Bigger and Faster Does Not Mean Better

Screen shot 2015-02-03 at 10.22.01 AMWe are increasingly pummeled with claims that the economy has regained its health and jobs have increased and rosy days for Americans are ahead if we continue to pursue economic expansionist measures. That was a theme of the State of the Union Address. Another claim of American exceptionalism, “America on the way up,” appeared in the February 1 issue of The Washington Post. The writers, Gen. David Petraeus (USA Ret.) and  Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute, asserted that, “Short-term economic trends in the United States are encouraging.”

Among the indicators they point to for their upbeat assessment was, “The United States is now the world’s largest producer of both oil liquids and natural gas…” It is important reading these claims to keep in mind that the comment is about the “short-term.” That reservation is important because in the long-term petroleum and natural gas deposits are finite. That means that the faster that they are extracted and consumed the sooner that they will no longer be available. It is difficult to imagine a post-petroleum economy, but at present there is no prospect for maintaining a highly energy-dependent economy like ours without petroleum products.

One irrefutable line from President Obama’s SOTU address was that we need to “protect the one planet we’ve got.” That line expresses recognition of the need for near-term measures to achieve long-term sustainability.

But, both President Obama and the writers of the Post commentary ignore long-term impacts while focused on short-term effects. For example, both back “comprehensive immigration reform” even though that proposal includes a major increase in immigrant admissions which, in turn, means a faster rate of population growth. Petraeus and O’Hanlon state that, “America’s demographics are far and away the healthiest among the developed economies, as well as Russia, China and India, with a nice and steady 1 percent annual population growth rate.” If they focused on the long-term, they would note that a one-percent rate of growth means a doubling of the population in 70 years. Doubling the population means vastly increasing consumption of natural resources. Immigration is already the source of the majority of U.S. population increase, and adding millions to our already historic high level of immigration is sure to speed up the rate of population growth.

If the American people are going to hold policymakers responsible for sustainable immigration policies that are needed to help protect future generations in this piece of the planet that we are responsible for, it is important that we speak up when we hear advocacy of short-term proposals that are harmful in the long-term.

About Author


Jack, who joined FAIR’s National Board of Advisors in 2017, is a retired U.S. diplomat with consular experience. He has testified before the U.S. Congress, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and has authored studies of immigration issues. His national and international print, TV, and talk radio experience is extensive (including in Spanish).


  1. avatar

    No One Wants to Admit It

    But overpopulation energy via fracking does pollute drinking water and does cause earthquakes too.

    The Saudis with $50+ Oil [it went up today] may likely have done America an environmental favor by keeping low cost oil production high. America now has a threat to OPEC, raise your price and we’ll off shore and frack again.

  2. avatar

    Study: ‘Shocking’ Water Loss in Western U.S.

    Satellites show groundwater supply at greater risk than previously thought
    July 2014

    The drought-stricken Colorado River Basin has experienced rapid and significant groundwater depletion since late 2004, posing a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought, according to a new study by NASA and University of California, Irvine.

    The research team used data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to track changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin, which is the water source for more than 30 million people and 4 million acres of farmland. The satellites showed the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (about 17 trillion gallons) of freshwater between 2004-2013 — almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead, which itself recently fell to its lowest level since the 1930s. More than three-quarters of the total water loss in the Colorado River Basin was from groundwater. The basin has been experiencing the driest 14-year period in the last 100 years.

    “We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” said Stephanie Castle, a water resources specialist at the UC-Irvine and lead author of the study. “This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”

    ….But the NASA/Irvine study, which measured gravitational attraction as a way to assess rising and falling water levels, reveals that a crucial water source for seven basin states and Mexico has been compromised. The study also indicates that declines in the snowpack that feeds the river and population growth could further compound the problem.

    ….”The Colorado River Basin is the water lifeline of the western United States,” said senior author Jay Famiglietti.

    ….In a blog for Science, Eric Hand writes:

    The groundwater losses, which take thousands of years to be recharged naturally, point to the unsustainability of exploding population centers and water-intensive agriculture in the basin, which includes most of Arizona and parts of Colorado, California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

  3. avatar

    San Francisco got no recorded rainfall in January for the first time in it’s history of record keeping going back a century and a half. In a state that is running out of water. Wells have virtually run dry in some towns. How is any of this “healthy”? This is a pattern repeated through much of the southwest and parts of the midwest. Historic mega-droughts covering decades are a proven fact according to scientific research. Exactly how does doubling population do anything but exacerbate the problem?

    This idea that population growth is healthy in and of itself is false and dangerous. The authors of the Post commentary apparently buy into the assertion that “growth in GDP” is always positive. It’s not when it’s mostly based on population growth.

    Which is the case with India and China. Both countries have a small wealthy class but the majority of the people live in poverty. The important guidepost is GDP “per capita”, meaning per person. And the figures per person for those two countries are dismal. Especially India, which is very near the bottom of the couple hundred nations of the world. The so called “India miracle” of high GDP growth is no great deal for the hundreds of millions who live in vast slums without clean water.

    • avatar

      I am always amazed when I hear Americans with at least a middle class standard of living talk about how global overpopulation is not a problem and than dismiss what Ehrlich had to say as completely wrong. This is easy to say as an American with a middle class standard of living. Try surviving as an average person in India or China for about one week and then get back to me and explain why these countries having a population of over one billion people is wonderful. Also tell me why we want the population of the US to eventually reach a billion people which is what it eventually will be if our current insane policy of mass illegal/legal immigration is not ended.

      • avatar

        Remember those pictures from China a couple months back where the air in Beijing was so polluted people had to wear masks and foreign embassies were telling their people not to go outside if possible? Yeah, that’s a goal to shoot for.