains on natural resources. As the Journal of Housing Research notes, "The aggregate housing consumption of immigrants will rise substantially in the next 15 years as past waves of immigrants move up the housing consumption ladder." Energy use provides another dramatic example. Negative Population Growth reports that per-capita energy consumption barely rose between 1970 and 1990 because of energy-efficiency gains and conservation, but total U.S. energy use rose 36 percent - because of the larger, immigration-driven U.S. population.

"Calls to reduce immigration are inherently racist."

Immigration is never an easy topic. Strictly speaking, immigration by itself may not lead to higher world population - it just moves people around. Immigrants have always been among the most scapegoated people in America. In 1855, the Chicago Tribune thundered, "Who does not know that the most depraved, debased, worthless and irredeemable drunkards and sots which curse the community are Irish Catholics?" Such sentiments were common even in the shadow of Ellis Island, as Martin Scorsese's film Gangs of New York makes clear.

The fear of alien hordes is still used to stir people up today. Alabama's Auburn Plainsman recently opined, "It is time to close the borders, because continued mass immigration will only persist to erode what is left of the West in America. If it continues, logically it follows that in a few generations Western civilization will be extirpated from America."

The key to this kind of demonizing is creating a dividing line between immigrants and "real" Americans. According to "nativist" writer Sam Francis, immigrants "just work here, or hang out, on welfare, dealing drugs, or doing whatever they do. But their real loyalties lie elsewhere, namely in the countries they came from." Americans for Immigration Control further warns, "Fewer than 15 percent of our immigrants come from Europe and share the heritage that made America strong." Groups like the American Patrol offer convenient one-click service for reporting illegal aliens.

Chris Simcox and his so-called Civil Homeland Defense Corps have actually patrolled the Mexican border looking for illegal immigrants to "humanely" repatriate. "We cannot let [the Mexicans] export their failures," Glenn Spencer of the Arizona-based American Border Patrol told the Los Angeles Times. "They are a threat to our entire culture." Commentator and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan pronounced, "The Third Worldization of California is now far advanced."

Fear of being lumped in with groups like this has led many mainstream environmental organizations to avoid the population issue, and particularly immigration. But the fact remains that human population growth is a root cause of environmental degradation, and the U.S. population (fertility rate 2.05) would hardly be growing at all were it not for immigration. But the ethnicity and race of these immigrants doesn't matter at all - it's the numbers, plain and simple.

The loss of "immigrants of European origin" is used as a code phrase to avoid saying the obvious: that the new immigrants are primarily people of color. Writer Peter Brimelow, author of Alien Nation, says, "The U.S. population is going to be vastly larger, much more non-white and much less skilled than would otherwise be the case." It's not clear why the "non-white" part is important.

But it's absurd to postulate some kind of non-white conspiracy to take over America, as the alarmists do. It can't even be extrapolated that current black and Hispanic-American populations automatically support high immigration numbers. A commission created in 1990 by the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (D-TX), a celebrated civil rights activist, recommended that immigration be capped at 550,000, half its current amount. A Gallup poll in June of 2003 found that 44 percent of African-Americans think immigration should be decreased. A Wall Street Journal poll in 2000 discovered that 42 percent of Hispanics consider U.S. immigration "too open." The Hispanic USA Research Group found in 1993 that 89 percent of Hispanics strongly support an immediate moratorium on immigration.

Some of these attitudes stem from minority-based racism. Asian Week, a newsletter published by a Chinese-American organization, editorialized that even illegal Chinese immigration is good for society, while Latino immigrants are a burden even if they come here legally.

The major worry among all these respondents is job displacement. Barbara Jordan, in congressional testimony, said a major commission goal was "to reduce the magnet that jobs currently present for illegal immigration." A case in point is the hotel industry. In Los Angeles, for instance, a study shows that unionized native-born black janitors in the hotel industry have overwhelmingly been replaced by non-union laborers from Mexico and El Salvador, while pay dropped from $12 an hour to $3.35 an hour. According to the study, "Immigrants and Labor Standards: The Case of California Janitors," published in Labor Market Interdependence, most of the displaced workers failed to find new employment.

During the recent Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, union leader John Wilhelm thundered, "No human being is 'illegal.'" But does the presence of seven million illegal immigrants in the U.S. really support the poor and minority communities that are the top priority of the progressive coalition? "Immigration hurts first and worst our own poor, many of whom are minorities and established immigrants," says Michelle A. Fehler, coordinator of Population-Environment Balance. Interestingly, some of immigration's biggest supporters are business leaders who want to keep wages low.

Immigration supporters have been very successful in closing off discussion by playing the race card. Theresa Hayter, the British author of the book Open Borders, has stated, "Immigration controls are explicable only by racism," but the reality is far more complex than that blanket assertion.

Patrick Burns, director of the population and habitat program at the National Audubon Society, points out that "a tight American labor market would probably benefit everyone all over the world," because wages would rise in the U.S. and jobs now here would be exported to countries, including India, Mexico and Vietnam, that desperately need to put people to work.

It's one of the most polarizing issues of our time, so it's not surprising that population discussions usually end in shouting matches. But if we don't soon get a handle on this critical issue it may be too late, for the planet and for ourselves.

JIM MOTAVALLI is editor of E. CHRISTINA ZARRELLA provided invaluable research assistance for this article.

How Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization (SUSPS) Advised Congress in 2001 - An historical perspective followed by the official testimony

How Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization (SUSPS) Advised Congress in 2001 - An historical perspective followed by the official testimony

By Fred Elbel, Dick Schneider, William G. Elder, and Stuart H. Hurlbert

Originally published in the Social Contract - Winter 2019. Issue theme: "When Liberals Were For Sensible Policies - on the Environment, Immigration, and the National Interest." Reprinted with permission.

The second part of this article consists of the 2001 SUSPS testimony to Congress.

This entire two-part article is available in readable PDF format: How Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization (SUSPS) Advised Congress in 2001 - An historical perspective followed by the official testimony.


In 2001, a group of Sierra Club activists initially known as Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization (SUSPS) was invited by Congress to present testimony on immigration and the U.S. "population boom" to the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims.

We did so, concluding:

We urge Congress to enact a comprehensive population policy for the United States that includes an end to U.S. population growth at the earliest possible time through reduction in natural increase (births minus deaths) and net immigration (immigration minus emigration).

The full 2001 written testimony follows this perspective piece. As current and past members of the Sierra Club, we present this material in the hope that present and future generations of Americans will come together to urge Congress to adopt a true conservation-based United States population policy that includes reductions in both fertility and immigration as fundamental components of population stabilization and environmental protection.

The 2018 summer edition of The Social Contract focused on important aspects of both global and U.S. population growth.1 A number of excellent books have also recently been published on population issues.2

The interrelations among population, immigration, and the environment are even more pressing now than they were before the turn of the twenty-first century, yet this topic has been virtually abandoned by environmental organizations, Congress, and the media.

Population and the environment

Aggregate U.S. population, multiplied by per capita consumption and waste production, results in overall environmental impact. As America's population increases, overall environmental impact increases correspondingly. This relationship has been expressed by biologist Paul Ehrlich and physicist John Holdren as the "foundational formula," I=PAT, where total environmental impact (I) of a human population equals population size (P), times affluence (A) or resource consumption per person, times technology (T) or environmental impact per unit of resource produced, e.g. per ton of beef or megawatt of energy.3

Fifty years ago, the environmental community understood this fairly obvious connection. As explained in the comprehensive essay, "Forsaking Fundamentals — The Environmental Establishment Abandons U.S. Population Stabilization," environmentalists and authors Leon Kolankiewicz and Roy Beck noted that "By working on both U.S. population and U.S. consumption factors, the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s had a comprehensive approach to move toward sustainable environmental protection and restoration in this country."4

By the early 1970s, U.S. population growth was explicitly linked to environmental issues on college campuses and by environmental organizations.

Bipartisan legislation

Many important protective measures for our nation's natural resources arose from bipartisan legislation during the Nixon era nearly 50 years ago. They included the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Endangered Species, Clean Air and Water Acts5 — along with official protection of large areas of wilderness, including in wilderness Alaska and Utah.6 Conservation organizations such as the Sierra Club were instrumental in those efforts.

Sometimes referred to as the nation's "environmental Magna Carta," NEPA was signed into law on January 1, 1970.7 This declaration of a national environmental policy stated, "Congress, recognizing the profound impact of man's activity on the interrelations of all components of the environment, particularly the profound influences of population growth…"8

There was bipartisan recognition that ongoing and rapid population growth of our nation has an important environmental impact. In 1972, two population commissions — the President's Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, headed by John D. Rockefeller III, and the Select Commission on Population, headed by Father Theodore Hesburgh, president of the University of Notre Dame — concurred that U.S. population must be stabilized and that immigration policy would have to respect this demographic reality.9

The Rockefeller Commission concluded that "gradual stabilization of our population through voluntary means would contribute significantly to the nation's ability to solve its problems." The Hesburgh Commission presciently warned that immigration numbers would continue to rise because of pressure exerted by business and ethnic special interest groups.10

The Immigration Act of 1990 established the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform (the Barbara Jordan Commission) in order to evaluate U.S. immigration policy. The Commission's initial recommendations were released in 1995 and were presented to Congress in 1997. President Clinton endorsed the recommendations, stating that the proposals "reflect a balanced immigration policy that makes the most of our diversity while protecting the American work force so that we can better compete in the emerging global economy."11

Barbara Jordan succinctly stated on February 24, 1995, that: "Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave."12

In 1996, President Clinton's Council on Sustainable Development was established after the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro (the "Earth Summit"). The Council acknowledged the integral relationship between population stabilization and sustainable development, stating the need to "move toward stabilization of the U.S. population." Its Population and Consumption Task Force, co-chaired by former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth (D-CO), the Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs in the Clinton administration, stated in the introduction to its 1996 report that: "We believe that reducing current immigration levels is a necessary part of working toward sustainability in the United States."13

Population projections

United States population was 203 million in 1970, and by 1972, U.S. fertility had voluntarily dropped to replacement level (2.1 children per woman). This did not immediately result in zero population growth for two reasons. First, population momentum would cause population to continue to increase. Population momentum is the tendency for population growth to continue because the number of women having children over the next few decades is largely determined by the number of young girls already born. It takes a period of time equal to the average life expectancy (approximately three generations or 73 years in the U.S.) for a reduction in fertility to be manifested as a change in actual population numbers.14

The second, and much more significant reason is because of high levels of mass immigration into the United States.

In 1997, the National Research Council (NRC)of the National Academy of Sciences projected that, of the 124 million people added to the U.S. population between 1995 and 2050, "80 million [65 percent] will be the direct or indirect consequence of immigration." The NRC stated unequivocally, "Immigration, then, will obviously play the dominant role in our future population growth."15

Then in 2015, the Pew Research Center produced a new projection, stating that "population projections show that if current demographic trends continue, future immigrants and their descendants will be an even bigger source of population growth. Between 2015 and 2065, they are projected to account for 88 percent of the U.S. population increase, or 103 million people, as the nation grows to 441 million."15

America's population at the time of this writing is 329 million, with growth of about 2.3 million every year. Immigration remains the main driving force behind America's population growth.

Retreat from population stabilization

Unfortunately, the immigration-population-environment connection is now discounted by Congress, environmental organizations, and the media.

The article, "Forsaking Fundamentals" presents 5 essential reasons why this has occurred.4 Excerpts from the article are included below:

1. Dropping Fertility. By 1972… many Americans, including environmentalists, apparently confused "replacement-level" fertility with ZPG [zero population growth], and mistakenly concluded that the overpopulation problem was solved.…

2. Anti-Abortion Politics. To the Catholic hierarchy and the pro-life movement, the legalized abortion and population stabilization causes have been inextricably linked.…

3. Women's Issues Separate Population Groups from Environmental Issues.… as environmentalists abandoned population issues in the 1970s, the population groups more and more de-emphasized environmental motives in favor of feminist motives.…

4. Rift Between Conservationist and New-Left Roots.… A third root of modern environmentalism is much younger. It emerged only in the 1960s and was an outgrowth of what was called New-Left politics. It came to focus more on urban and health issues such as air, water, and toxic contamination, especially as they related to race, poverty, and the defects of capitalism. The "Environmental Justice" movement and Green political parties grew out of this root. The leaders of this root have always forcefully downplayed the role of population growth as a cause of environmental problems.…

5. Immigration Becomes Chief Growth Factor. Modifications to immigration law in 1965 inadvertently set in motion an increase in immigration through extended family members that began to snowball during the 1970s. [Thus, immigration plus births to immigrants became the significant factor in U.S. population growth.]

At the same time that American fertility declines were beginning to put population stabilization within reach, immigration was rising rapidly to three or four times traditional levels. During the first decade, some groups directly advocated that immigration numbers be set at a level consistent with U.S. environmental needs. The following are reasons why that advocacy ceased:

  • Fear that immigration reduction would alienate "progressive" allies and be seen as racially insensitive.…
  • The transformation of population and the environment into global issues needing global solutions.…
  • Influence of human rights organizations.…
  • Triumph of the ethics of globalism over ethics of nationalism/internationalism.…
  • Fear of demographic trends. Some environmental leaders express fear that if they are perceived as "anti-immigrant," a backlash against environmentalists could develop.…

Environmental about-face

The Sierra Club and most other mainstream conservation organizations once shared the understanding that U.S. population growth negatively impacted environmental quality. Dave Brower, former executive director of the Sierra Club, expressed this consensus view in 1966 when he said, "We feel you don't have a conservation policy unless you have a population policy."16

Sierra Club population policy stated:

"We must find, encourage, and implement at the earliest possible time the necessary policies, attitudes, social standards, and actions that will…bring about the stabilization of the population first of the United States and then of the world." Adopted June 4, 1970; amended July 8, 1995.

"Immigration to the U.S. should be no greater than that which will permit achievement of population stabilization in the U.S.… The Sierra Club will lend its voice to the congressional debate on legal immigration issues when appropriate, and then only on the issue of the number of immigrants — not where they come from or their category, since it is the fact of increasing numbers that affects population growth and ultimately, the quality of the environment." Confirmed July, 1988.17

The Sierra Club was unable to consistently advocate measures to reduce immigration levels as required to stabilize population. The reason why was initially unknown.

Then on October 27, 2004, the Los Angeles Times revealed the answer: David Gelbaum, a wealthy donor, had demanded a "neutrality" position from the Sierra Club in return for huge donations. Kenneth Weiss, author of the LA Times article that broke the story, quoted what David Gelbaum said to Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope:

I did tell Carl Pope in 1994 or 1995 that if they ever came out anti-immigration, they would never get a dollar from me.

That stance was a great pity. As the Times article made clear, Gelbaum has been one of the most generous individual donors to conservation causes in the U.S. Yet all of those causes continue to be threatened, directly or indirectly, by immigration-driven population growth. At an emotional level, Gelbaum's stance is understandable. His wife is Mexican-American, and his grandfather immigrated to the U.S. after fleeing persecution of Jews in the Ukraine.

In 1996 and again in 1998, the Club's leaders proved their loyalty to Gelbaum's position on immi-gration, first by enacting a policy of neutrality on immigration and then by aggressively opposing a member initiative to overturn that policy. In 2000 and 2001, Gelbaum rewarded the Club with total donations to the Sierra Club Foundation exceeding $100 million.18 In principle, a wiser and less ideological Sierra Club leadership could have persuaded Gelbaum that a call for return to more moderate immigration levels was not "anti-immigration" or "anti-immigrant" in any way. But such leadership was not in place.

Once the Sierra Club fled from dealing with the immigration component of U.S. population growth, other environmental organizations followed suit, including the National Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, National Audubon Society, the Izaak Walton League, and The Wilderness Society.

Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson — the founder of Earth Day and, arguably, the leading environmentalist in Congress during his 18 years as a Senator — was a counselor for The Wilderness Society after he retired from Congress. Nelson was a strong proponent of population stabilization, and, while he was its counselor, a strong population statement appeared on the website of The Wilderness Society. Soon after Nelson died the statement disappeared, never to reappear.

SUSPS initiative and Board candidates

SUSPS was formed in 1996 after the Sierra Club reversed its 30-year comprehensive population policy, which addressed the impacts of both fertility and mass migration on U.S. population growth. SUSPS actively participated in the Sierra Club during the period from 1996 to 2005. SUSPS proposed a resolution to Club membership in 1998 that called for adoption of:

… a comprehensive population policy for the United States that continues to advocate an end to U.S. population growth at the earliest possible time through reduction in natural increase (births minus deaths), but now also through reduction in net immigration (immigration minus emigration)19

The initiative was endorsed by more than forty national conservation leaders and received a 40 percent vote from the membership.20

In 2001, the Sierra Club made curbing sprawl a national priority campaign. Yet the campaign scarcely mentioned population growth as a causative factor of sprawl — with its related environmental consequences. Studies had revealed that most sprawl is tightly linked to population growth. The Nature Conservancy's comprehensive book Precious Heritage showed a high correlation between areas with U.S. endangered species and areas with population-driven sprawl, including California, the Southwest, and Florida.21

SUSPS therefore proposed a resolution to Sierra Club members to "emphasize both regional and national population stabilization as essential components in all Sierra Club sprawl materials and programs."22

SUSPS also endorsed candidates for election to the Club's board of directors — three of whom in total were elected in 2002 and 2003.23

The testimony and subcommittee

In 2001, SUSPS was invited by Congress to pre-sent testimony on immigration and the U.S. "population boom" to the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims. The full record of the hearing is available on the House of Representatives website, and it is interesting indeed to read the shorter, more informal verbal testimony of the witnesses and their exchanges with subcommittee members.24 Representatives of three other organizations testified in the same session: John F. Long, Chief of the Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau; Jeffrey S. Passel, Population Studies Center, The Urban Institute; and Steven A. Camarota, Center for Immigration Studies.

Members of the subcommittee were George W. Gekas, Pennsylvania, Chairman; Darrell E. Issa, California; Melissa A. Hart, Pennsylvania; Lamar Smith, Texas; Elton Gallegly, California; Chris Cannon, Utah; Vice Chair; Jeff Flake, Arizona; Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas; Barney Frank, Massachusetts; Howard L. Berman, California; Zoe Lofgren, California; and Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts.

SUSPS members William G. Elder, Fred Elbel, Dick Schneider, and Ben Zuckerman participated in drafting our SUSPS testimony, and William G. Elder made the actual presentation in Washington, D.C., on August 2, 2001.

Chairman Gekas opened the session with these words:

Today's testimony is mostly about numbers. I have never been a good student of numbers or an expert at it, but some of these numbers should be very important in the daily reckoning of every American citizen as to the future of each family and to the future of the Nation. We are talking about the number of immigrants that are now extant in the land where the latest count seems to be about 28 million.

That, ladies and gentlemen, constitutes 10 percent of the entire population of the Nation, more or less. And it denotes that since 1990, there has been a vaulting of expectations on the part of the numbers of immigrants and it has brought about the attendant problems that we in this Committee and in the Congress generally and in the populace of the Nation readily perceive.

What we are going to do today is to listen to what I anticipate is to be very valid and very poignant testimony on the numbers, the problems that they cause, what we can do about the numbers, and what we can expect, pro and con, from the rising numbers about which we speak. And the policy yet to be fully formulated for immigration in the next decade and more, that is left for us yet to mold, but we are going to do it and the testimony that we are going to hear today, I venture to say, would be important in every deliberation we undertake between now and the actual passage of legislation dealing with a long-term immigration policy.

Gekas gave this introduction of Elder to the subcommittee:

Dr. William Elder…. is Chairman of the Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization. The acronym is SUSPS. That is it. That is the toughest one I have had to pronounce since I have been Chairman. A faction of the Sierra Club. Mr. Elder has studied population sprawl, growth management in the environment for 10 years. He has been a member of the Sierra Club since 1994. He is also the founder and managing director of Alternatives for Growth Washington, a start-up nonprofit organization which seeks to leave a better and sustainable quality of life to succeeding generations of Washingtonians. Mr. Elder has also worked in the health care industry for 30 years.

Read the SUSPS testimony.



1. The Social Contract is a quarterly that examines trends, events, and ideas that have an impact on America's delicate social fabric, including human population issues, absolute size, rate of growth, and distribution, as well as immigration and related cultural issues.


2. Philip Cafaro, How Many Is Too Many?: The Prog-ressive Argument for Reducing Immigration into the United States, Chicago Studies in American Politics, 2015.

Philip Cafaro and Eileen Crist, Eds., Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation, University of Georgia Press, 2012.

Dave Foreman, Man Swarm: and the Killing of Wildlife, Ravens Eye Press LLC, 2011.

Jenny Goldie (Ed.), Katharine Betts, Sustainable Futures: Linking Population, Resources and the Environment, CSIRO Publishing, 2015.

Edward C. Hartman, The Population Fix, Think Population Press, 2006.

Karen I. Shragg, Move Upstream: A Call to Solve Overpopulation, Freethought House, 2015.

Carol M. Swain, Ed., Debating Immigration, 2d edition, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2018.

Alon Tal, The Land Is Full: Addressing Overpopulation in Israel, Yale University Press, 2016.

Alan Weisman, Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?, Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

A compilation of older books on population is included at: "Books on Overpopulation," EcoFuture, 2002.


3. Paul R. Ehrlich and John P. Holdren, "Impact of Population Growth," Science, 171, pp. 1212-1217, 1971.

Paul R. Ehrlich and John P. Holdren, "A Bulletin dialogue on 'The Closing Circle': critique," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 28, pp. 16, 18 & 27, 1972.

4. Leon Kolankiewicz and Roy Beck, "Forsaking Fundamentals — The Environmental Establishment Abandons U.S. Population Stabilization," Center for Immigration Studies, April 2001.



The shorter original version was published as:

"The Environmental Movement's Retreat from Advocating U.S. Population Stabilization (1970 - 1998): A First Draft of History," by Roy Beck and Leon Kolankiewicz, Journal of Policy History, (ISSN 0898-0306) Vol 12, No 1, 2000, Pennsylvania State University.

It is also available online:


5. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), enacted in 1970.


Endangered Species Act, enacted in 1973.


Clean Air Act, enacted in 1970.


Clean Water Act, enacted in 1972.


6. "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," Wikipedia.


"The Story of America's Red Rock Wilderness Act," Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.


7. "The Historical Roots of NEPA," R. B. Smythe. 1997. At p. 12 in Ray Clark and Larry Canter (eds.) Environmental Policy and NEPA: Past, Present, and Future. Boca Raton: St. Lucie Press.

8. 42 U.S.C. 4331.

9. Rockefeller: Cited in David Simcox, "The Commission on Population Growth and the American Future: Twenty Years Later: A Lost Opportunity," in The Social Contract, Summer 1992: p. 197.


"Population and the American Future," Commission on Population Growth and the American Future. 1972. U.S. Government Printing Office. Excerpt above from transmittal letter.

"Summary of commission recommendations," Dieoff.org.


"U.S. Immigration, Population Growth, and the Environment," SUSPS.


10. Select Commission on Immigration Policy and the National Interest. 1981. U.S. Government Printing Office.

11. "U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform (Barbara Jordan Commission)," NumbersUSA, April 5, 2010.


"Clinton Embraces a Proposal to Cut Immigration by a Third," The New York Times, June 8, 1995.

12. "Barbara Jordan's Vision of Immigration Reform," NumbersUSA, October 7, 2015.


13. "President's Council on Sustainable Development. Sustainable America: A New Consensus for Prosperity, Opportunity, and a Healthy Environment," U.S. Government Printing Office, p. 12. Quote from p. 21, 1996.


Introduction to the report:


14. Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment, Ehrlich and Holdren, W.H. Freeman & Co. San Francisco, 1977, Chapter 4, pp. 109-110.

15. "Population Clock", United States Census Bureau. U.S. population was 329,040,078 as of November 22, 2018.


National Research Council, "The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration," The National Academies Press, Washington, DC, p. 95, 1997.


"Modern Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S., Driving Population Growth and Change Through 2065," Pew Research Center, Overview, p. 6, September 28, 2015.


16. Stewart L. Udall, 1963, in The Quiet Crisis and the Next Generation. Peregrine Smith Books. p. 239, 1988.

17. "A Brief History of Sierra Club Population Policy — Sierra Club Population Policy Excerpts," SUSPS.


18. SUSPS, originally known as Sierrans™ for US Population Stabilization.


Kenneth R. Weiss, "The Man Behind the Land," Los Angeles Times, October 27, 2004


19. "Sierra Club 1998 Population Ballot Questions," SUSPS.


20. "Endorsers of the 1998 'A' Ballot Question," SUSPS.


21. Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States, The Nature Conservancy and the Association for Biodiversity Information, Oxford University Press, 2000.

22. "Sprawl, population growth, and the Sierra Club," SUSPS, 2001.


"Sprawl City," website archived at archive.org, November, 2001.


"Most U.S. population growth is now the result of federal actions that over the last four decades have quadrupled annual numbers of residents moving into U.S. cities from other countries. The Census Bureau states that if the government continues these current levels, America's communities will have to expand to accommodate nearly 300 million additional people this century."

Bruce A. Stein, Lynn S. Kutner, Jonathan S. Adams (Eds.), Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States, Oxford University Press, 2000.

23. "Sierra Club Yearly Election Results," SUSPS. Doug LaFollette, Paul Watson, and Ben Zuckerman were elected to the Board in 2002 and 2003.


24. U.S. Population and Immigration Hearing before the Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims, August 2, 2001.


About the authors

Fred Elbel is an IT consultant and Director of Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform (CAIRCO.org). Active in Utah wilderness preservation and U.S. population issues in the early 1990s, he joined SUSPS shortly after it was formed in 1996, and was chair of the SUSPS steering committee. He has been active on population and immigration issues for several decades.

William G. Elder is a retired health care management consultant. He is editor of the website ApplyTheBrakes.org in which conservation leaders urge Congress to stabilize U.S. population at a sustainable level. He was the chair of the SUSPS steering committee at the time the testimony was written and presented.

Stuart Hurlbert is a longtime member of the Sierra Club, a professor of biology emeritus at San Diego State University, president of Scientists and Environmentalists for Population Stabilization, a former director of Californians for Population Stabilization, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Dick Schneider is a longtime environmental and population activist. For many years, he chaired the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter Population Committee and is a member of the SUSPS Steering Committee. He currently serves on the board of directors of Californians for Population Stabilization.

The United States Population and Immigration - Testimony to the 107th Congress of the United States, House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims, August 2, 2001

The United States Population and Immigration - Testimony to the 107th Congress of the United States, House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims, August 2, 2001

By William G. Elder

Originally published in the Social Contract - Winter 2019. Issue theme: "When Liberals Were For Sensible Policies - on the Environment, Immigration, and the National Interest." Reprinted with permission.

The first part of this article is How Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization (SUSPS) Advised Congress in 2001 - An historical perspective followed by the official testimony.

This entire two-part article is available in readable PDF format: How Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization (SUSPS) Advised Congress in 2001 - An historical perspective followed by the official testimony.



My name is Bill (William G.) Elder. I am chairperson of a network of Sierra Club members that has been commonly referred to as Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization or SUSPS. Based on past election results, we represent the views of more than 40 percent of the nearly 700,000 members of the Sierra Club.

I am testifying on behalf of this network of club members. I am not representing the Sierra Club or speaking in my capacity as Population Issue Coordinator of the club's Cascade Chapter.

We thank the Subcommittee for this opportunity to share our views with you — and would like to summarize them briefly before going into more detail.

Executive Summary

The invitation we received indicated the purpose of this hearing is "…to examine the relationship between immigration and the population boom that the U.S. is experiencing." The use of the term "population boom" is absolutely correct. Our 1990-2000 growth of 32.7 million exceeds that of any other census decade in our nation's history — including the 1960-70 peak of the "baby boom" (28.4 million) and the mass immigration period of 1900-10 (16.3 million).

While some economic interests welcome the short-term profits of population booms, we do not. Looking ahead, we see long-term environmental and economic disaster for our country. We've already lost 95 percent of the old growth forests and 50 percent of the wetlands of this nation. We have grown well beyond the energy supply within our borders. Water supplies are declining.

Whether the issue is sprawl, endangered species, wetlands, clean air and water, forest or wilderness preservation — the environmental (and quality of life) impact of adding 33 million people per decade is extremely harmful. It is the equivalent of shoehorning another state the size of California — including all its homes, office buildings, shopping centers, schools and churches, freeways, power, water and food consumption, and waste products — into an already crowded and stressed U.S. environment. And not just doing it once, but then over and over, decade after decade after decade.

The role of immigration in this population boom is crucial. At least 60 percent of our population growth in the '90s (20 million) was from immigration and children born to immigrants. Some put the figure higher, at 70 percent. With no change in immigration legislation, this growth will continue unabated and constitute the sole cause of population growth in the U.S. as the momentum and "echoes" of the baby boom fades away. The Census Bureau projects that unless current trends are changed, U.S. population will double within the lifetime of today's children.

The American people did their part to solve the environmental problems presented by the baby boom. We voluntarily adopted replacement level reproduction averaging two births per woman (although this is still high compared to 1.4 in other developed nations). We have also made some "gains" — albeit very limited — in reducing consumption per capita in areas such as electric power and use of lower polluting technologies.

But Congress, intentionally or not, has completely undone this sacrifice of the American people and our progress towards a stable and sustainable population by creating an "immigration boom." Immigration that averaged about two million per decade over the history of our nation has been expanded four fold by various acts of Congress beginning in 1965. (Since about two million people now leave the U.S. per decade, immigration of this traditional level would represent replacement level immigration.)

This new population boom must be addressed, not only for the sake of the quality of environment and life we pass to future generations of Americans, but also to be responsible to the citizens of the rest of the world who should not have to bear the burden of ever increasing resource consumption of our country.

We urge Congress to enact a comprehensive population policy for the United States that includes an end to U.S. population growth at the earliest possible time through reduction in natural increase (births minus deaths) and net immigration (immigration minus emigration).

Background: Why conservationists/environmentalists are concerned about population

The environmental movement has been guided by the following fundamental formula for years. Environmental damage or loss of a natural resource equals:

  • increase in population
  • multiplied by consumption per capita
  • multiplied by waste/harmful effects per unit of production.

Taking electric power as an example — if U.S. population increases 13 percent (as it did last decade), consumption per capita remains unchanged, and we have to add natural gas and coal fired power plants to accommodate the growth at say a 2 percent increase in air pollution per megawatt produced — we will suffer a 15 percent increase in air pollution. Put another way, to do no additional harm to air quality, all of our businesses and people would need to reduce their use of power by 15 percent. And then, do so again and again if Congress allows population growth to continue unabated in future decades.

Of course, as environmentalists, we think people are entitled to cleaner air (water that we can swim and fish in, etc.), not just the same quality we have now. We also think that many Americans will make sacrifices to accomplish such goals. But we do not think Americans will respond to the call to conserve — only to see the fruits of their sacrifice eaten up by government sponsored population growth.

Taking a longer term view, the U.S. is the third most populated country in the world. With our de facto "growth forever" population policy we are headed in the same direction as the first two — China and India. (The U.S. could hit a billion persons within about 100 years, according to some Census Bureau scenarios.) We see the environmental damage these countries have experienced with only a fraction of the consumption per capita of the U.S. and find this vision of America very sobering.

The Sierra Club itself recognizes the need to stabilize U.S. population because the U.S. population is not environmentally sustainable

The Sierra Club has been calling for stabilizing U.S. population for over 30 years. In 1999, the club's board of directors went even further by calling for reduction in U.S. population, stating: "The Board clarified that Sierra Club favors an eventual decline in U.S. population, since the population has already reached levels that are not environmentally sustainable."

(see www.sierraclub.org/policy/conservation/population.asp and www.sierraclub.org/population/faq.asp )

A 1989 report published by the club's Population Committee summarized the club's traditional position on the environmental damage caused by U.S. population growth and also identified the need to address immigration:

The Sierra Club has long supported the idea that an end to population growth in the U.S. and each country around the world is essential to environmental protection. In particular, Club policy calls for "development by the federal government of a population policy for the United States" and for the U.S. "to end (its) population growth as soon as feasible."

The U.S. population continues to increase by about two and a half million people a year, the result of an excess of births plus in-migrants over deaths plus out-migrants. While population growth rates in less-developed countries are larger, America's numbers and growth have a disproportionate impact on the environment, on natural resources, on global warming, on air and water pollution.

Since 1981 the Club has supported and testified in favor of bills in the House and Senate that would declare population stabilization to be the goal of the country, and that would call for the preparation of an explicit population policy that leads to the achievement of population stabilization. The motto, "Stop At Two" (children), was easily achieved in the 1970s, as average family size in the U.S. dropped below 2 children per woman. Yet this proved insufficient to achieve stabilization due to substantial immigration. The Club never clarified its policy to indicate what specific family size and immigration levels would achieve this goal. This lack of clarity placed the Club in an awkward position, calling for a policy but unable to explain what that policy should be!

The Club's Population Committee began discussing this issue at its April 1988 meeting, taking advantage of the then-newly-released set of Census Bureau population projections that, for the first time, examined the effect of alternative combinations of both fertility and migration. The result of the committee's discussions was an interpretation of Club policy to cover immigration, the first time the Club has dealt with this issue in a quantitative way: Immigration to the U.S. should be no greater than that which will permit achievement of population stabilization in the U.S. This interpretation was confirmed by the Club's Conservation Coordinating Committee this past July [1988].

Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization urges Congress to reduce overall immi-gration numbers as needed to stabilize our population as soon as possible

A large number of Sierra Club members feel very strongly that to be environmentally responsible, we must address immigration levels because there is no hope of stabilizing our population at anything approaching a sustainable level without doing so. We have continued in our efforts as individuals despite the neutrality policy on immigration adopted by the Sierra Club Board of Directors in 1996: ("The Sierra Club, its entities, and those speaking in its name will take no position on immigration levels or on policies governing immigration into the United States.")

We (SUSPS) recognize that although different reasons may be given to INS, most people move to the U.S. for economic opportunity and the American style of life and consumption. So there will be immigration pressure unless all countries "achieve" the same level of consumption as the U.S. (which would require two and a half Earths' worth of resources, according to some) or U.S. consumption decreases to those of developing countries. Neither alternative is realistic in the foreseeable future.

As the National Academy of Sciences stated in July 1997: "As long as there is a virtually unlimited supply of potential immigrants, the nation must make choices on how many to admit."

Many other environmentalists support the SUSPS position of balancing both reproduction and immigration to reach a stable and sustainable population level in the U.S.

The following individuals endorsed our position that a comprehensive population policy for the United States needs to be adopted that includes an end to U.S. population growth at the earliest possible time through reduction in natural increase (births minus deaths) and net immigration (immigration minus emigration).

  • Al Bartlett, Professor Emeritus of Physics, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Anthony Beilenson, U.S. Congressman 1977-1996; 100 percent from League of Conservation Voters; Congressional leader for international family planning
  • John R. Bermingham, ZPG Board member, President Colorado Population Coalition
  • Nicholaas Bloembergen, Nobel Laureate, Harvard University
  • Lester Brown, co-founder and President, Worldwatch Institute; co-author State of the World series
  • William R. Catton, Jr., Professor Emeritus, Washington State University, author Overshoot - The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change
  • Maria Hsia Chang, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Nevada, Reno
  • Benny Chien, Past President, Californians for Population Stabilization; U.C. San Diego School of Medicine
  • Herman Daly, co-founder International Society for Ecological Economics; co-author For the Common Good
  • Elaine del Castillo, founder, Save Our Earth
  • Brock Evans, Executive Director, Endangered Species Coalition; former Sierra Club Associate Executive Director; former Vice-President Audubon Society; former Sierra Club director; John Muir Award (read his statement at http://www.susps.org/discuss/evans.html)
  • Dave Foreman, co-founder Earth First!; former National Sierra Club Director (read his statement at https://www.susps.org/opinion/foreman_9802.html)
  • Lindsey Grant, author, Juggernaut; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environment and Population Affairs
  • Dorothy Green, founding President, Heal the Bay; President Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council
  • Marilyn Hempel, Executive Director, Population Coalition
  • Huey D. Johnson, former Secretary of Resources, State of California; President, Resource Renewal Institute
  • George Kennan, former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union; Presidential Medal of Freedom; Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
  • Doug La Follette, Wisconsin Secretary of State; Board Member, Friends of the Earth
  • Martin Litton, former National Sierra Club Director; John Muir Award; former senior editor Sunset magazine (read his statement There They Go Again at http://www.susps.org/opinion/litton_9801.html)
  • Jan Lundberg, President of Fossil Fuels Policy Action
  • Dan Luten, past President Friends of the Earth; author, Progress Against Growth
  • Tom McMahon, former Executive Director Californians for Population Stabilization
  • Monique Miller, Executive Director, Wild Earth magazine
  • Frank Morris, Sr., former Executive Director, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation
  • Farley Mowat, author, Never Cry Wolf, A Whale for the Killing, Sea of Slaughter
  • Norman Myers, Senior Advisor, United Nations Population Fund; Senior Fellow, World Wildlife Fund
  • Gaylord Nelson, founder Earth Day; U.S. Senator 1963-81; sponsor, Wilderness Act; Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • Tim Palmer, river conservationist; author, California's Threatened Environment
  • Dr. David Pimentel, Professor of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University
  • Marcia Pimentel, Senior Lecturer (ret.) Nutritional Science, Cornell University, author
  • Charles Remington, co-founder Zero Population Growth; Professor of Forestry, Environmental Science and Biology, Yale University
  • John F. Rohe, author, A Bicentennial Malthusian Essay
  • Galen Rowell, nature photographer and author, Mountain Light, Bay Area Wild, The Vertical World of Yosemite
  • Claudine Schneider, U.S. Congress, 1980-90; champion of biodiversity, tropical rainforests, and endangered species
  • Maria Sepulveda, Executive Director, Population-Environment Balance
  • George Sessions, Professor of Philosophy, Sierra College; author, Deep Ecology and Deep Ecology for the 21st Century
  • Beth Curry Thomas, Sierra Club National Population Committee; founder, Planned Parenthood, Hilton Head, South Carolina
  • Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior 1961-69; Counselor Grand Canyon Trust; author, The Quiet Crisis
  • Casey Walker, Publisher, Wild Duck Review
  • Paul Watson, co-founder Greenpeace; founder and President Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
  • Carole Wilmoth, Past President Audubon Council of Texas
  • E.O. Wilson, Conservation Biologist, Harvard University; author, Diversity of Life
    Affiliations for identification purposes only

Among other environmental organizations, the Wilderness Society has exhibited the foresight and responsibility of adopting a U.S. population policy that calls for addressing immigration as part of achieving a stable population. As stated by the chairman of President Clinton's Population and Consumption Task Force: "We believe that reducing current immigration levels is a necessary part of working toward sustainability in the United States."

Myths propagated by others to mislead the public and policy makers on the relationship between U.S. population and the environment need to be recognized as such

One myth we hear often is that population is a global problem and we should only address it globally. Of course overpopulation is a global problem. But it is also a national problem in China, India, the U.S., and many other countries. We do live in one world, but borders and governments are relevant. We make decisions as nations, and will continue to do so. The U.S. government and people have a responsibility to be willing to stabilize our population, just as we need to look to the people and governments of China, India, et al., to do the same.

A second common myth is that the number of immigrants doesn't affect the U.S. environment because they are poor, live in inner cities, and take the bus etc. So, they don't consume, participate in sprawl, or clog the roads and pollute the air like everyone else.

This stereotyping of immigrants is inappropriate. Many people who move to the U.S. are not poor. They live in the suburbs and consume at American levels just like anyone else. Secondly, to the extent that some immigrants are lower income, they and their children aspire to the American standard of living and consumption, and generally achieve it in the second generation if not the first. In this respect lower income immigrants have a similar effect to that of births. Babies don't consume a lot either — but by the time they are young adults they certainly do.


Respected organizations such as the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society and many environmental leaders recognize that continued growth in U.S. population and our consumption is decimating the natural resources that we and future generations need to live healthy and satisfying lives. Open space, forests, wetlands, water availability, air quality, and endangered animal species are continually lost to satisfy the demands of a burgeoning human population. As responsible citizens of the U.S. we must act now on this issue that has such far reaching and serious consequences for future generations as well as ourselves.

We urge Congress to enact a comprehensive population policy for the United States that includes an end to U.S. population growth at the earliest possible time through reduction in natural increase (births minus deaths) and net immigration (immigration minus emigration)....

Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization is a network of members of the Sierra Club numbering in the thousands. We are guided by a steering committee consisting of long-time Sierra Club members.

We are concerned about the natural world being left to future generations at home and abroad. As with all priority Sierra Club programs, the first responsibility is to solve a U.S. problem, in this case that of U.S. population growth and consumption in accordance with "think globally, act locally." Although we are aware the U.S. is part of a world community, we also recognize the Club's relatively limited influence abroad.

We believe a comprehensive U.S. population policy must be a part of the Club's Global Population Program [for stabilizing world population]. We support a return to 1970-1996 Sierra Club U.S. population policy that advocates zero population growth, where births equal deaths and immigration equals emigration, or any reasonable combination that will achieve U.S. population stabilization as quickly as possible.

We reaffirm the 1970 Sierra Club policy "That we must find, encourage, and implement at the earliest possible time the necessary policies, attitudes, social standards, and actions that will, by voluntary and humane means consistent with human rights and individual conscience, bring about the stabilization of the population first of the United States and then of the world." (Sierra Club Board of Directors, 1970)

Our concern is with total numbers, not with any group or country of origin. We argue for an end to U.S. growth in numbers and consumption simply based on environmental limits. We advocate any reasonable combination of natural increase and immigration that can achieve a sustainable U.S. population.

As conservationists and loyal members, we work within the Sierra Club, advocating that it must:

  • Pro-actively inform, promote, and lobby to support policies and programs to end U.S. population growth.
  • Explicitly recognize rapid U.S. population growth among the causes of sprawl.
  • Fully support other organizations and programs focused on U.S. population stabilization.
  • Support reduction of consumption, especially in the U.S. and other high-consuming societies. Ending U.S. population growth in no way forecloses efforts to reduce U.S. consumption. Both are necessary as stated by the President's Council on Sustainable Development (1996).
  • Support incentives that encourage family planning in the U.S. and worldwide.
  • Support elimination of pro-natalist financial incentives.

Please see our website at www.SUSPS.org for additional information.

About the author

William G. Elder is a retired health care management consultant. He is editor of the website ApplyTheBrakes.org in which conservation leaders urge Congress to stabilize U.S. population at a sustainable level. He was the chair of the SUSPS steering committee at the time the testimony was written and presented.