Chapter 3


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 children.

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. population.

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 prices right."

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 United States.

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 other.

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 United States.

Table of Contents | Chapter 4: Goals and Policy Recommendations

Population and Consumption

Population and Consumption: Endnotes


Executive Summary


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

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