For America to deal effectively with climate change and many other critical environmental concerns, including biodiversity loss, deforestation, natural resource depletion, food production, pollution and congestion, requires a gradual transition to population stabilization.
That statement calling for the gradual stabilization of America’s population is basically the same unequivocal conclusion recommended by the U.S. Commission on Population and the American Future nearly 50 years ago.
When proposing the presidential advisory commission on population and America’s future in 1970, President Richard Nixon said, “One of the most serious challenges to human destiny in the last third of this century will be the growth of the population.” Since the former president’s remark uttered a half century ago, America’s population has grown from 205 million to 333 million and the world’s population has more than doubled, increasing from 3.7 billion in 1970 to 7.9 billion today.
In its summary submitted to the White House in 1972, the commission clearly reported its central finding, “[w]e have concluded that, in the long run, no substantial benefits will result from further growth of the Nation’s population, rather that the gradual stabilization of our population through voluntary means would contribute significantly to the Nation’s ability to solve its problems.”
More than half of America’s population growth in the past has been the result of immigration. Since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, for example, approximately 55 percent of America’s population growth from about 2.5 million in 1776 to 333 million in 2021 has been the result of immigration, i.e., immigrants and their descendants.
Moving gradually to the stabilization of America’s population will necessarily involve substantially lower future levels of immigration than currently being anticipated. Based on the recent past, Census Bureau population projections for the next 40 years assume approximately 1.1 million immigrants per year.
America’s population is expected to reach 405 million by 2060 under that rate of immigration. However, without that future assumed immigration, America’s population in 2060 would be slightly smaller than it is today, or about 320 million, which was the size of the country’s population in 2015.
Many of the steps taken, policies adopted and recommendations offered by the Biden administration are no doubt necessary. However, they are plainly insufficient to effectively address the critical challenges of climate change, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, pollution and sustainability.
For example, with the nation’s population projected to add approximately 2 million people each year over the coming decade, aiming to have half of new car sales in 2030 be electric will have a minimal impact in effectively addressing the largest source of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the U.S., the transportation sector, with cars and light trucks accounting for about 60 percent of those emissions.
In addition, the future growth of America’s population, largely the result of continuing high levels of immigration, will greatly increase demands for natural resources. The demands for energy and water over the next 10 years, for example, are projected to grow by 50 percent.
America’s gradual movement to population stabilization will not be easy and will encounter enormous resistance. The many vested social, economic, political and cultural interests across the country will no doubt object to population stabilization, particularly reduced immigration, and strongly advocate for increased population growth, higher birth rates and more immigrants.
The country’s fertility rate, now at 1.64 births per woman, is not likely to return to the replacement level any time soon, especially given that it’s been generally below replacement since 1971. Also, the number of U.S. births in 2020 has fallen to a 42-year low. Consequently, the push for future demographic growth will necessarily be for continuing high levels of immigration.
The recent negative reactions of the private sector, some U.S. states, the media and a myriad of others to the country’s population growth rate of 7.4 percent over the past decade are indicative of the expected strong objections to any call for a gradual stabilization of America’s population. For those many groups any slowdown in demographic growth is typically perceived as resulting in unacceptable losses of profits, power, expansion, influence and standing.
When push comes to shove, economic, social and political interests typically overwhelm concerns about climate change and environmental degradation. However, continuing to embrace the traditional pro-growth demographic dogma that “more is better” is simply unsustainable.
In unequivocally declaring that the planet Earth is facing a climate emergency, thousands of scientists have included among their six urgently needed actions the stabilization of the world’s population using approaches that ensure social and economic justice. America deciding to gradually move to population stabilization can provide an exemplary model for other countries to consider in their national attempts to address climate change.
Confusing rhetoric and excessive balderdash about population, climate change and environmental concerns continue to swirl around the country and is particularly evident in the U.S. Congress. Consequently, it’s vitally important to be clear and forthright about what is being recommended for the country’s future population.
In order for America to deal effectively with climate change and the many other critical environmental issues facing the country requires a gradual transition to population stabilization that will necessarily involve substantial reductions in expected future immigration levels based on trends of the recent past.
It is well past the time for the White House, Congress and the general public to embrace the gradual stabilization of America' population, which is essential for ensuring the country's vitality, prosperity and sustainability.
Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, "Births, Deaths, Migrations and Other Important Population Matters."