Population Bomb, American Style

Why the United States is the world's most overpopulated country

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Ever since Paul Erlich wrote The Population Bomb almost thirty years ago, most Americans' mental image of overpopulation includes hot, Southern Hemisphere countries and swarms of people with dark skin. Well guess what? It turns out that the United States is the most overpopulated country on the globe.

According to a Worldwatch Institute report quoted in a article put out by Zero Population Growth, 'An economy's total burden on an ecological system that undergirds it is a function of three variables: the size of the population, average consumption, and the broad set of technologies -- everything from dinner plates to communications satellites -- the economy uses to provide goods and services.' Employing this equation, the United States has the dubious distinction of being the most overpopulated country in the world.

So given our hoggish ways, what can Americans do to ease our contribution to the population problem? First, as an article by Erlich and his collaborators Anne Erlich and Gretchen Daily in a 1995 issue of Mother Jones points out, we need to stop the finger pointing: 'Those who promote population policies for poor nations should also press for them in rich nations, where each person accounts for so much more environmental damage and resource depletion.' They argue that increasing socio-economic equity at all levels -- between the sexes and among families, social classes and regions, and nations -- has the greatest potential for improving the human condition. ZPG also gives practical guidelines for limiting our consumption, which include using public transportation whenever possible, recycling, and never having more than two children.

Not that any of this will be easy, especially given a political climate that seems to think that population control means closing our borders instead of allowing people to voluntarily limit the size of their families through easy access to abortions and birth control. But until Americans start to look at our part in the population explosion, all the hand wringing about other people's actions won't do any good.

Original to Utne Reader Online