Jeremy Beck's picture


  by  Jeremy Beck

We lose a football field worth of nature every 30 seconds in the United States. We add an NFL football stadium worth of people every ten days. You don't have to be an environmental scientist or demographer to see the connection. Even with our efforts to reduce our individual footprints, our collective feet are stomping out the natural world beneath us.

Late last year, The Center For American Progress (CAP) commissioned Conservation Science Partners (CSP) to map natural land loss within the continental United States and the results are detailed in a powerful new report by Matt Lee-Ashley:

The scientific team at CSP found that human activities are causing the persistent and rapid loss of America’s natural areas. The human footprint in the continental United States grew by more than 24 million acres from 2001 to 2017 - equivalent to the loss of roughly a football field worth of natural area every 30 seconds. The South and Midwest experienced the steepest losses of natural area in this period; the footprints of cities, farms, roads, power plants, and other human development in these two regions grew to cover 47 percent and 59 percent of all land area, respectively. If national trends continue, a South Dakota-sized expanse of forests, wetlands, and wild places in the continental United States will disappear by 2050.

    "If national trends continue, a South Dakota-sized expanse of forests, wetlands, and wild places in the continental United States will disappear by 2050."

    While the CAP report argues that each of us needs to ask "How much nature should America keep?" it justifiably emphasizes the responsibility of policy makers:

    Every elected leader, environmental leader, and candidate for office should formulate a thoughtful and ambitious plan for the protection of the natural world that sustains the country.

    For decades now, we have collectively chosen sustainable family sizes that would allow for the preservation of America's natural habitat and open space. In fact, almost all of our population growth is driven by the record immigration levels that Congress has put in place. Pew Research estimates that over 100 million people (one thousand five hundred football stadiums filled to capacity) will have been added to the United States between 2015-2065 as a result of our unsustainable immigration policy.

    The average NFL football stadium holds 69,000 people.

    For many politicians, immigration is primarily a way to drive population growth. More people means more consumers buying things, which makes the economy bigger. We humans require homes to live in, places to work, places to play, and roads and tracks to get us from place to place. We need schools, hospitals, water treatment facilities, parking garages, museums, movie theaters, and football fields! The development and maintenance of these things creates a lot of economic activity, and "the economy" is how we tend to judge our elected leaders. We should reconsider that because whether we add density to our bulging cities or look to non-urban areas to accommodate our swollen numbers, nature pays a price. And when nature can no longer afford the bill, we - as part of nature - will have squandered our greatest inheritance.

    As a self-determining people, we have the power to chart a more responsible course, and set an example for other nations to follow. The prevailing scientific wisdom is that nature needs half of the Earth to maintain its critical life support systems for humans and well as other species. Every nation must act responsibly - together - and do our part.

    Our responsibility at home is significant. According to the CAP report, "the United States ranks as one of the top five countries in the world for the total amount of wilderness-quality land that remains." If nature needs half, a significant part of that half will have to be preserved here within the United States.

    JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA


Updated: Fri, Oct 11th 2019 @ 9:11am EDT

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