Occasionally you have to demolish the arguments of people whom you agree with andÂ this is one of those occasions. Californians for Population Stabilization is a good group, calling for control of the border andÂ controls and limits on immigration. Sensible, especially if you live in California and want a good future for your children and grandchildren.
There are plenty of good arguments against uncontrolled immigration, among them crime statistics, hospital closings, identity theft, tax losses, wage suppression, the cost of bilingual education, strain on social support infrastructures, and diminishing opportunities for native-born US citizens.
However in their latest press release CAPS sets up one of the left’s favorite strawmen and uses it to further their cause. This isn’t something anti-immigration proponents should be doing, no matter how sexyÂ the argument might beÂ toÂ left-coast environmental wackos.
Here’s the pertinent part of the release, (emphasis is mine:)
The following is an op- ed by Kenneth Pasternack of Californians for Population Stabilization:
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over syndicated columns that say the U.S. can just keep growing after reaching 300 million people.
One can easily see that America has grown past sustainability and must reduce the population. Just think about the supply of farmland. During the 19th Century the population grew from 5 million in 1800 all the way to 75 million in 1900. Farmland increased to match because newcomers brought wild land into cultivation. By contrast, now that the nation is fully settled farmland must be sacrificed to house new people. Each year the U.S. must feed 3 million more mouths with 1 million acres less farmland.
Here on the Central Coast fisheries disappear because too many fishermen try to make a living feeding too many people. Fish are harvested faster than they can reproduce.
With 300 million people America lives off its environmental capital, obliterating what should be renewable resources. The nation cannot sustain itself permanently by sacrificing vital sources of food.
This specious stalking horse argument was first put forth by Jeremy Rifkin in his book “The Population Bomb”, and in “Limits to Growth” by the Club of Rome, both of which have been so seriously debunked it’s really not necessary here again. (Previous article, or see “A Step Further Out” by Jerry Pournelle, or Julian Simon’s book, “The Ultimate Resource.”)
Instead, let’s examineÂ the ideas empahsized in the quote above
One can easily see that America has grown past sustainability and must reduce the population.
When you have to use modifiers like “one can easily see” in front of “must” statements, you know there’s no basis in fact or only weak evidence at best. It’s not easily seen if you take energy and ingenuity into account, which both Rifkin and The Club of Rome (in)famously failed to do. This type of “we are doomed” hand-wringing isn’t good for our children and it impedes real progress. Neo-luddites love it when their philosophy is used to bolster arguments but the only real limits to growth are the ones we choose to set.
Given cheap, plentiful energy all things in America are possible. Since nuclear power could be had cheap and there’s enough fuel to last thousands of years into our future, I’m not worried about sustainability. However, if we don’t modernize reactor design, if we don’t create fuel waste storage, if we don’t start building new reactors we will become the third world of next century. There are many who will oppose modernization, those who would steal the lighting from your children — please don’t let them.
From the Caps press release:
During the 19th Century the population grew from 5 million in 1800 all the way to 75 million in 1900. Farmland increased to match because newcomers brought wild land into cultivation. By contrast, now that the nation is fully settled farmland must be sacrificed to house new people. Each year the U.S. must feed 3 million more mouths with 1 million acres less farmland.
There isn’t a problem with farmland, there are vast tracts of land around farming ghost towns in Kansas, and in many other midwest statesÂ very suitable for farming. Farmland increased during the period quoted because agronomy was a major component of the American econonomy of the time. We moved from agrarian to industrial, and haven’t looked back since. Farmers increased both the size and the efficiency of their farms as farming became industrialized in turn. As farms increase in efficiencies due to high-energy modern agribusiness, less land is needed for farming. We are still a net exporter of food, and those exports continue to grow.
The marginal farms abandoned are now going back to wooded acres more often than they are going back to urban or suburban, no matter what the view might seem like on the left coast. It’s easy to raise those concerns in California because most of the population seems crowded, living as it does on a narrow strip along the coast. If you travel inland there are large areas of wilderness, millions of acres of farmland, and the northeast corner of the state is easily classifiable as pure wilderness.
Here’s a chart that illustrates not only how farmland is receding naturally, but also that woodlands have achieved equilibrium. This chart shows forested acres in the US, from the US Forest Service:
If the proposition CAPS states were true, you wouldn’t see forested land in equilibrium the last eighty years, you would see it shrinking as farmers cleared to compensate for urbanized farmland.
I don’t agree with winning adherents to the cause with false arguments, it’s dishonest and can be destructive in other areas. We must stop feeding false nihilism even if it might aid our cause. The future is bright with promise, not dark with doom. Let’s not resort to winning arguments with false crisis, nor should we useÂ foolish computerized trend extrapolations ala global warming or limits to growth.