Population stabilization, not growth, is the key to America’s future
While the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House are embroiled over the constitutional right of women to abortion, a larger, more consequential demographic issue impacting all of America’s men, women and children is population growth.
The same year Roe v. Wade arrived on the desks of the Supreme Court, the U.S. Commission on Population Growth and the American Future issued its final report. The commission’s major conclusion, submitted to then-President Richard Nixon and Congress, was unequivocal and clear:
“In the long run, no substantial benefits will result from the further growth of America’s population. The gradual stabilization of the U.S. population through voluntary means would contribute significantly to America’s ability to solve its problems.”
A half-century ago when the commission presented its recommendation, America’s population was 210 million, or about 5 percent of the world’s population of 4 billion. Today, America’s population has grown to 333 million, or about 4 percent of the world’s population of nearly 8 billion.
In recent years, scientists, environmentalists and others concerned about the climate change emergency and environmental degradation have called for population stabilization for America and the rest of the world.
But despite the commission’s unambiguous recommendation and repeated warnings about global warming and the increasingly disastrous social, economic and environmental consequences of climate change, America and many other countries of the world persist in pro-growth demographic policies.
Federal and state governments, political parties, businesses, the media and social commentators typically laud population growth and lament population slowdown. America’s traditional demographic dogma advocates maintaining robust growth and an expanding U.S. population.
Population growth is promoted by many in America, especially industry and wealthy business owners, which gain the most financially from growing numbers of workers and consumers and suffer the least from the consequences of sustained demographic growth. In addition, the ideologies of some religious groups are pronatalist, with prohibitions on the use of contraception and abortion and an emphasis on the traditional role of women and the biblical phrase, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”
Considerable efforts and resources are expended to equate sustained U.S. population growth with the nation’s overall economic prosperity and well-being. The sustainability of that population growth is typically dismissed or questions are simply left unanswered. Legitimate concerns about climate change, the environment, poverty, gender inequities, socioeconomic inequalities and an unfair tax system that favors the wealthy are ignored.
Rather than choosing to deal with those concerns, America’s population growth advocates loudly ring warning bells about demographic slowdowns that might lead to population stabilization. Anything other than robust growth, they insist, will result in financial disaster and a bleak future for citizens. Demographic slowdowns, they misleadingly contend, will hamper productivity gains, contract the domestic market base, lessen public finances and increase social costs.
Population slowdowns or declines are also frequently entangled in political, social, religious and ethnic concerns and rivalries. Demographic downturns are typically depicted as losses of power, finance, influence and standing. Moreover, as America increasingly deals with ethnic, language, religious and cultural cleavages, population numbers and the relative sizes of ethnic groups have become highly politicized. The fear among some, especially nativist and far-right groups, is becoming a minority in their perceived homeland, which is reflected in the great replacement theory and the slogan “you will not replace us,” — ideas that have spread among right-wing and white nationalist groups in America as well as abroad.
Increasing numbers of Americans and social organizations are recognizing the serious consequences of population growth and rejecting pro-growth demographic dogma. For example, thousands of scientists recently declared that the planet is facing a climate emergency and population stabilization ranks among six urgently needed actions to address the issue.
It’s time to end the pro-growth demographic charade and acknowledge the disastrous climatic, environmental and social consequences of sustained population growth for America, as well as the planet. Slower U.S. population growth will not only reduce pressures on the climate and the environment, it will also gain us valuable time to develop solutions for social, economic and political challenges facing the country.
U.S. government officials, the private sector, social organizations and the American public must abandon their ideological addiction to demographic growth and prepare for the gradual stabilization of America’s population through voluntary means. America gradually stabilizing its population would provide a model for other countries to follow, which in turn would lead to a stabilized world population.
We must admit the relentless pursuit of population growth is simply not sustainable. By contributing to climate and environmental disintegration, the continued growth of the U.S. population constitutes a serious threat to the security and wellbeing not only of the 333 million people residing in the country today but also to future generations.
Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and the author of numerous publications on population issues, including his book, “Births, Deaths, Migrations and Other Important Population Matters.”
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