300 Million – Part Two
So, today we are now a country of 300 million people facing an uncertain future together. What are the issues that we will have to deal with as a country as our population grows from this number, and what can we anticipate as we look at global population growth?
The United States currently has an average of 86 people per square mile, which is much lower than many other developed countries. Even when we absorb another 100 million, which is projected to be around 2043-45 our population density will be lower than some European countries are now. Where this statistic is misleading is that as a nation we all seem to want to live in similar places. The Center for Environment and Population has calculated that over half the population lives within 50 miles of the coasts. The states in the heartland, such as the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas are either losing population or experiencing minimum growth. The trend line is clear: mega cities on both coasts and a wide open, sparsely populated middle. This trend will be tempered by connectivity and increasingly disparate real estate prices.
How many people do we want to have, do we manage population growth and what do we need to do to support further population increase? We must begin to reflect on the answers to these questions. Take for example the Southwest, one of the fastest growing areas of the U.S. Basically the states of the Southwest are desert states. These states are now beginning to face the inevitable problem of too many people and too little water. If we decide to let the population growth continue in this area there will need to be discussions about better ways to recycle water, desalination plants for ocean water and radically new ways to think about what is now becoming a finite resource, water.
On the crowded coasts, is it not time to rethink public transportation? Now that it seems that the area from Boston to Washington D.C. is basically one megalopolis why not create new rail lines combined with bus lines to better serve everyone and at the same time making a concerted effort to manage oil and gas consumption, another ultimately finite resource? Obviously the general infrastructure of the country, particularly on the coasts will need to be rebuilt. Why not combine the rebuilding of the grid and infrastructure with a new intelligent look at mass transit? If we donâ€™t want to do these things then the morally difficult effort to aggressively manage population growth becomes the only alternative
In this new global age, it is becoming apparent to all that Spaceship Earth is ultimately finite and therefore endless and unmanaged growth is unsustainable. Humanity must start to think about what it will have to do in the years ahead to preserve the planet and ourselves. What compromises to life as we now know it must we accept if we accept continued population growth? We must have our thinking catch up to population growth and soon. Our thinking about these issues has not changed much in the past few centuries at the same time as population growth has created unwanted consequences.
It took humanity approximately 150,000 years to reach the population of 1 billion in 1804. It then took 123 years to reach 2 billion in 1927, 33 years to 3 billion in 1960, 14 years to 4 billion in 1974 13 years to 5 billion in 1987, 12 years to 6 billion in 1999. The slim good news here is that population growth is slowing as it is projected that it will take 14 years to reach 7 billion in 2013, 15 years to reach 8 billion and then 26 years to 9 billion in 2054. Part of the future projections and slowing growth is based upon limitations of sustainability.
Has our thinking about all the issues around population growth kept pace with this rapid growth? Of course it hasnâ€™t. We are still relatively close to our thinking 50 years ago when the global population is half what it is today. We need to create a new comprehensive way to think about sustaining our society as we absorb millions of people each year nationally. and the tens of millions of people each year globally. We need new leadership and thinking about this issue as the consequences for humanity are much greater than most issues that fill our minds today.
Remember, we are talking about the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren. Do we care about them?
[A note of thanks to Ben Meier, ace researcher, for research help on these two columns on population]