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







National Optimum Population Commission-NOPC-proposal


So Many Unanswered Questions

M. Boyd Wilcox, Founder*
February, 1998


"There are the years that ask questions and years that answer"
Zora Neale Hurston, novelist, 1891-1960.


This paper explores some facts, and raises fundamental questions as a logical outgrowth of these facts. Two definitions are in order:

A.) The term "relationship" implies a direct or indirect cause, or even a simple correlation;
B.) The words "population pressure" imply not only growth rates, but levels already achieved, helping to establish a conceptual link between past, present and future.

1.) Firewood, once a seemingly inexhaustible and free natural resource in the U.S., is now relatively scarce and expensive. Only 25 years ago in my home town, (Corvallis, OR) there were numerous ads in the classified section of the paper listing wood free for the taking, or for a very small fee. Today, a cord of wood costs from $80 to $150 dollars, depending upon type and seasoning. Question: Is there a relationship between population pressure and the situation regarding firewood?

2.) On January 27, 1998, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposed that Fender's blue butterfly and the Willamette daisy should be listed as endangered and the Kincaid's lupine should be listed as threatened species. These plants and animals are found in Yamhill, Polk, Benton and Lane counties on remnants of the Willamette Valley prairie. This prairie, which once covered 1 million acres, has been plowed up for farms, paved over for towns and roads and overgrown by plants and trees that once would have been destroyed by fire. About 1000 acres remain in scattered plots, (that is 1/10th of 1%.)(Source; 1-28-98 Oregonian)

Question: What is the relationship between population pressure and the listing of these and thousands of other species all across the nation?

3.) For generations the use of National Forests, Parks and other outdoor recreational resources has provided an inexpensive and readily-available outlet for vacations, hiking, fishing, hunting, birdwatching and a host of other activities. Nowadays we are witnessing an increase in the use of fees, requirements for advance reservation and restrictions on the numbers of people allowed into certain areas.

Question: What is the relationship between population pressure and the increased demand upon these unanimously admired and publicly-owned resources?

4.) "In a pioneering study, Gordon Orians, a zoologist at the University of Washington, diagnosed the "ideal" habitat most people choose if given a free choice; they wish their home to perch atop a prominence, placed close to a lake, ocean or other body of water, and surrounded by park-like terrain. The trees they most want to see from their homes have spreading crowns, with numerous branches projecting from the trunk close to and horizontal with the ground, and furnished profusely with small or finely divided leaves.

It happens that this archetype fits a tropical savanna of the kind prevailing in Africa, where humanity evolved for several millions of years... Is it just a coincidence, this similarity between the ancient home of human beings and their modern habitat preference? Animals of all kinds, including the primates closest in ancestry to Homo sapiens, possess an inborn habitat selection on which their survival depends. (Source: "Naturalist" by E.O. Wilson).

Question: What is the relationship between population pressure and the ongoing conflicts surrounding urban sprawl, the creation of UGBs and efforts to require greater density even though many people remain opposed, apparently for genetically-predetermined reasons?

Would Oregon's widely-acclaimed Land Use Planning system even have been necessary, if the nation and this state had stabilized population at 10%, or 2070, of current levels? A silly, academic proposition most would say, as we cannot go backwards in time. But precisely because of this, are we not advised to make current decisions based upon known or likely future consequences? The entire Willamette Valley could very easily become just a better-planned Los Angeles. Is this really what we want? How does population pressure integrate with the vision to "keep Oregon, Oregon" (which most public officials espouse) and the inevitable ramifications of population pressure that even the best "growth management" cannot ameliorate?

This analysis applies to almost every state in the nation, and especially to those under intense pressure of population growth.

5.) The 1972 Rockefeller Commission concluded that "...no substantial benefits will result from further growth of the Nation's population, the health of our country does not depend on it, nor does the vitality of business nor the welfare of the average person; rather that the gradual stabilization of our population would contribute significantly to the Nation's ability to solve its problems."

This was offered over 25 years and almost 68 million people ago; that is 68 more metropolitan Portland's in the nation ago.

Question: How does this increase in size and complexity of our national population impact our ability to form a consensus and successfully cope with charting a common future?

6.) Social equity, cultural diversity and immigration concerns are close to the top of a long list of hot-button issues the nation is compelled, for very good reasons, to engage and to remedy; especially in reference to historical conditions less than exemplary, for a country founded on individual rights and personal liberty. We have much work to do, to end racism, to empower women and minorities, to more equitably distribute wealth, to offer educational and employment opportunities, and to provide nurturing conditions for children which is extremely important, not only for the quality of the individual lives at stake, but to prevent the spending of resources on criminal prosecution, incarceration and restitution.

In most of these issues, including many not mentioned, we are challenged to confront the meaning and efficacy of democracy itself.

Question: How does population pressure, therefore, work its tragic magic upon this most fundamental and cherished national mythology?

7.) When the nation was founded, the ratio between a member of the U.S. House and constituents was 1 / 30,000. This was considered a large ratio being more than what existed in most of the individual state houses at the time. (Source; "Inventing an American People" by Edmond S. Morgan.) Today that same ratio is 1 / 600,000 and still growing. Divide 600,000 by 30,000 and what do you get? The number is 20. This is a 20-fold increase in the ratio. It is also a 20-fold decrease in the affective political relationship each individual now "enjoys" (in quotes) with his or her Rep. Remember, this is for the House. The ratios are much higher in the Senate.

If we tried to restore the original ratio, Oregon would need 100, and the entire U.S. House would need to have 8,700 members, instead of 5 and 435 respectively. (Simply multiply 20 by the current size.) Think of it. If nothing else in this paper seems commandeering, please allow these facts ample contemplation.

Question: What is the relationship between population pressure and the long, inexorable diminution of your and my affective (yes, affective = ability to produce an effect) political power?

Even if we are able to get money, lobbyists, negative ads and corporate influence out of national politics, would we still be able to return not only a sense of, but real input to the process for the individual constituent?

How does population pressure impact feelings of alienation from politics? How has it contributed to the decline in the percent that vote in national elections which was around 80% at the turn of the century and is now often less than 50%?

Regarding the 7 items listed above, and for countless ones not cited, under what conditions do you think we can expect these trends will halt or offer hope for reversal and restoration? If you believe these statements of fact and the questions raised are important to our common future and that this nation has not yet fully engaged them in a comprehensive, compassionate and holistic manner, then it should be obvious that the National Optimum Population Commission-NOPC-proposal will assist our orientation in a direction that is more likely to achieve a secure and sustainable future.

It is not enough to recognize that the business begun by the Rockefeller Commission is not yet finished. It is also not satisfactory that population pressure concerns be relegated to a small box within the President's Council on Sustainable Development, with the conclusion that we eventually stabilize our population. If stabilization is our primary goal then we have forfeited the chance to more fully explore the possibility that our Optimum population is less than, as well as equal to or greater than present. In my opinion it seems apparent we have not yet asked the right questions. How can we expect useful answers without them?
For more information write:
1070 SE Denman Avenue
Corvallis, OR 97333


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