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Sustainable Society:  A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.







Population Growth:

The Neglected Dimension of America’s

Persistent Energy/Environmental Problems*


Leon Kolankiewicz
October 2002



Forging a sustainable energy policy is one of America’s greatest challenges in the new century.

We must develop energy supplies that are clean, “green,” renewable, and affordable for the sake of both a healthy environment and a healthy economy. Over the long term, failure to do so could have catastrophic consequences for our environment and our economy, and thus not only our quality of life, but our very survival as a society within an ecosystem.

A sustainable energy policy will also look at the demand, and not just the supply, side of the equation. As a result of unprecedented economic and population growth, U.S. energy demand, like most of the world’s, has risen sharply since World War II (and even well before that); this has led to rapid, steady increases in the consumption of the fossil fuels – oil , natural gas, and coal, as well as most other energy forms. Such increases cannot continue indefinitely.

This study examines what portion of America’s growing energy consumption can be linked to a growing population, that is, an increase in the number of energy consumers in the United States, and what portion can be linked to rising per capita energy consumption reflecting our passion for a plethora of consumer products that use, in total, a prodigious amount of energy.

Using a standard mathematical apportioning procedure (explained in the study), the analysis assigns percentages of our rising consumption of total energy, petroleum, and electricity and our output of carbon (that is, carbon dioxide), the major greenhouse gas, to population growth, and by implication, to growth in per capita consumption.

The analysis finds that, with the exception of electricity generation, U.S. population growth explains the preponderance of growth in our national energy consumption. Since the U.S. population, driven primarily by high immigration levels, is projected to continue growing rapidly through this century, with no end in sight, unsustainable, harmful growth in energy consumption can be expected to continue as well, until some combination of energy resource depletion or negative environmental feedbacks and economic turmoil curtail it.

Thus, policy makers should recognize that a long-term, sustainable energy policy must incorporate a population policy based on population stabilization, that is, halting further population growth and maintaining our population size within a level that can be sustained in perpetuity by our resources and environment, while still providing for prosperity and a high quality of life.
* Used with permission of the author.


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