U. S. Population Passes 300 Million
November - December 2006
Volume and Number:
Volume 6, Number 6
Information and Action Addressing Public Policy
for an Ecologically Sustainable World
Volume 6, Number 6
U. S. Population Passes 300 Million
Judy Lumb and Barbara Day
Sometime in October of 2006 the U.S. population passed
300 million. In the ﬁrst U.S. census of 1790, the population of
the new country was counted as 3.9 million. In 1915 the U.S.
population passed the 100 million mark and in 1967 it passed 200
million.1 The U.S. population is projected to continue to grow at
a gradually decreasing rate for another two centuries, approaching
450 million by 2100, under the middle assumptions of fertility,
mortality, and migration—a 50 percent increase from the 300
million of today!2 (Fig.1)
The U.S. is adding three million persons every year, one person
every 11 seconds. California alone is adding 900 persons per day.
Approximately half of the increase is from the excess of births over
deaths and half is from immigration. This rapid growth is at great
cost to the health of the planet and to other species that share our
space. In fact, the human population of the U.S. is already using our
natural resources at a rate much higher than they can be regenerated
and ﬁve times that of the poorest countries on Earth. Because of
our over-consumption, additional persons in the U.S. have a much
greater impact upon Earth than those of other countries.
In this QEB we acknowledge this milestone of reaching 300
There is a growing consensus that population, poverty and
million people in the U.S. by expressing concern about our growing gender equality are intimately linked. “Women’s level of education
numbers and the impact our lifestyle has on the health of the plant. is the strongest single background predictor of population fertility
We ask, “Who are we?” and “What is our impact upon Earth?”
Friends’ Concerns about Population
Friends have always been commited to the equality of women.
Friends have been aware for some time that the rapid growth Thus, it is important that the most eﬀective mechanisms for reduc-
of the human population is one underlying cause of social injustice, tion of fertility and consequently reduction of poverty are:
wars, oppression, and environmental degradation. The Population
• Improvement in education for girls and women,
Concerns Committee of Quaker Earthcare Witness (QEW) has
• Readily available reproductive health services, and
published brochures on population, sexuality, abortion, adoption,
• Empowerment of women.8
and immigration,3 as well as a book of 23 essays on a variety of
population issues.4 Recognizing that the problems of over-popula-
Who Are We?
tion and over-consumption in the U.S. are both contributors to Immigrants
environmental degradation, the Population Concerns Committee
We are all immigrants or descended from immigrants. The
has been folded into the Sustainability: Faith and Action Com- ﬁrst humans in the area now known as the United States came
mittee of QEW.
across the Bering Strait during the last big Ice Age when much of
The ﬁrst Quaker Eco-Bulletin (QEB) focused on
population control and public policy.5 Other QEBs have
Table 1. U.S. Population Ethnic Diversity in 2000
focused on emergency contraception and abortion,6 and
on population expansion, resource usage, immigration,
and the challenges of an aging population.7
Friends have protested public policies that under-
mine family planning. “In his ﬁrst day in oﬃce, President
Bush reinstated the U.S. policy that prohibits use of any
U.S. foreign assistance monies to any family planning
organization that counsels women about the option of
abortion.… But cutting oﬀ funds for contraception will
lead to more abortions, not fewer.”5
Earth’s water was frozen in glaciers so the sea level was low enough for a land bridge
to emerge. Archeologists have determined that human migrations into this area began
Quaker Eco-Bulletin (QEB) is pub-
approximately 12,000 years ago. Native Americans descended from those ﬁrst settlers
lished bi-monthly by Quaker Earthcare
now make up approximately 1.2 percent of the total population with the highest poverty
Witness (formerly FCUN) as an insert
in BeFriending Creation.
rate (26 percent).8 Hawaii was ﬁrst settled by Polynesian immigrants approximately
1,700 years ago. The ﬁrst Eurpoean immigrants joined the Native Americans in 1598
The vision of Quaker Earthcare Wit-
when Spanish colonists began to settle in what is now New Mexico. Two decades later
ness (QEW) includes integrating into
immigrants ﬂeeing religious intolerance in northern Europe began coming to the east
the beliefs and practices of the Society
coast of the U.S. Some of them brought people of African descent as slaves. Immigrants
of Friends the Truths that God’s Creation
have continued to arrive through the centuries, but large numbers came as a result of
is to be held in reverence in its own right,
conditions such as the potato famine in Ireland, religious and economic problems in
and that human aspirations for peace
and justice depend upon restoring the
Poland, and crop failures in Italy in the 19th and early 20th centuries.11 (Table 1)
Earth’s ecological integrity. As a mem-
In recent years deteriorating economic conditions and political oppression
ber organization of Friends Committee
throughout the world have brought more refugees and immigrants to the U.S. than
on National Legislation, QEW seeks to
to any other country—one-ﬁfth of all international migrants. Persons born elsewhere
strengthen Friends’ support for FCNL’s
amount to about 12 percent of the total U.S. population.12 But the U.S. is not alone.
witness in Washington DC for peace,
Australia, Belize, Canada, and Ireland actually have higher percentages of foreign-born
justice, and an Earth restored.
persons among their populations than the U.S. has.13
QEB’s purpose is to advance Friends’
witness on public and institutional poli-
The U.S. is the third most populous country in the world—behind China with 1.3
cies that affect the Earth’s capacity to
support life. QEB articles aim to inform
billion and India with more than one billion—and is also among the wealthiest. The U.S.
Friends about public and corporate poli-
has the fourth highest gross national income per capita ($37,610), after Luxembourg,
cies that have an impact on society’s
Norway, and Switzerland, but the distribution of income in the U.S. is more like that
relationship to Earth, and to provide
of a developing country. Studies of income distribution ranked the U.S. 71st in regard
analysis and critique of societal trends
to the percent share of income among the 40 percent lowest income households and
and institutions that threaten the health
62nd in regard to the percent share of income among the 20 percent highest income
of the planet.
households. All the other industrialized countries have much higher percentage shares
Friends are invited to contact us about
of income in the lowest 40 percent and lower percentages in the highest 20 percent,
writing an article for QEB. Submissions
that is, much fairer distributions of income.14
are subject to editing and should:
Both within the U.S., and between the U.S. and the poorer countries of the
• Explain why the issue is a
world, there is a large gap between those who have wealth, income, and resources,
the “haves,” and those who are lacking those same amenities, the “have-nots.” This
• Provide accurate, documented
accounts for the large immigration to the U.S. as the have-nots search for a better life.
background information that re-
ﬂects the complexity of the issue
Life is a great gift, but that gift is demeaned by both the stresses brought about by the
and is respectful toward other
increasing human population and the tremendously unfair distribution of resources,
points of view.
both nationally and internationally.
• Relate the issue to legislation or
• List what Friends can do.
• Provide references and sources
for additional information.
QEB Coordinator: Keith Helmuth
QEB Editorial Team: Judy Lumb,
Sandra Lewis, Barbara Day
To receive QEB:
Mail: write to address below
Projects of Quaker Earthcare Witness,
such as QEB, are funded by contribu-
tions to: Quaker Earthcare Witness
173-B N Prospect Street
Burlington VT 05401
Quaker Eco-Bulletin 6:6 • November-December 2006
What Is Our Impact upon Earth?
In the 1960s I believed that lowering human birthrates would be the
most diﬃcult task facing those who wished to achieve a sustainable
society—because having fewer children was basically going “against
biology.” In fact, lowering birthrates has proven easier than I expected,
and substantial (but not enough) progress has been made since then.
Reducing over-consumption has proven very much more diﬃcult.
Environmental Sustainability Index
The big question is whether the U.S. can sustain life as it
is today in the face of a rapidly increasing population. To assess
sustainability the Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) uses
76 data sets that measure natural resources available, pollution
levels, environmental management, and the capacity of a country
to improve its environmental management. The result is ESI,
an index of human well-being based upon quality of life and its
sustainability.16 (Fig. 2)
The U.S. has the highest gross domestic product per capita,
but an ESI that was well below most of the industialized countries.
The U.S. ranked 45th of the 146 countries studied. Indicators
showed that the U.S. had especially high levels of greenhouse gas
emissions, high levels of pollution, and high rates of conversion
of natural land. However, the U.S. track record for wilderness
preservation and investment in environmental management were
Ecological Footprint Analysis
Another method of analyzing sustainability is Ecological
Footprint (EF) analysis. A global hectare (2.47 acres) is deﬁned as a
hectare of average productivity to meet human needs (biocapacity).
The overall EF of the U.S. was 9.7 global hectares per person (ghp)
in 2002. Only the United Arab Emirates was higher. In contrast,
the average EF for the European Union countries was 4.7 ghp.
The average for middle income countries was 1.9 ghp and for low
income countries 0.8 ghp.17
EF analysis using 2002 data is represented in the ﬁgures (Figs.
3-6). The width of each bar is equivalent to the total population in
that group of countries. For example, the population of the African
continent is 810 million. The height of each bar is the EF per person,
and the area of each bar is the total amount of the footprint.
These ﬁgures tell the startling story of over-consumption in
the U.S. The U.S. footprint is twice that of the other industrialized
countries in most categories—in total footprint; food, timber and
ﬁber footprint; and energy usage. The U.S. water usage footprint is
three times that of all other countries, except those in the Middle
East and the U.S. uses nearly twice as much water per person as
those desert countries do. (Fig. 5)
The calculated available biocapacity on Earth is 1.8 ghp, but
the biocapacity used by the human population on Earth in 2002
was 2.2 ghp—about 20 percent more than we have. If everyone
on Earth lived like we do in the U.S., it would take ﬁve Earths to
The amount by which the EF exceeds the biocapacity of the
space available to that country is called the “ecological deﬁcit.” The
U.S. ecological deﬁcit is -4.9 ghp, the fourth highest in the world,
behind United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Cyprus. Even with all
Quaker Eco-Bulletin 6:6 • November-December 2006
4 Stan Becker, Louis Cox, and Lisa L. Gould, eds., 2000. Population
our resources, we are still living way beyond our biocapacity. The
Is People: A Friends Perspective. <quakerearthcare.org>
countries of the European Union are also living beyond their capac- 5 Stan Becker, Population. QEB 1:1 (May-June 2001).
ity, but their ecological deﬁcit is half that of the U.S (-2.4 ghp).
Richard Grossman, Emergency Contraception, Abortion,
and Population Stabilization. QEB 3:2 (March-April 2003).
One reason for U.S. over-consumption is our cars. The lifestyle
of the average family in U.S. is dependent upon the convenience 7 Roy Treadway, Population Issues and Challenges in the 21st Century.
of the private automobile. Most modern families in the U.S. can-
QEB 4:6 (November-December 2004). <quakerearthcare.org/
not function without a lot of driving. Families are spread all over,
which requires travel for visits. Children are involved in organized
United Nations Population Fund. World Population 2005: The
Promise of Equality: Gender Equity, Reproductive Health and the
sports, the arts, and other activities. One cannot get to all the soc-
Millennium Development Goals <unfpa.org>.
cer games and ballet lessons on time without a private automobile. 9 U.S. Census Bureau, 2003, P.10: Hispanic or Latino by Race (Total
Public transportation is either completely lacking or takes so long
Races Tallied), Census 2000 Summary File 1. Persons of more than
that it is not convenient. There are 237 million vehicles, which is
one race are included with each ethnic group, so that the total
0.81 vehicles per person in the U.S. On the highways 174 trillion
will be more than 100 percent. Persons who did not identify with
any ethnic group (0.6 percent) are not included.
gallons of gasoline are used per year. That is an average of 1,360 10 U.S. Census Bureau, 2003, P.159A-I: Poverty Status in 1999 by Age (Race
gallons per year for each vehicle.19
Alone) by Race and Hispanic Status, Census 2000 Summary File 3.
U.S. Lifestyle and Culture
Library of Congress Immigration Timeline <memory.loc.gov/learn/
Why does our use of Earth’s resources amount to as much as 12 U.S. Census Bureau,The Foreign-born Population in the United
double the rate of that used by other industrialized countries? A
States: March 2002, Current Population Reports, Populations
visit to Sweden provided some insight. “The contrast that struck
Characterists, p. 20-539, 2003.
us the most was Sweden’s world-class transportation system. Cars 13 International Migration and the Millenium Development Goals,
have a place, but the majority of Swedes get around on clean, quiet,
2005. United Nations Population Fund. <unfpa.org/publications>.
energy-eﬃcient rapid public transit.... Most Swedes don’t have to
Basic Indicators, The State of the World’s Children. UNICEF, 2005.
be sold on the idea of bicycles as serious transportation.... Bicycle
commuters have their own road systems, not mere ‘lanes’ squeezed
This response by Paul Ehrlich was in answer to the question
“What longtime belief have you changed your mind about?”
in as afterthoughts.”20
Reprinted by permission from Stanford Magazine (Jan-Feb 2006)
European countries have lived for centuries crowded into a
relatively small space. The European migration to the U.S. was
Esty, Daniel C., Marc Levy, Tanja Srebotnjak, and Alexander de
Sherbinin. 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index: Benchmarking
based upon the promise of space and abundance of natural re-
National Environmental Stewardship. New Haven: Yale Center for
sources—with no limits! Our culture has evolved with that frontier
Environmental Law and Policy, 2005.
mentality, which has resulted in urban sprawl. Residential areas of 17 Global Footprint Network: 2005 Edition. <footprintnetwork.org>.
cities in the U.S. have spread farther and farther into the countryside 18 Living Planet Report, World Wildlife Fund, 2004. <panda.org/
which eliminates more and more natural and farm lands.
19 Federal Highway Administration, Highway Statistics 2004. <fhwa.
Our consumption of Earth’s resources is way out of balance
with that of the rest of the world’s population and far exceeds the 20 Ruah Swennerfelt and Louis Cox, Getting around in ‘Sustainable
capacity of even our own natural resources. Our challenge is to
Sweden.’ BeFriending Creation 19:4 (July-August, 2006)
recognize that our over-consumption is a direct result of our cul-
ture. We must ﬁnd ways to change our culture so we can reduce
our impact upon Earth.
Because the impact upon Earth of additonal persons in the
U.S. is so much greater than that of other countries in the world,
What Friends Can Do
our increasing numbers are a serious problem. Reducing our impact
1) Educate yourself and others about population matters.
upon Earth requires us to work at both reducing our over-consump-
2) Support reproductive healthcare. Work for change in the
tion and stabilizing our population size.
U.S. policy toward support for national and international
family planning organizations.
The authors thank Stan Becker and Roy Treadway for their patient
and comprehensive reviews of this article.
3) Support organizations that empower women, both
nationally and internationally.
4) Calculate your ecological footprint and analyze the
1 U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Interim Projections by Age, Sex,
impact your family makes upon Earth.
Race, and Hispanic Origin , 2004. <www.census.gov/ipc/www/
usinterimproj> The ﬁgure of 3.9 million in 1790 was low because
5) Organize discussion groups in your Friends Meeting around
slaves and Native Americans, while enumerated in the census,
our population growth, our impact upon the Earth and the
were signiﬁcantly undercounted.
cultural changes that are needed to reduce them.
2 United Nations Population Division. World Population to 2300.
(Table A-11, p. 201) <www.un.org/esa/population/publications/
6) Write letters to the Editor and use other means to spread
the word about the rapid increase in our population and our
3 All these pamphlets are available for download at the Quaker
over-consumption, and the best ways to reduce them.
Earthcare Witness website <quakerearthcare.org>.