HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
October 23, 2006, Herald Journal

The melting pot is full


As the population of the United States screams past the 300 million mark with no sign of slowing down, it is clear that a new plan is needed.

We cannot sustain the rate of growth that we are currently experiencing. We are faced with unlimited wants and limited resources, and, despite our attempts to ignore this, the problem won’t go away.

One element of population growth that is clearly out of control is immigration, both legal and illegal.

According to the US Census Bureau, about 40 percent of the total population growth comes from immigrants, primarily from Mexico.

Another 12 percent is the children of immigrants.

Some critics of immigration point to the fact that many of these immigrants are poor and uneducated.

This raises questions as to who will pay for their education, health care, and other needs.

According to US Census Bureau, we are experiencing a net gain of one person every 11 seconds.

There are some who continue to gaze through their rose-colored glasses, and say this is a wonderful thing, because it increases our diversity.

But what about the diversity we are losing in terms of plant and animal species as a result of this population growth?

The crisis goes beyond the question of who the newcomers are, and comes down to a question of numbers.

There will be an environmental impact from this increasing population, and it will not be good.

Some naive individuals say that this is a big country, and there is plenty of room.

Does this mean we should pave over our national parks to make room for 100 million more immigrants? Should we throw up shanty towns in the BWCA to house illegal aliens? Should we turn the Grand Canyon into a giant sewer system to accommodate the mushrooming population?

One hopes that common sense will prevail and these things won’t happen.

We Americans have always liked a bit of elbow room, and, apparently, we are taking up more space than we used to. Each of us occupies 20 percent more developed land than we did in the 1980s.

So, where will we find the land to support this expanding population?

Prime farmland is already disappearing at an alarming rate. Not only are we permanently losing the land, we are losing the ability to feed an ever-increasing population.

As we continue to pave over the environment to make room for more and more people, we are also wiping out plants and animals.

There are already nearly 1,000 plant and animal species listed as endangered or threatened, and most of this is due to habitat loss.

Extinct still means extinct, and once these species are gone, we can never get them back.

Biodiversity is part of our quality of life, and, while we may not care about some of the species that are on the edge, they are part of our ecosystem, and our survival is related to theirs.

Our lifestyle, wonderful though it is, puts huge pressure on the environment.

Americans are creatures of excess. We use about three times as much water per capita as the rest of the world.

Some western states are already experiencing water shortages. This is not surprising, especially in areas where people have not figured out that it is a poor idea to slap up developments in deserts that are only fit for cacti and scorpions. Yet, people continue to flock to these places.

If we continue to increase the demand on aquifers that are already overburdened, and continue to add population that the land cannot support, we could see droughts that make the dust bowl era of the 1930s seem like a minor inconvenience.

We make up about 5 percent of the world’s population, but consume about a quarter of the world’s energy.

We are oil junkies, and lead the world in per-capita oil consumption. but, apart from complaining about oil prices, we seem reluctant to do anything to change this.

We are voracious consumers, but we are not bad at production, either.

Each of us produces about five pounds of trash each day, an increase of about 67 percent, compared to 1960. Does all of this extra garbage add anything to our quality of life?

We are piling up trash in landfills at a record pace, and, at the same time, we are dumping pollutants into the air and water like there is no tomorrow.

If future generations are to enjoy anything resembling the quality of life we have enjoyed in the past, two things need to happen.

This is not a political issue, it is a capacity issue.

We need to put on the brakes and put a stop to the insane rate of immigration. We need to put reasonable restrictions on legal immigration, and we need to put a stop to illegal immigration. Period.

We are the only major industrialized nation that is experiencing rapid growth. We would do well to ask why this is.

If the answer is that our quality of life is superior, we should realize that we will be unable to maintain this quality of life at the present rate of growth.

This was once the land of opportunity, but if immigration continues at its present rate, the opportunities for all of us will dry up faster than the water in the Arizona desert.

The US is now the third most populous nation in the world, behind China and India, and it is difficult to imagine a lot of people from this country lining up to go live under the conditions that those countries offer.

Second, we need to take a hard look at our habits.

We can’t continue to consume resources and pollute our environment at the current rates. We need to adopt environmentally-responsible standards, and we can’t afford to wait for some governmental mandate.

Unless we wake up and make some changes, we will soon be living in a very different world.

And, it won’t be pretty.