Annually, the Global Footprint Network “measures a population’s demand for and ecosystems’ supply of resources and services” to inform us when during the course of a year we’ve reached overshoot - the point when we’ve used up what the Earth’s ecosystem has to give. That date this year is March 13 for the United States, and one of the leading culprits is our country’s population growth that increases the strain, which can mainly be attributed to Congress’s immigration policies.
Our new National Sprawl Study notes that despite the push for density, our ecological footprint will continue to rise as long as our population does the same. Americans individually use or “consume” a little over one-third of an acre of developed land per person. What this doesn’t include matters as much as what it does:
…that 0.356-acre/resident metric does not include relatively unpopulated rural lands..farmlands (cropland, pasture, and rangeland), forests, reservoirs, and mines – that furnish crucial raw materials and products used by every consumer/resident, namely for food, fiber, fuels, water, energy, metals, and minerals. Nor does the 0.356-acre of developed land include the forestlands needed to absorb each American resident’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion to produce electricity and propel our vehicles.
What does this mean to the non-scientists among us? Essentially, all of these ecologically productive lands that are not “developed” are directly used by each and every person. Broken down to the per capita ecological footprint of each American, the Global Footprint Network found equates to approximately 20 acres per person - the same size as approximately 26 football fields.
The population growth and consumption habits go hand-in-hand and have larger implications for our ecosystem. John Podesta, Barack Obama’s former senior counselor on climate policies and initiatives, recently wrote:
…Current demands far exceed nature’s capacity to supply the “goods and services” we all rely on. Nature is our most precious asset, and reflecting its true worth in the market will require a profound shift in human behaviors, government priorities, and public and private accountability…"
A profound shift almost sounds like an understatement. Mr. Podesta is correct - something needs to change. Tellingly, in regard to the government priorities that he mentioned, he didn't include the importance of reducing our country's population growth, which is largely driven by Congress's immigration policies.
As we've already established, more people means more consumption and a greater strain on our resources. A recent article from The Hill points out that we are at a below-replacement level with our nation's fertility, which means if our government truly wants to align its priorities with stopping the ongoing depletion of our country's resources it "will necessarily involve substantially reducing immigration levels, estimated at approximately 1.1 million per year." Why this matters, as you may be wondering, the article makes clear: "According to its main projection series, the Census Bureau expects the nation's population to be close to 400 million around mid-century."
As our country's Overshoot Day comes and goes on March 13, 2022, let's not accept that we can't do something about the problem. Instead, let's remember the importance of population growth and its role in the loss of biodiversity and overuse of natural resources. In our country, Congress is responsible for 90% of our population growth due to their misguided immigration policies, and to be clear, the onus of this issue indeed lies with these government officials - not immigrants who are just as harmed by this situation as everyone else. It's time for Congress to be held accountable and make a "profound shift" to protect our environment.
Amy Boylan is the Content Writer for NumbersUSA's Sustainability Initiative
Updated: Thu, Mar 17th 2022 @ 9:46am EDT