On this Earth Day, the earth is still losing rapidly in the United States, according to NumbersUSA's latest study on sprawl, authored by Leon Kolankiewicz, Anne Manetas and myself, and entitled:
VANISHING OPEN SPACES: How an Exploding U.S. Population Is Devouring the Land that Feeds and Nourishes Us
(Click here to see the entire study. https://www.numbersusa.com/resource-download/vanishing-open-spaces ]
In just the eight years from 2002 to 2010, over 8.3 million acres (approximately 13,000 square miles) of farmland and natural habitat succumbed to the bulldozer's blade. That is an area larger than the entire state of Maryland -- cleared, scraped, filled, paved and built over -- in less than a decade.
Reporters today are asking me what actions the study suggests can be taken to reduce this continuing massive destruction of America's farmland and natural habitat. My answer is that the solution can be found in the fact that the No. 1 cause of all this destruction is the majority of Congress which year in and year out votes to force huge national population growth. Until the public demands that Congress stop driving what is the highest level of population growth in our history, the environmental destruction of our nation's land will continue.
Our study found this:
- about 70% of all the open-space destruction around our urban areas in the last decade was related to population growth
- and new immigrants and births to immigrants in the last decade have been the equivalent of about 70% of U.S. population growth.
It's a 70&70 situation that is easy to remember. Immigrants themselves bear no responsibility in any of this, as legal immigrants are merely taking advantage of the invitation that Congress extends to them to take lifetime work permits and to begin adopting the same suburban living preferences as U.S.-born Americans. But it is Congress that sets the policy that has quadrupled annual immigration numbers so that they are the chief factor in the expansion of our cities into the forests, meadows, pastures and croplands.
The acres that Congress annually forces under the bulldozers' blades are:
. . . the open spaces on which the country's human residents depend for food, fiber and the nourishment of their spirits, and to which the non-human inhabitants often tenuously cling for life itself."
In the period studied since 1982, the study concluded that the addition of each new resident of the United States results in the elimination of about a half-acre of farmland or open space.
While the country obviously can survive the recent losses, the report questions how long these trends of destruction can continue. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has noted that more than one-third of all the open spaces that have ever been converted to development in this country's history were eliminated from natural use and agriculture in just the last quarter century.
The NumbersUSA study concludes:
The good news during the last decade was that the galloping hyper-sprawl of the 1990s calmed significantly. The primary reason was that the rate of per capita land consumption stopped increasing as rapidly as it had over much of the post-World War II era. Indeed, by one measure, the average urban resident increased his or her amount of urbanized land by a relatively modest 3%.
Nonetheless, that lower (per capita consumption) growth rate still combined with a continuation of the largest numerical population growth in U.S. history to drive open-space destruction at a higher volume than any time other than the 1990s.
In the first decade of this century, the 497 Urbanized Areas designated by the U.S. Bureau of Census had to accommodate an extra 26 million, one hundred sixty-eight thousand, five hundred and eighteen residents (most of them citizens from other countries, and their children).
To provide those 26,168,518 new residents with housing, transportation and places to work, to shop and to meet educational, religious, cultural and recreational demands, the 497 Urbanized Areas spread out over an additional 13,586 square miles.
Back in the year 2000, those 13,586 square miles were filled with farmland and the woodland and grassland habitats of myriad animal and plant species. Now, they are filled with urban development.
We wrote in our study:
Yet, there is little sign that the nation is ready to substantially change this population trend – or even to much discuss it – although the open-space destruction it is driving is not sustainable over the long run.
On this week of special Earth Day attention to the stewardship of our natural environment, citizens should ask their U.S. Representative and two U.S. Senators whether they are committed to driving high U.S. population growth or if they will pledge to slow down the destruction of our country's open spaces.
ROY BECK is Founder & President of NumbersUSA