Minnesotans For Sustainability©


Home ] Up ] Feedback Please ] Table of Contents ] Search MFS ] MFS News ]

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







U.S. Sustainable Population Policy Project

Project Background Material


Project Rationale


The history of attempts at developing an acceptable population policy in this country is a long and unsuccessful one.

It begins in Chicago, June 7-11, 1970 when the First National Congress on Optimum Population and Environment (COPE) was convened. This was a citizen's movement supported widely by environmental, minority and other groups. In the end, although many initiatives were started, the energy created by this conference did not add up to achieving the desired goals of moving the country to adopt a population policy.

In 1972, President Nixon’s Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, (commonly referred to as the "Rockefeller Commission") emphasized the need "to make population, and all it means, explicit on the nations agenda, to signal its impact on our national life, to sort out the issues, and to propose how to start toward a better state of affairs. By its very nature, population is a continuing concern and should receive continuing attention." Moreover, the Commission 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." Despite this expression of urgency, the Commission’s report fell largely on deaf ears within the federal government and received virtually no coverage by the media.

In 1974, the United Nations held its first international conference on population in Bucharest. Our delegation was led by Casper Weinberger, President Nixon’s Secretary of H.E.W.. The United States is a signator to this first international policy on population.

In 1984, the second UN conference resulted in a further extension of this policy. The U.S. is a signator to that agreement.

In 1993, in New Delhi, 58 Academies of Sciences, including the American Academy of Science, met in New Delhi to examine the issue of population. Two broad conclusions came from that historic meeting. One was that population was clearly the most urgent problem facing the world. The second admonition was that this was a social and political problem with no scientific solution to rescue the world from the consequences of over population. The American Academy of Science is a signator to that document.

In 1994, the third UN Conference of Population and Development took place in Cairo. 180 countries signed the plan of action underscoring the need for all the countries to deal with population and the related social issues in as compelling a manner as possible. The United States is a signator to that document.

In 1995, the President’s Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD), appointed by President Clinton to help the United States develop a national strategy for sustainable development in the aftermath of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment & Development, acknowledged the integral relationship between population growth and sustainable development, declaring the need to "move towards stabilization of the U.S. population." The PCSD failed to establish a timetable to meet this objective. Moreover, our government has failed to formulate a clear plan to implement this recommendation, nor have any substantive measures been taken in this context since the release of the PCSD report.

In view of the long history of the efforts to deal with this issue, and because the urgency of the dangers inherent in continued haphazard approaches to population and the environment, it is time —it is past time-for this country to finally achieve what it has been striving for a quarter of a century —A fair and equitable population policy.

Recent initiatives on population issues have focused on methods to reduce population growth rates in developing nations, the locus of 90% of annual increases in population. While there is certainly a clear, immediate need to confront the specter of burgeoning numbers in such nations, there is an equally compelling rationale to place the spotlight on the population policies, or absence of such policies, in the third most populated nation in the world: the United States.

America has the highest rate of unplanned pregnancies in the industrialized world as well as the highest teenage pregnancy rate, with eight out of ten of these pregnancies unplanned. The current annual population growth rate of 1.1% in the United States is 10 times as fast as the growth rate of an average developed country and the highest in the developed world. More specifically, the United States is growing three times as fast as France and Japan, five times faster than the United Kingdom, 11 times as fast as Italy, Spain or Austria, and actually greater than in some developing countries, including South Korea, Barbados, Uruguay, Cyprus, and Slovenia.

If the United States continues to grow at its current rate, its population will double to about 520 million within the next 60 years and could grow to nearly 1 billion by the end of the 21st century. These facts are particularly troubling in the light of work by several investigators who report that the U.S. has already exceeded its long term sustainable carrying capacity, assuming that a quality standard of living is to be maintained and critical ecosystems preserved for future generations.

In particular, a growing population reduces choices and the freedom of individuals. With increasing numbers of people in the U.S. we will have less freedom from disease – during approximately a decade, deaths from infectious diseases in the U.S. have increased 58%. In addition, with growing numbers of people we will have less freedom of food choice and recreation, less freedom from air and water pollution, less freedom to choose jobs and where we can live, less freedom from poverty, and less freedom from urban stress in the form of wilderness and other natural places of solitude.

Globally, each additional American has a disproportionate impact on the world’s environment because our incredibly profligate levels of resource extraction, pollution, and waste production. Seven industrial countries account for 45% of greenhouse gas emissions, with United States per capita emissions five times greater than the per capita average of the world. Put another way, population growth in the United States has an impact on global warming about equal to China’s and India’s combined, and two and a half times greater than all the nations on the African continent. As authors Lindsey Grant and Leon Bouvier recently concluded: "The United States, because of its size and consumption habits, is the most destabilizing entity within Earth’s fragile ecosystem."

Despite the fact that population growth in the U.S. has serious domestic and international ramifications, there is very little discussion of this issue in this country. Recent research indicates that there is a serious lack of knowledge among citizens of the United States about population issues, and an even sketchier comprehension of the link between population growth and environmental degradation. Yet, according to a February 1996 Roper Poll, the majority of Americans want to see U.S. population levels no greater, or smaller, than today’s. We feel these facts speak strongly for the need for a U.S. Population Project of the nature we are proposing. Unless we reassess our rate of growth and patterns of development, our children, and future generations in this nation, face the specter of a degraded environment, reduced freedom from disease and poverty, less freedom in their choices of food and recreation, and a declining standard of living.

Project Overview

The ramifications of continued population growth in the United States provide a powerful profound need for developing and implementing a national coherent and fair population policy. In an effort to stimulate such an initiative, we propose a project that focuses on U.S. population issues, including formulation of a plan to establish and implement a U.S. population policy in this nation characterized by fairness and equity. These recommendations would be drawn in part from the 1970 Commission on Population Growth and the American Future (Rockefeller Commission), the 1992 United Nations Convention on Environment & Development (Rio Conference), the 1994 Programme of Action of the International Conference and Population and Development (Cairo Conference) and the 1995 recommendations of the President’s Commission on Sustainable Development.


Home ] Up ]

Please send mail to webmaster@mnforsustain.org with questions or comments about this web site. Minnesotans For Sustainability (MFS) is not affiliated with any government body, private, or corporate entity. Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2004 Minnesotans For Sustainability