Tuesday, December 21, 2010

U.S. Population Growth Still Too Fast

How soon would you want the United States to have a population of 1,000,000,000 — 1 billion people? When I think of this, I am convinced we will be better off if it doesn’t happen. Yet we are heading in that direction, according to the new census report.

If the rate of population increase of nearly 1 percent per year continued, the U.S. population would reach 1 billion in 2137, likely within the lifetime of some of the people being born this year.

Of course, there is an enormous amount of uncertainty looking forward over the next century — for all we know now, people will be moving to Mars by then — but still, the pattern of rapid population increase adds to the risks ahead.

There is little any government can do to influence the rate of population growth. It is up to people collectively as a culture to produce a population level that can be sustained within the resources that are available. When this fails, history suggests that life becomes more difficult for everyone, and large numbers of people die from poverty, violence, or infectious diseases.

I don’t think the census report is any cause for alarm. There is a trend toward lower population growth. Technological breakthroughs are likely to improve our lives by making them fit into smaller and smaller spaces. But it’s important not to take those scenarios completely for granted. New developments, such as the depletion of the world’s oil and uranium stocks, which after all is projected to occur before 2115, could reduce our population carrying capacity, perhaps even below current levels. In spite of every effort take so far, further cultural changes may be needed to reduce the rate of population growth. That is one reason why it is so important to keep track of population statistics. The new census report suggests that the U.S. population is still increasing faster than we are prepared to provide for.