The transition to sustainability for the United States is a fundamental,
enormous change-but one that is required to avoid destroying the
economic, environmental, and social bases of
American lives and maintain a high quality of life. A complete treatment of the policies required
to initiate such a transition would have as many features as our lives have, and this treatment by
the Population and Consumption Task Force is necessarily incomplete. But the Task Force
believes that action in the two crucial areas of population and consumption will move the United
States significantly along the road to sustainability.
Population has for many years been a sensitive subject, if not altogether taboo. But the Task Force
finds that a common-sense approach can strike a significant blow for population stabilization,
without exhorting people to do something they do not wish to do.
Americans already want fewer children than they have. By meeting the needs of all Americans,
regardless of income, and by providing them the high-quality family planning and reproductive
health services they already want, fertility will fall and the United States will be closer to a stable
population than it is today.
If adolescents get the education and services they need, a decline can be expected in the life-stunting childbearing that too many teens now experience too early in their lives. Ameliorating the
conditions that give rise to poverty and powerlessness-particularly for women, adults, and
adolescents-also works powerfully to enable parents to choose the number and spacing of their
All these strategies work together to enable Americans to have the number of children they want
and contribute to population stabilization. At the same time, the Task Force asks the immigration
component of U.S. population growth to bear a fair share of the burden of stabilizing U.S.
The Task Force has, in general, looked to the ongoing work of the U.S. Commission on
Immigration Reform, which has been studying immigration issues longer and more completely
than the Task Force, in order to avoid duplication of effort. We join with the Commission in the
view that it is possible to moderate illegal immigration levels, particularly with development,
trade, and foreign policies that help to reverse the worldwide poverty, oppression, and environ-
mental degradation that force people from their homes and call for such policies.
The Task Force also recommends an examination of the causes and impacts of uneven population
distribution and of local growth in the United States.
Moving to sustainability in the United States also requires that Americans moderate the effect of
consumption of resources and production of wastes on the environment.
The Task Force believes that greater efficiency in all aspects of economic life is the first step. A
powerful strategy for encouraging efficiency in extraction, production, transport, consumption,
disposal, and all other aspects of resource use, is to "get the prices
right'--to rework economic
incentives so that the environmental costs of resource use and waste production are captured in
the price of goods and services. Restructuring taxes, using other economic instruments, and
eliminating environmentally harmful subsidies are some of the policies available for "getting the
Two related strategies are the adoption of "green" procurement policies by governments,
particularly the federal government, and laws that would place responsibility on manufacturers
and retailers for recycling, reusing, and composting packaging. Both would operate to send
signals to manufacturers that green products are preferred and would assist in the creation of
markets for recycled goods.
Individual actions are also capable of mitigating the environmental impact of resource use and
waste production. Educational programs of many kinds, from formal education through
special education for fiscal responsibility, community education, and education for
understanding of a stewardship ethic, can enable individuals to understand the implications of
their consumption choices and to adopt strategies for living more sustainably.
Labeling consumer goods to explain environmental impact, as nutritional labels now explain the
dietary effect of food products, is another powerful technique for enabling individuals to make a
difference to the environment. Strategies related to solid waste management and disposal of
household toxics, both relying on economic instruments, would enable individuals to do the right
thing with their daily trash.
A final recommendation would encourage development of the environmental technologies
necessary to achieve the efficiencies that sustainable U.S. consumption and production require.
The Population and Consumption Task Force had on its agenda nothing short of "everything
under the sun." We have attempted to focus on a constellation of recommendations that, if
followed, would make significant strides toward sustainability and a better quality of life in the
The Task Force sought to strike a balance between individual and government actions, between
action at the federal and local levels, between providing individuals information for making
sustainable decisions and creating conditions that make those decisions good sense, and between
actions that affect our numbers and actions that affect our resource use and waste production.
This was done in an effort to create a better balance between population and consumption on the
one hand, and the environment, economy, and society on which the country depends, on the
The Population and Consumption Task Force urges readers of this report to join in the
challenging task of striking this new balance and of creating a sustainable way of life in the
Chapter 4: Goals
and Policy Recommendations