300 million and counting

Population growth represents new opportunities and challenges for America.

This week, the greatest democratic experiment ever conducted, the United States of America, welcomed its 300 millionth participant. Our nation, now more than ever, is a kaleidoscope of cultural, religious and racial diversity that the Founding Fathers could have scarcely imaged.

At milestones like this, it’s hard not to feel optimistic that quality of life will march forward with our growth in population as it so often has in the past. But our generation and those that follow us will have to deal with issues no other has faced. Rather than uncork the champagne for this historic moment, we would be better served to examine some of the changes that this rapid population growth has been responsible for in our country.

With each additional person, there are fewer resources available to everyone. Growth in population is accompanied by increased garbage and fossil fuel consumption, losing farmland to non-agricultural uses, and water shortages, most dramatically in the American southwest, where population growth has been highest. Natural endowment to support the growth in that area is particularly low, requiring resources to be diverted from other regions in the country, creating shortages elsewhere.

We have work to do. Today, Americans produce 60 percent more garbage than they did 40 years ago, consume 25 percent of the world’s energy, although they account for only 5 percent of the population, and lose 3,000 acres of farmland every day, usually due to development.

This development usually occurs as the suburbs expand farther and farther from city limits. And any resident of the Twin Cities can tell you exactly what happens when more people are on the road traveling farther: congestion. The ever-present menace of traffic jams should be a daily reminder that when population grows, we must react accordingly.

Experts which assessed population growth at the 200 million mark, and the Earth Policy Institute, have suggested that population stabilization may be the only way to guarantee that future generations are able to meet their basic needs. After all, we can’t have limitless growth with limited resources.