Speaking as a Gen-xer in my late 40s, ever notice how large homes seem to be compared nowadays to those our parents and grandparents owned just a couple decades ago? Bathrooms are the size of a small bedroom and such a thing as a “great room” did not exist when I was growing up. The average house size in the United States is 2,600 square feet. Since 1960, the average size of a new house has doubled.
At the same time, have you also noticed how apartment buildings in cities are cramming more, but tinier units into gigantic high-rise buildings? And BOTH the large homes and tiny apartments are super expensive and require massive amounts of resources to operate and maintain. My parents would never have considered taking out a loan for a home for the amounts mortgages are going for now. In fact, they didn't have to take out a mortgage at all, at least not for the modest farmhouse and 95 acres we chose to call home and heaven. The dollar went a lot further in those days.
We Americans are in the business of either super-sizing our lives or forcing ourselves into tiny spaces to live, and then we throw junk that doesn't fit in either the big house or the tiny apartment into storage units for an additional monthly fee. And yes, if you have not opened that storage unit in a year, it probably is junk by now. Trust me, I have been guilty of this, too, in the past.
It takes a lot of resources, land, water, electricity, raw materials for construction, etc. to support and maintain the voracious consumption appetites of 330 million consumers. Consumption in energy, a baseline for manufacturing and acquiring all goods and services, hit record highs in 2018, according to a report by the U.S. Energy Administration.
Vox writer, Umair Irfan summarizes the causes of growing energy demands, by stating that "The growth in energy use is largely a function of the growing U.S. economy. More goods, more travel, more services Climate change 2019: US energy consumption hit a record high in 2018 mean using more fuel and electricity." I would add, and Irfan is preoccupied somewhat by this. too, that it means more emissions and reduced overall quality of life.
Is all this growth really good for us? Are we wrong to want the big house, or to buy whatever we want with the swipe of our fingers? The American dream as it was before and now is in a 21st century context? Well, it depends, doesn't it?
It depends on the number of consumers we continue to add to the country. More people means less of the pie that is the American dream for each of us. And that isn't just about preserving our ability to buy more stuff. It's about protecting our quality of life relative to the quantity of people all wanting that same dream for themselves. It requires asking that difficult but necessary question of how many consumers is too many?
Record-high energy use goes hand-in-hand with diminishing quality of life issues such as rising emissions, traffic congestion, poor air quality and the rapid depletion rate of our natural resources to keep so many lights on and motors running. Coinciding with energy consumption in 2018, there were also 227.5 million licensed drivers on the roads.
Americans are justifiably proud of their way of life. In just over two short centuries, our innovation and steadfast determination has taken us to great heights and made us the envy of the world for our high quality of lifestyle, and the advances and achievements we have secured in the sciences, engineering, law, and our overall democratic way of life.
But we put it all at great risk if we do not recognize that continual growth in consumption, fueled by adding over a million new consumers each year through immigration, is unsustainable. As individual Americans we definitely do have an individual responsibility to be part of the solution to reduce, reuse and act responsibly with our natural resources. But we also have the power to establish and enforce sensible and humane ways of lowering the number of new people, thus even more consumers, coming here.
Immigration is responsible for 95% of population growth. Keep fighting with us to lower immigration to sustainable levels for the preservation of all we hold dear in this great country.
CHRISTY SHAW is the Development Officer for NumbersUSA
Updated: Mon, Apr 20th 2020 @ 9:11am EDT