catapult magazine

catapult magazine


Water crisis in New Mexico


Nov 08 2002
07:17 pm

Talk of city growth also leads to talk of population growth in general, don’t you think? Most of us will agree that populations can’t grow forever. So when does it stop?

I attended a lecture today by the former director of the McGill School of the Environment in which he addressed this issue indirectly. He said when he was born (probably 50 yrs ago) the US population was 140 million. Today it is 290 million. It is expected to be 500 million before the end of the century. I know this situation is not unique to the USA, but on a national level it raises the same questions as on a city level.

Shouldn’t there be national policy on how many people we want in our countries? How long can we go on recklessly growing? Many environmentalists (I’m among them) would contend that the USA is already overpopulated. This doesn’t mean that we can’t fit more people in, or even that living standards can’t continue to go up as populations increase. What environmentalists mean is that the current population size (and consumption patters) cause so much damage that it cannot be sustained over long periods of time.

Imagine the US capped its population at 300 million people. Assuming a slightly negative growth rate among the domestic population (this isn’t unreasonable to expect as it occurs in numerious industrialized countries around the world), there would still be room for immigration in order to maintain a stable population. But can our economic system function without continual population increases? Does anyone out there know more about economics than I do? I would say our economic approach would need a bit of tweaking in order to make this work, but that it could work.

I guess I’m comparing population control to the Kyoto Protocol, which is a hot political issue in Canada at the moment. The goal of the protocol is for countries to get their greenhouse emissions back down to 1990 levels. This is accomplished not only through regulation, but mostly by incentive programs aimed at making industry, commerce, and individuals more responsible. The federal government is admitting that it will slow economic growth but is determined to go through with it anyway. Maybe it’s the same with slowing population growth — it might slow growth, but what are our options?