Impact = Population X Affluence X Technology
Nina Paley ...

Consumption and Population
Is California Big Enough?


Consumption by Americans produces a terrible burden upon the land and on the planet.


Carrying capacity experts say that if everyone consumed at the rate of Americans, it would take four earths to produce the resources needed. The ecological footprint - the "average amount of productive land and shallow sea appropriated by each person…for food, water, housing, energy, transportation, commerce, and waste absorption" - is about 2.5 acres in developing nations but about 24 acres in the U.S.


Sprawl is wasteful, unneccessarily spread-out land consumption, gobbling up wildlands and farmland for residential, services, and industrial use, usually caused by American's hunger for 'breathing room' and the availability of cheap and convenient transportation, and exacerbated by growing population and congestion..


From 1992 to 1997, nearly 16 million acres of agricultural and forest land were developed. We are now losing 3 million acres per year of forest and agricultural land, double what was lost each year from 1982 to 1992. Nearly 2 billion tons of soil is eroding into waterways each year. Despite significant gains in erosion control during the past 15 years, there has been no additional improvement since 1995. Gross wetland losses have increased to 54,000 acres annually on agricultural land. Tree and forest cover in urban areas is declining at an alarming rate. In the Chesapeake Bay region, for example, tree canopy has declined from 51% cover to 37% in the last 25 years. ... Department of Agriculture 1998




The 'Greening' of agriculture' has lead to high nitrogen content in streams, rivers, and lakes,

salinization of the soils, silting of our waterways and dams, and over-pumping of the earth's groundwater.


The average U.S. diet includes meat requires 800 kilograms of grain per person a year, compared to 200 kilograms for people eating starchy diet in India and other countries. Four times the consumption of grain equates to 4 times as much water. (World Watch)


The average person in the United States consumes 260 lbs. of meat per year

Producing a quarter pound of hamburger requires 100 gallons of water, 1.2 lbs. of feed grain and energy equal to a cup of gasoline, causes the loss of 1.25 lbs. of topsoil and causes greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to a 6-mile drive in a typical U.S. car. ....



Because of over-consumption of fish, all 17 of the world's major fishing areas have reached or exceeded their natural limits. One-third of the world's fish catch is fed directly to livestock. 70% of US grain production is fed to livestock. Roughly 20% of all currently threatened and endangered species in the US are harmed by livestock grazing. Animal agriculture is a chief contributor to water pollution. America's farm animals produce 10 times the waste produced by the human population.


Pet Food


Americans and Europeans together spend $17 billion a year on pet food, $4 billion more

than the estimated yearly additional amount needed to provide everyone in the world with basic health and nutrition. The richest 20% of humanity consume 45% of all meat and fish, use 58% of all energy produced and own 87% of the vehicles.

United Nations Development Program


100 million hectare of farmland have been abandoned due to soil erosion in the

last 200 years. ... David Pimentel




While the world's oil supply has been diminishing, and oil produces 70% of our energy, it has been estimated that about four percent of the nation's energy budget is used to grow food, while about 10 to 13 percent is needed to put it on our plates.


World-wide emissions of carbon dioxide, for which the U.S. is 65% responsible, grew 12 times between 1900 and 2000.


Residential energy consumption is expected to grow 30% by 2020 ...Department of Energy..




The average North American consumes more than 170 gallons of water per day, nearly triple the European level and seven times the per capita average of the rest of the world. ... New Dream and Sierra Club


Water is becoming increasingly scarce. The number of water issues increases every year. Giant aquifers in the plain states are being overdrawn, with little hope of replenishment. 43 percent of farmland in the United States is watered by groundwater. The Colorado River dries up before it reaches its destination.


While 70% of the water consumed worldwide is used for irrigation, 20% by industry, and 10% for residential purposes, the use for water for industry is increasing. In addition, the mass migration to cities means that residential use of water triples due to indoor plumbing.


Population Growth


The population of the U.S. is growing by 1% a year. This does not seem like much, until you realize that a constant 1% a year will result in the doubling of our population in 70 years. Can we accomodate another 280 million people?


Jay Keller of ZPG says that a doubling would mean a population density of 161.4 people per square mile. While this is only a quarter that of western European countries like England, these countries have surrendered most of their wilderness regions, native forests and unique animal populations. "Some of the European countries have very high population densities, with the consequence that they have to import most of their food and are very dependent on the rest of the world," says Keller. "The United States, by contrast, is still one of the great breadbaskets of the world." In the U.S. 400,000 acres of farmland are lost a year. Under doubling of the population, arable land would go from 400 million acres today to 290 million and the $40 billion the U.S. makes through food exports would be seriously threatened.


In this statement, ZPG does not even take into account the scarcity of water in several regions of the U.S. It could be argued that water capacity in many areas is already exceeded.


Why Is U.S. Population Growth Important?


Every new American resident, whether native born or foreign, soon becomes an excessively above-world-average consumer, riding in cars rather than bicycles, eating more meat, and using clothes dryers rather than the sun. Carbon emissions are increased, clean water becomes a luxury, soil is salinized and eroded faster, and more wastes are produced.


"The Sierra Club advocates reductions in the population of the United States and the world... The Board clarified that the Club favored an eventual decline in US population, since we had already decided in 1970 that expected 1990 levels were the highest that were environmentally sustainable in the long term, and we are now much above that level...."

-- Sierra Club 1999 population policy


Why Is World. Population Growth Important?


There were three billion people in the world in 1960. This number doubled to 6 billion in 1999. The number is expected to reach 9-10 billion by 2050.


Over 95% of the population growth is in developed countries. Although over half of the world's population lives at basic subsistenence level, consuming little, the sheer numbers of people are causing a depletion of regional resources that lead to poverty, illiteracy, disease, malnutrition and starvation. Consideration of the survival of wildlife and bioversity drops to a low priority in the interest of survival. However, population growth is not slowed down, but rather increased by poverty, illiteracy, disease, or malnutrition, at least until long after the environment is destroyed and the infrastructure of the region is in shambles. Today roughly half the world's population of nearly 6.2 billion "suffers with water services inferior to those available to the ancient Greeks and Romans."


These impacts alone suggest that, if we care about the rest of the world at all, we should care about world population.


However there are also impacts on the United States:


The U.S. exports about 20% of the food it produces. This excess food supply could decrease due to domestic population growth, sprawl, and soil depletion. In addition, food surpluses could easily disappear if a country like China were to have a major famine - not unlikely since China's water situation is deteriorating.


In addition, while some of us have created wealth on an unimaginable scale, half the world exists on less than $2 a day. The combination of growing numbers of impoverished people and the contrast between wealth and poverty is drawing increasing numbers of people out of rural areas to cities and to wealthy countries like the U.S.


About 1.3 million immigrate to the U.S. each year, higher than the previous record immigration rate between 1900 and 1910. In this past decade, immigration accounted for "40% of the 33 million increase" in the U.S. population. If the 6.9 million children born to these new arrivals are included, 20 million or just under 2/3 of the 33 million increase is due to immigration.

...Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) which is under contract to the U.S. Census Bureau.


Can The U.S. Accomodate Everyone?


80 million people are added to the world every year. Most of these are impoverished people, many who do not have farmland or jobs, but who have a burning desire to improve their lot. If all of them were to come to the U.S., it would mean a 35% increase in U.S. population every year, and a doubling of the U.S. population every three (or less) years!! We have already discussed the carrying capacity of the U.S., so this idea is as absurb as the one which says everyone could fit in an area the size of Texas. Suppose only some of the 80 million wanted to come to the U.S.? To give you an idea of how many people want to come, as of two years ago, the U.S. embassy in Nepal reviewed at least 200 tourist visas a week. This was before tourism dropped to 20% of 2000 levels and the current increase in terrorist activity in Nepal. Nepalis paid $50 each for a visa application, which was not refunded, even though only 2% ever got a visa! Unless a Nepali is a student or has business with dealings in the U.S., a tourist visa is the only way to get into the U.S. Most Nepalis, on $2 a day, cannot come up with $50. While Mexicans, whose average income is considerably higher than the average developing world income of $2 a day, can cross the border easily, Nepalis and other relatively poor or disadvantaged people have little chance. Our immigration policy seems hypocritical if the reason given for our current high immigration levels is to give poor people the advantage of economic opportunity by allowing them to come to the U.S.




California's population grew by nearly 26% between 1980 and 1990, from 23.7 million to 29.8 million, and grew by another 4.1 million persons between 1990 and 2000. Current projections indicate that population may double from the 1990 level to 58.7 million by 2040. In the face of such intense growth, California's fragmented and competitive local land use planning structures and subsidized dependence on drive-alone transportation have contributed to severe environmental and ecological deterioration, including: -- Serious air pollution -- Gridlocked roadways -- Strained and polluted water supplies -- Loss of valuable food producing lands and open space -- Increased numbers of endangered species due to loss of critical habitat -- Increased energy consumption -- A lack of affordable housing near places of employment. --Loss of open space. -- Excessive consumption of natural resources. Sierra Club California believes that this state needs a comprehensive program to address the magnitude and management of growth, and to determine what amount of growth is actually supportable, based on constraints analysis, not only on economic projections. ... Sierra Club California Growth Management Plan


Auto and truck traffic in California has doubled in the past 20 years. ... Dan Walters


California's flora consists of approximately 7,000 taxa, including 6,000 native species, of which 36% are endemic, occuring nowhere else on earth. Nearly 33% of the flora is considered rare, threatened of uncommon. 1,021 plant taxa are considered rare or endangered in California, and another 29 have almost certainly gone extinct in California in the last 100 years. ... California Native Plant Society.


Though considerable attention has been focused on California's agonizing electricity shortage and

water woes, very few people have recognized that these problems stem from a dramatic population explosion. In 2000, California added 571,000 people, resulting in a 1.7% growth rate, one that is higher than that of Bangladesh. California is 40% more densely populated than Europe. Los Angeles alone has a population of 3.8 million. With it's diversions of water from Owens Lake, seen near Lone Pine, California, it has nearly dried up the lake, creating health hazards from wind storms laced with arsenic. One third of the immigrants who enter the United States every year come to California. California has one of the highest fertility rates in the U.S.: 2.4 births per woman. The national fertility rate is still just above 2.0. Including birth to immigrants,, immigration may account for 96% of California’s population growth from 1990 to 1997. ... The Gold Crush, emagazine, Dec 2001


The U.S. Census Bureau says the state will have nearly 54 million people by 2025. While rolling blackouts were paralyzing the state earlier this year, Ric Oberlink in a San Diego Union-Tribune wrote: "California doesn’t have a power shortage, ... it has a population ‘longage.’" Between 1970 and 1990, Los Angeles grew 25.1% in land area, Oxnard-Ventura 40.9%, Fresno 67.8%, Riverside-San Bernardino 48.6%, and Stockton 57.7%. In the same period, the state’s per capita electricity use declined from 7,292 kilowatt-hours per year to 6,952 kilowatt-hours, while the population grew from 23 to 33 million, easily obliterating any gains from conservation. From 1996 to 1999, power demand grew 12%.


The newspaper The San Francisco Chronicle made this statement based on projections Department of Water Resources: "California is teetering on the edge of a profound water shortfall that experts say could rival this year’s power shortages for economic and social disruption." By 2020 the Chronicle predicts, "the dams and aqueducts that make up the world’s most elaborate water-moving network will fall short of California’s needs by as much as 4.2 million acre-feet in a good year and nearly twice that in a drought." The Department of Water Resources estimates a modest increase in supply, but soaring demand. In the 1780s California had an estimated five million acres of wetlands. After just two centuries of population growth, there has been an increase from hundreds of thousands to more than 32 million people and only about 454,000 acres of wetlands, a 90% loss. According to the Water Education Foundation (WEF),

wetlands support 41 of the state’s rare and endangered species. This includes 55% of the animal and 25% of the plant species designated as threatened or endangered. One of every three vertebrate species in the state and one in 10 native plant species are in serious danger of extinction. The Nature Conservancy says the Bay-Delta has become the second densest hot spot of imperiled species in the U.S. Simultaneously, the lands around the Bay-Delta support 6.8 million Californians, one of the greatest concentrations of humanity in North America. State air quality has also suffered. Southern California, where population growth is concentrated, has the highest density auto population in the world, and it has produced

what is often measured as the second highest smog levels in the U.S. .


What Can Or Can’t Be Done:


1. Immigration Levels


If you are thinking about reducing immigration levels, the Sierra Club population policy says:


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.


Recently, clarification to this policy was issued, which in part says:


The Sierra Club should not comment on the substance of, or the

politics of, policy issues relating to immigration policy or levels, or the

impact, environmental or otherwise, of immigration on the United States,

other countries or the world.


But it also says:


" Club leaders and staff may discuss the recent Census Bureau

projections that show that U.S. population will double this century to over

half a billion. Club spokespersons may discuss the impact of this growth to

plant and animal life, the crowding of parks and recreation areas, the

increased demand for forest, water, and energy resources, and the

compromise to essential ecosystem services. Club spokespersons may also

speak about how domestic population pressures add to the difficulty of

protecting the global environment. For example, achieving Kyoto protocol

goals for addressing climate change will be difficult, if not impossible,

due to high U.S. population growth and energy consumption patterns.


"Club entities are not prohibited from talking about the sources of domestic

population growth in a factual and non-judgmental way. However, to

maintain strict neutrality, when Club entities and leaders discuss the

environmental impacts of domestic population growth, these impacts should

be discussed as impacts of population growth, and not as impacts of

immigration or any other particular statistical component of population growth."


2. Fertility reduction:


This is a reasonable solution, especially in California where its population is expected to increase to 49.3 million by the year 2025 -an increase of 18 million, which would be as if all of the state of New York

moved in, a result of an anticipated 22 million births, 9 million immigrants, and offset by deaths. ... U.S. Census Bureau and FAYE FIORE, Times Staff Writer 9/97


As pointed out by Edwin Stennett of the Maryland Chapter, Montgomery Group, Japan, United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, and 7 other countries all have fertility levels at or below 1.8 births per woman. If the U.S. were to lower its fertility rate by .03% to 1.8, we would soon stabilize our population, even continuing current immigration rates. But everyone would have to be included in the effort, regardless of country of origin.


In the U.S., (and in California), there are still a high percentage of unplanned pregnancies. Programs such as Title X (health care for poor women), sex education programs, Equity in Contraceptive Insurance, teen pregnancy programs, male responsibility programs, and emergency contraception availability campaigns all help reduce unplanned pregnancies and all need an extra boost in order to be passed through stubborn conservative bodies of policy and legislature, county, state and federal.


3. Increase education and reduce poverty.


Educational level and reduction of poverty are determinants of fertility, not so much country of origin or ethnicity as some people assume. So efforts should be made to reduce the drop out rate and enabling youth to have at least one year of college. Poor women take the attitude that, if they can't earn a good living, at least they can be good mothers and fulfill their lives with the rewards of family life. Motherhood is a role that cannot be denied them. Statistics show that reducing poverty reduces the fertility rate. This can be accomplished by helping teenagers build self esteem and to accomplish their non-maternal goals, as well as providing good support systems for mothers such as child care services.


4. Stop feeding the Growth Machine.


Most increase in population is encouraged by false economics - "bigger is better" and the "economy must always grow". These economics ignore sustainability and need to be replaced by "green" economics, where natural resources and sustainability have value. Three alternatives to the Growth Machine are proposed by Edwin Stennett of the Maryland Chapter, Montgomery Group:


a. Restrain new business recruitment, particularly by spending tax dollars.


b. Make development pay its own way. The costs of additional schools, roads, fire and police protection, utilities, sewer systems, water treatment, recreation facilities, libraries, and waste disposal should all be borne by the newcomers who necessitated the new services.


One good example of this has been that the California legislature has recently approved a bill that requires developers planning 500 or more houses to demonstrate that an adequate water supply exists before construction can start.


c. Elect officials who are not receiving Growth Machine money.



5. Educate about population growth and its impacts.



6. Educate about, and practice conservative consumption.


The public won’t buy into the population issue if they don’t see the disappearance of resources. If consumption isn’t much of a problem, then population isn’t either.