July 29 was Earth Overshoot Day, the day which marks when we have used more from nature than the planet can renew for the entire year. Our demand for Earth's resources far exceeds what Earth can generate in a year. In the 1970s Earth Overshoot Day fell in December and November. In the 1990s it crept into September and for the last three years it has been in July. This is a drastic change and a disturbing trend.
Raising awareness about our excessive demands on the planet is just the first step to making a change. What else are you and your organization(s) doing to #MoveTheDate?
The Earth Overshoot Day website recommends starting a conversation about population: "The more of us there are, the less planet there is per person and for wildlife. With more than 7.6 billion people on the planet and increasing consumption, humans have destroyed wildlife habitat and driven massive plant and animal extinction."
This is no less true at the national level, and the United States is already deeply in overshoot. If we are to have honest discussions about population in the United States and its contributions to overshoot, we must first acknowledge that the country is overfull. Global Footprint Network's own National Footprint Accounts tell us that at current levels of resource consumption and waste generation, America has more than twice as many people as can be sustained by the country's biocapacity.
Acknowledgment of this unsettling reality serves an important role in grounding any discussions of America's unsustainable population growth and its drivers - as it is for any country, a combination of net births (births minus deaths) and net migration (immigration minus emigration). According to a new analysis of government data by the Center for Immigration Studies, immigration between 1990 and 2017 added approximately 43 million people to the population of the United States - including both immigrants and their progeny.
That's about 57% of the growth over that period. Looking ahead to 2060, the Census Bureau's latest projections suggest that immigration between 2017 and 2060 will add another 75 million people - about 95% of the growth - as the population swells to 404 million. Looking further ahead to 2100, the United Nation's latest projections suggest that "the United States is estimated to grow from 329 million people in 2019 to 434 million people by the end of the century, with most of that projected increase owing to migration."
America's population growth has an outsized impact. As NBC News' Denise Chow reports:
[T]he average person's lifestyle in the U.S. is more detrimental to the environment than the average person's in sub-Saharan Africa. That means rapid population growth in Africa won't be as damaging to the environment as a similar population increase would be in the U.S.
With great knowledge comes great responsibility and a duty to act.
One major opportunity in the United States is to allow the country's population to stabilize and eventually decline to a sustainable level over time. Stabilizing the population is not a new recommendation, having been highlighted as a desirable goal by two national commissions since the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1970 - first by the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future in the 1970s and followed by the Population and Consumption Task Force of the President's Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD) in the 1990s. Of course, it's clear that stabilizing the population of the United States isn't an achievable goal without less future immigration - a fact that remains central to NumbersUSA's mission more than 20 years after its founding on the heels of the PCSD's recommendations.
Mission Statement: NumbersUSA Education & Research Foundation provides a civil forum for Americans of all political and ethnic backgrounds to focus on a single issue, the numerical level of U.S. immigration. We educate opinion leaders, policymakers and the public on immigration legislation, policies and their consequences. We favor reductions in immigration numbers toward traditional levels that would allow present and future generations of Americans to enjoy a stabilizing U.S. population and a high degree of individual liberty, mobility, environmental quality, worker fairness and fiscal responsibility.
As Population Media Centers President Bill Ryerson points out, population is the multiplier of everything else. Such knowledge demands action to protect life on Earth in a compassionate and intentional manner. Moreover, demographer Joseph Chamie asserts that "the sooner nations reject Ponzi demography and make the needed gradual transition from ever-increasing population growth to population stabilization, the better the prospects for all of humanity and other life on this planet."
People are receptive to this inclusive message. It compels us to act together, and we must if what we seek is a healthy future where people and the rest of nature can thrive.
ROB HARDING is the Sustainability Communications Manager for NumbersUSA
Updated: Wed, Aug 14th 2019 @ 9:30am EDT