President Trump's hyperbolic comments about the country being "full" were followed by numerous media responses, like The New York Times article by The Upshot's Neil Irwin and Emily Badger, as if it needed to be explained to anyone that the country isn't actually "bursting at the seams" with people.
Regardless of the scope or intent of Trump's comments, the emotional discussion of the country's "fullness" that has followed is missing the big picture:
It's not about how many people a country can contain but how many it can sustain.
With a current population of nearly 329 million people and the world's largest national economy, America's Ecological Footprint already vastly exceeds its biocapacity. This tells us that the country is running an ecological deficit, which by definition is unsustainable.
So is the U.S. full? No, it's overfull.
In fact, the majority of countries are running ecological deficits. And the world economy is a pyramid scheme. Globally, we are operating in overshoot.
What does this inconvenient truth tell us? Certainly we need smaller footprints, and surely we also need fewer feet.
Unless Americans as a whole choose to drastically reduce our standard of living, something that seems far from likely, continuing to add to our population is only going to extend the overshoot.
As demographer Joseph Chamie wrote,"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."
Given that immigration is driving most U.S. population growth, it's appropriate to consider reducing immigration well below today's record numerical level alongside ambitious Ecological Footprint reduction efforts.
Without acknowledgment of this fundamental reality, transitioning toward a future where societies are operating at a sustainable scale -- or even just honest dialogue about such a transition -- appears to be a pipe dream.
ROB HARDING is the NumbersUSA Sustainability Communications Manager
Updated: Thu, Apr 11th 2019 @ 7:59pm EDT