Periodically we focus on U.S. issues. Why? The United States is the third most populous nation in the world, behind China and India. And because Americans are the world’s super consumers, our ecological footprint is larger than that of any other nation.
U.S. population continues to grow rapidly, by approximately 3 million people per year. Indeed, the U.S. annual growth rate (0.96%) is much closer to that of developing countries such as Morocco, Vietnam and Indonesia (all at 1.07%) than to other developed nations such as Denmark (0.25%), Taiwan (0.19%) and Belgium (0.07%). The main difference is that population growth in the developing world is driven by high fertility rates, while population growth in the United States and the rest of the developed world is mostly driven by immigration—and the relatively higher fertility rate of immigrants.
U.S. consumption of natural resources has not abated either. The U.S. ranks highest in most consumer categories, even among industrialized nations. American fossil fuel consumption is double that of the average resident of Great Britain, and two and a half times that of the average Japanese. The continuing surge in numbers of Americans offsets individual efficiencies or reductions. For example, even if the average American eats 20% less meat in 2050 than is 2000, total U.S. meat consumption will be 5 million tons greater in 2050 due to population growth.* In a nutshell, our Ecological Footprint is twice that of Western European nations, and they have a high quality of life!
For the good of the planet and for the good of human civilization, the U.S.—along with all nations—should stabilize population as rapidly as possible.
Immigration is not our favorite subject, largely because almost every discussion of immigration becomes emotional, and sheds more heat than light on the subject. We have tried very hard to find articles that present facts, not feelings (although we have included some examples of ‘feeling’ articles to show the difference). As Herman Daly wisely observed, “Immigrants are people, and deserve to be well treated; immigration is a policy, and deserves rational discussion.” Don’t miss his article on page xx.
We are continuing our series on happiness and sustainable living with a look at the work of the City of Santa Monica’s sustainability program. For those of you who have requested more good news, this is an excellent example of creative thinking and positive action.
In the midst of mass shootings, bombings, and other tragic events, the United Nations declared, with almost no news coverage, the first ever International Day of Happiness (March 20, 2013). This signifies recognition of the relevance of happiness and wellbeing as universal goals in people’s lives, and acknowledgement of the importance of these goals in public policy objectives.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared, “People around the world aspire to lead happy and fulfilling lives free from fear and want, and in harmony with nature.” There are three essential facets to happiness or wellbeing: personal, community and planetary—and all three are interconnected. We think wellbeing should be embedded in the concept of sustainable communities, as part of a global movement away from our addiction to growth.
Wellbeing supports building physical, emotional and psychological resources for genuine “wealth”. Each of us can take responsibility for contributing to ourselves, our families, friends, communities and world, rather than relying on institutions or governments to provide ‘happiness’. Good health both faciltates and results from greater happiness, but there are subtle differences between wellbeing and happiness. Happiness is often understood as a temporary emotional state, while wellbeing encompasses a longer-term sense of peace and prosperity in our lives.
Our ultimate vision is of a world in which everyone’s genuine needs are met within the limits of the planet’s resources and carrying capacity. Wellbeing for people and ecosystems will become the central measure of progress in any society interested in living sustainably.
As Mr. Ban said. “On this first International Day of Happiness, let us reinforce our commitment to inclusive and sustainable human development and renew our pledge to help others…. When we contribute to the common good, we ourselves are enriched. Compassion promotes happiness and will help build the future we want.”
*data from Worldwatch Institute
Marilyn Hempel is the editor of the Population Press.