Population and consumption are two sides of the same coin. Addressing one without the other is futile.
I founded Alternatives to Growth Oregon (archived website) address the root causes of most environmental, social and economic problems facing the world: population and consumption. Thoreau said: "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." Most problems wouldn't be problems or would certainly be solvable problems if human population and consumption were at sustainable levels.
Alternatives to Growth Oregon failed as an organization. The reasons are many and the fault is primarily mine. I did not commit enough time to it and I let the organization drift as it sought to engage the already engaged. Rather AGO should have sought to engaged that large portion of the body politic that is not engaged in social change, but nonetheless suffers in a myriad of ways from the consequences of growth (environmental degradation, higher taxes, lower wages, crowded classrooms and streets, et al.).
While with Alternatives to Growth Oregon, I often gave two major speeches:
• "Endless Growth or the End of Growth?" was my stock speech on the subject.
• "25 Actions to End Growth in Oregon" includes specifics ideas on how to do it.
A matter that often comes up in debate about land use regulation is that of takings. Here's a talk I gave on the subject at the McGeorge School of Law.
"It's Time to Question Growth" is a column from the Wallowa County Chieftain.
"The Human Footprint" is also a column that appeared in the Wallowa County Chieftain.
"ONRC's executive director outlines 100-year Plan for State" was an excerpt of a 1994 speech published in The Oregonian. The entire speech, which was given at the Oregon Natural Resources Council Conference, is here.
"Wasting Away in LaBendmondville" appeared The Source and is about growth in Central Oregon, a place that I've never lived, but which is increasingly difficult to pass through.
"Ashford, Medland or Something Else" appeared in the Ashland Daily Tidings.
"Growth Not Good for Most Oregonians" appeared in Oregon Futures.
"As Population Rises, Civility Declines" argues that as Oregon grows in population, it is losing its small-town friendliness. Rudeness is a rational response to cope with overcrowding.
"Dirty Air: It's Everyone's Problem" appeared in the Ashland Daily Tidings and explains how per capita reductions in air pollution will not result in cleaner air as long as population is increasing.
"The Best Laid Plans" was published in 1981 and is my first published call about the need to end growth in Oregon.
"Crossroads Approaching for Oregon" was an opinion piece in The Oregonian about the need to end growth in 1983.
1000 Friends of Oregon is the premier statewide organization advocating for the management of growth.
Center for a New American Dream has a motto of "more fun, less stuff."
Sightline Institute is a fine think tank on environmental and sustainability issues and has several great publications.
Alternatives to Growth Oregon was a great website (archive edition).
It is not good for a man to be kept perforce at all times in the presence of his species.... Nor is there much satisfaction in contemplating the world with nothing left to the spontaneous activity of nature; with every rood of land brought into cultivation, which is capable of growing food for human beings; every flowery waste or natural pasturage plowed up, all quadrupeds or birds which are not domesticated for man's use exterminated as his rivals for food, every hedgerow or superfluous tree rooted out, and scarcely a place left where a wild shrub or flower could growth without being eradicated as a weed in the name of improved agriculture. If the earth must lose that great portion of its pleasantness which it owes to things that the unlimited increase of wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger, but not a happier or better population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will be content to be stationary, long before necessity compels them to it.
John Stuart Mill
Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess. What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution but universal consciousness of the gravity f the problem and education of the billions who are its victim.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can pay for the clothes, car and the house that you leave empty all day in order to afford to live in it.
Ellen Goodman, as quoted in All Consuming Passion: Waking up from the American Dream (page 2, 3rd ed. 1998, New Road Map Foundation and Northwest Environment Watch (both Seattle).
Sagebrush subdivisions, coastal condomania, and the ravenous rampage of suburbia in the Willamette Valley all threaten to mock Oregon's status as the environmental model for the nation.
Tom McCall, Governor of Oregon (1973)
It's a step toward precision and sustainability to say growth when you mean increase in physical size, and development when you mean, as the dictionary says, "to realize the potentialities of, or bring to a fuller, greater and better state." Development means to get better; growth mean to get bigger.
Human beings now use or co-opt some 40 percent of the food available to all land animals and about 45 percent of the available freshwater flows.
Anne and Paul Eherlich, Betrayal of Science and Reason (1996, pg. 14)
At what point do we question the whole notion of creating wealth for the sake of having dollars and give that more value than creating community?
Sen. Avel Gordly, quoted in The Oregonian (Dec. 16, 1998))
Suppose you own a pond on which a water lily is growing. The lily plant doubles in size each day. If the lily were allowed to grow unchecked, it would completely cover the pond in 30 days, choking off the other forms of life in the water. For a long time the lily plant seems small, and so you decide not to worry about cutting it back until it covers half the point. On what day will that be? On the 29th day, of course. You have one day to save the pond.
Meadows, Donnella, et al., Limits to Growth (2nd Ed., 1972-74)
There is room in the world, no doubt, and even in the old countries for a great increase of population, supposing the arts of life to go on improving, and capital to increase. But even if innocuous, I confess I see very little reason for desiring it. The density of population necessary to enable mankind to maintain, in the greatest degree, all the advantages both of co-operation and of social intercourse, has, in all the most populous countries, been attained.
A population may be too crowded, though all be amply supplied with food and raiment. It is not good for man to be kept perforce at all times in the presence of his species. A world from which solitude is extirpated, is a very poor ideal. Solitude, in the sense of being often alone, is essential to any depth of meditation or of character; and solitude in the presence of natural beauty and grandeur is the cradle of thoughts and aspirations which are not only good for the individual, but which society could ill do without. Nor is their much satisfaction in contemplating the world with nothing left to the spontaneous activity of nature; with every rood of land brought into cultivation, which is capable of growing food for human beings; every flowery waste or natural pasture plowed up, all quadrupeds or birds which are not domesticated for man's use exterminated as his rivals for food, every hedgerow or superfluous tree rooted out, and scarcely a place left where a wild shrub or flower could grow without being eradicated as a weed in the name of improved agriculture.
If the earth must lose that great proportion of its pleasantness which it owes to things that the unlimited increase of wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger, but not a better or a happier population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will be content to be stationary, long before necessity compels them to it.
It is scarcely necessary to remark that a stationary condition of capital and population implies not stationary state of human improvement. There would be as much scope as ever for all kinds of mental culture, and moral and social progress; as much room for improving the Art of Living, and much more likelihood of its being improved, when minds ceased to be engrossed by the Art of Getting On. Even the industrial arts might be cultivated, that instead of serving no purpose but the increase of wealth, industrial improvements would produce their legitimate effect, that of abridging labor.
Hitherto it is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day's toil of any human being. They have enabled an increased number of manufacturers to make fortunes. They have increased the comforts of the middle classes. But they have not yet begun to effect those great changes in human destiny, which it is in their nature and in their futurity to accomplish. Only when, in addition to just institutions, mankind shall be under the deliberate guidance of judicious foresight, can the conquests made by the intellect and energy of scientific discovers become the means of improving and elevating the universal lot.
John Stuart Mill, "Of the Stationary State" (Chapter 6) in Principles of Political Economy (Chapter 6) Books IV and V, pp. 116-117. New York: Penguin Books, (reprint of 1848 edition). [In 1848, the human population of the Earth was one billion.]
Moyers: What happens to the idea of the dignity of the human species if population growth continues at its present rate?
Asimov: It will be completely destroyed. I will use what I call my bathroom metaphor. Two people live in an apartment and their are two bathrooms, then both have the freedom of the bathroom. You can go to the bathroom anytime you want, and stay as long as you want, for whatever you need. Everyone believes in the freedom of the bathroom. It should be right there in the Constitution. But if you have 20 people in the apartment and two bathrooms, no matter how much every person believes in the freedom of the bathroom, there is no such thing. You have to set up times for each person, you have to bang at the door, "Aren't you through yet?" and so on.
The same way democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. It doesn't matter if someone dies. The more people there are the less one individual matters.
Issac Asimov, quoted in A World of Ideas by Bill Moyers (1989)
Where do we want to live? Remarkably, Perspective editors found America's ideal place to live has changed little over the past 60 years. A Gallup survey in 1937 found that 58 percent of those interviewed said they wanted to live on a farm (30 percent) or small town (28 percent). In a Gallup survey conducted last November, just as many--60 percent--expressed similar preferences, with 24% of those questioned saying that farm living was the life for them and 36 percent preferring small-town life.
Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 3/8/98
The ecologically destructive path we are on is as if all of humanity is in a giant car heading at a brick wall at 100 miles per hour and everyone in it is arguing about where to sit. There are a few screaming to put on the brakes and turn the wheel, but they are locked in the trunk.