In the long term, no substantial benefit will result from continued US population growth. The gradual stabilization of the American population by voluntary means would contribute significantly to America’s ability to solve its problems.
This declaration of half a century ago was the unequivocal central conclusion of the groundbreaking report of the United States Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, submitted to the President and Congress on March 27, 1972.
However, rather than moving towards gradual stabilization, as has been clearly recommended, the US population over the past 50 years has grown to 334 million, an increase of 123 million (about 60%) since 1972.
In addition, the US population is expected to continue to grow over the coming decades. According to its main set of projections, the Census Bureau expects the country’s population to reach nearly 400 million by mid-century.
Predating the establishment of the commission by several years, former President Richard M. Nixon remarked that “one of the most serious challenges to human destiny in the last third of this century will be population growth… Man’s response to this challenge of either pride or despair in the year 2000 will depend very much on what we do today.
Nixon’s observations are even more prescient today. Given climate change, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, pollution and congestion, population growth in America and the rest of the world remains one of the greatest challenges to human destiny. in the 21st century.
Similarly and more recently, the naturalist Sir David Attenborough has remarked: “It’s not just climate change; it’s pure space, places to grow food for this huge horde. Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now.”
Without a doubt, America’s population growth is a major factor affecting domestic demand for resources, including water, food, and energy, as well as environmental degradation and climate change. There are hardly any major problems facing America with a solution that would be easier if the country’s population were larger. On the contrary, the stabilization of the population would help to solve several of them.
Stabilizing the population would reduce pressures on the environment, climate and resource depletion and buy America time to find solutions to its pressing problems. If the United States intends to address climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, etc., it must consider how its population affects each issue.
Contrary to the central conclusion of the commission, some do not recognize the need to stabilize the population. Their reasons are largely based on profit, politics and power. They pay little attention to the consequences of population growth on the future of the nation.
For example, many economists argue that continued population growth is necessary to fuel economic growth. Their “bigger is” arguments simply ignore or dismiss the negative consequences for the country, which are threats to the well-being of Americans today as well as the long-term viability of the nation.
Others argue that the nation would be “happier” with more people. Slow population growth, they argue, is hurting not only US economic growth, but also the national mood. Concerns about climate change and the environment are omitted from their rhetoric.
Some advance nationalist calls for continued population growth, arguing that the more patriotic one is, the more one should believe in a vast and growing America.
Another argument is the view that “America is not full” and can accommodate many more people, especially more immigrants. These advocates, however, rarely specify the importance of population to be considered full, nor do they explain why America must be full.
Thousands of scientists around the world have an opposing view. Among their key recommendations for governments to address the climate emergency is a call for stabilization of the world’s population, or ideally, a gradually reduced population within a framework that ensures social integrity.
The gradual stabilization of the American population will provide an exemplary model for other countries to follow. Rather than racing to increase the size of their respective populations in a world of 8 billion and growing, nations would see America move away from the unsustainable population strategy.
With American couples having fewer children than in the past for a myriad of social, economic and personal reasons, the country’s fertility rate is unlikely to return to replacement level anytime soon. And pro-growth calls for Congress or the administration to establish pro-natalist policies to increase fertility seem unlikely to pass.
Thus, the country’s fertility being below replacement level, the stabilization of the American population will necessarily imply a substantial reduction in immigration levels, estimated at around 1.1 million per year. If immigration levels were, for example, close to zero, America’s projected population in 2060 would be 320 million compared to 405 million if immigration continued at the same rate.
50 years after the commission presented its central conclusion, it is high time for the White House, Congress and the American public to embrace the gradual stabilization of population, which is essential to ensure vitality, prosperity and country sustainability.
Joseph Chamie is a consultant demographer, former director of the United Nations Population Division and author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, “Births, Deaths, Migrations and Other Important Population Matters”.