On Earth Day, Time to Get Serious about Population Growth

Published on April 13th, 2016

By Joe Guzzardi
April 19, 2016
One of the greatest misconceptions about California is that population growth is finally slowing, and that therefore environmentalists should put aside their decades-long worries about the harmful effect of too many people on the state’s natural balance.
On Earth Day, let’s correct the fallacy that California’s overpopulation is a thing of the past. The most commonly cited statistics nay-sayers point to are that for the 11th straight year, California’s population growth increased by less than one percent, birth rates are down from their peak during the early 1990s , and net domestic and international migration have declined.
But a more probing analysis shows that even though on the surface California may appear to have come to grips with its population crisis, the worst is yet to come. To begin with slow growth or, as some call it, smart growth is hardly the way to describe California’s mounting population. Since 1950 when the state’s population was ten million, growth has nearly quadrupled to today’s 39 million and will, according to the California Department of Finance, exceed 50 million by 2050. The seemingly inconsequential .85 percent annual growth, the current rate, will translate to a doubling of California’s population within the next 80 years.
Even pro-growth Governor Jerry Brown is concerned. Addressing the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California Board last year, Brown asked “how many people can we accommodate?” Brown was referring to California’s record drought and wondering, with due cause, how the state will deliver water to 50 million residents when it can barely provide it to 39 million.
David Zetland, a water expert and author of “Living with Water Scarcity” said that the entire culture of the Southwest is based on building more houses, more subdivisions, and more oases in the desert.” Zetland added “that’s how politicians get re-elected, how cities collect tax revenue. It’s the way people in the Southwest have profited, politically and economically, for generations — by living off of water that comes from far away.”
What’s become abundantly clear, however, is the reluctance of state officials, builders and most journalists to acknowledge that California’s relentless growth over the last half-century is unsustainable. Those who count on conservation to save California in the face of more population, and for that matter, protect the rest of the Southwest, are whistling past the graveyard.
A 2012 U.S. Bureau of Reclamation report included ominous projections. By 2060, it said, water demand in the Colorado River Basin states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and California is likely to outstrip supply by more than 10 times what Las Vegas alone uses each year. Forecasts predict ever-more people, and less water. Based on Census Bureau data, Basin states’ population is projected to nearly double from about 40 million in 2015 to 76.5 million by 2060.
While some critics describe a zero-population growth goal as unrealistic or even silly, all agree that stable population would help California’s water management.  Zetland insists that the state’s economy would not collapse without growth, but would instead adopt to changing lifestyles that depend less on water. That means fewer lawns and golf courses, both non-essential, and more consumption of fruits and vegetables that require less water to grow. Said Zetland: “The sky won’t fall.”
One thing is clear. Adding people into already overcrowded California worsens existing problems like urban sprawl and water shortages. Prudent immigration and sensible family planning policies are essential. No intelligent person can believe in indefinite growth on a finite plant.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]

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