by Whit Gibbons

October 22, 2006

Earlier this year I wrote about the top 10 environmental problems facing America and the world. Last week the data came in showing that one of them, overpopulation, is a growing concern: The U.S. population reached 300 million people. Are we trying to catch up with China, which has 1.3 billion people, or India, which recently passed a billion?

Maybe I am missing some important clue, so if anyone can come up with a valid reason for why having almost twice as many people around as in the year I started high school is a good thing, I want to hear it. That means every two people an American sees today were represented by only one person when I was a teenager. One reason given for why more people is a good thing is that more workers are available to develop a strong, industrialized country. That may have been true in 1806 or even 1906. But we had a strong industrialized country back when we had only 150 million folks walking the streets. That argument just doesn't work in 2006.

Overpopulation is a simple ecological concept that is defined as a demographic state in which the numbers of a species exceed the carrying capacity of its environmental situation. Overpopulation always solves itself in the animal world. Disease and starvation increase when a species becomes too abundant. And guess what, humans are animals. We are subject to the same natural laws as other animals.

Most Americans cannot visualize the disease and starvation that are plaguing many other countries. But eventually even the United States could be susceptible to nature's solution for overpopulation, and our quality of living unquestionably declines as population density increases. Think about this. Then recognize that we can avoid the consequences of overpopulation by controlling our birth rate and our immigration rate.

In 1967 we passed the 200 million mark in the United States. Since that time, by one report, more than half of the latest increase of 100 million people living on U.S. soil is a consequence of immigrants and their offspring. Many of these arrived without an invitation. With more people we have more pollution, less native wildlife and livable space, and increased poverty and crime.

Thinking about demographic statistics is the first step to realizing that overpopulation is a problem and then doing something about. To appreciate the rate of overpopulation on a global scale, figure out how many people were on the planet when you were born. 1927? 2 billion. 1960? 3 billion. 1974? 4 billion. 1990? 5 billion. We now have more than 6.5 billion! That's way too many people for this ecosystem we call Earth, but our population is still increasing.

To appreciate the changing population rate in the United States, consider that a baby is born every seven seconds, but someone dies only every 13 seconds. Meanwhile, every 30 seconds an immigrant arrives to stay. So about every minute we increase our population by half a dozen people. Consider further that at least 4 billion people in the world would rather live here with us than where they currently live. Too many are able to find a way to get here, and as they arrive, our environmental problems increase.

Voluntary birth control for women who do not want to have a child and of family planning for those who do is a simple solution to control overpopulation and thus alleviate many of the world's increasing environmental problems. Global birth control efforts would reduce overpopulation worldwide and help address our own immigration problems. Meanwhile, devising an enforceable plan to curtail illegal U.S. immigration and limit legal entry seems like a reasonable step as well.

In my opinion any U.S. politician who fails to address overpopulation by supporting birth control measures and trying to solve immigration problems has a self-serving agenda that does not include what is best for the country. Sadly, I know of no elected official who even acknowledges the basic problem: too many people. Until we recognize the problem, we can't begin to solve it. And if we don't solve it, Mother Nature will eventually do it for us. She's already working on it in some places.

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