For many of us born after World War II, the idea that America depends on its citizens to procreate in order to maintain its status as a world power seems a bit archaic. Sure, we recognize that somebody has to do it, but propagation is hardly seen as the patriotic obligation it once was. If you grew up during the Reagan/Bush years, for example, memories of massive unemployment scares might logically eclipse fears of a waning population too small to fill the jobs that make society function. But dwindling population levels have actually been a major threat to American dominance in the global marketplace, at least according to an article in the Washington Post. So it is with a palpable sense of relief that the Post reports that, for the first time since 1971, the United States has reached a fertility rate above the coveted population replacement milestone, a level where the number of children reaching adolescence is equal to the death rate. This is pretty good news for the country, the article suggests.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian offers a decidedly different response to the news of U.S. population growth in a blog posting by Amanda Witherell. The world’s resources are already stretched dangerously thin sustaining our present population, Witherell points out. An increase in population—particularly in an über-consumerist society like ours, where the increase would have an exponentially more drastic environmental impact than in a developing nation—would be unconscionable.
According to the Post article, “the ‘replacement rate’ is generally considered desirable by demographers and sociologists because it means a country is producing enough young people to replace and support aging workers....” This positive perception of the replacement rate, of course, presumes that our present population is ideal and, consequently, that changes in the size of our population and necessary workforce are unfavorable alternatives to some other, yet-to-be-discovered solution to our environmental problems. Witherell points out in another article that limiting the population is an obvious step toward corralling carbon emissions and the burden we put on natural resources. Too obvious a step, apparently. This preference for an abstract, or even nonexistent, solution reminds us that, at least in America, the simple answer is hardly ever the right answer. Better to offer our children a shot at the great legacy of solving global warming. They’ll thank us, I’m sure. Every single, last one of them.