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Standing room only

This week marked the annual World Population Day, so we at Need to Know hope it was a good one for all the 6,948,915,000 of you out there – and the approximately 266 of you who were born in the time it took to read this. This is a momentous year to be born.

Blueprint America

2011, after all, is the year demographers predict the world population will grow to seven billion people — just a little over two hundred years after hitting the 1 billion mark.

The United States is contributing its share; at 312 million people, this country is the fastest growing of the industrialized world and the globe’s third-most populous, behind India and China. Even though the U.S. rate of growth has slowed over the past decade, the Census Bureau predicts we’ll still reach 439 million by 2050.

Given the jumbo-sized reality show families, baby bumps on tabloid covers and headlines proclaiming “Four Kids is the New Two,” it’s hard to believe there was ever a time in our history when people worried about the size of their families and whether the world would have enough resources to support them.

But there was a moment when average Americans — Democrat and Republican alike — were engaged in a conversation about the “overpopulation problem” and what could be done about it. While the era didn’t last all that long, it’s still worth revisiting it today.

Watch the rest of the segments from this week’s episode.

  • Differing views on fracking's impact
    Studies conducted on the counties above the Marcellus and Barnett Shale for example — where extensive drilling has already taken place — present mixed economic results.
  • thumb
    Too much solar energy?
    The proliferation of privately owned solar has large power companies in Germany worried.
  • thumb
    Nominee has industry ties
    Energy secretary nominee had deep connections to industry, including as a paid adviser to BP until 2011.


  • Carpentrybypaul

    Where does the guy live—–wrote book about declining population———-where there isn’t any fucking going on—-or no one making babies?———me

  • justhinkin

    “As the world steadily marches toward record-breaking population figures … ”

    KUDOS for the report … so seldom heard now. I would point out, however, that I don’t understand that statement in your writing. Virtually every day (minus the rare catastrophe like a huge storm flood or tsunami) we march PAST record population figures.

  • Emel

    If people consumed less, we could address many of the concerns voiced by the advocates of “population control.” What good is it if Americans decide to have only one child if that one child out-consumes ten children in a developing country? Finally, how do we “control” the ever-growing population of seniors? That question should make baby-boomers squirm in their seats!

  • HopeForBetter

    It is a tragedy that the environmental groups sold out on the population issue.  Zero Population Growth even changed its name to Population Connection and is now mostly promotes healthcare.  The Sierra Club changed its population policy to “neutral” on the subject of population, birth control and immigration in order to be politically correct and continue to receive a $100M grant from David Geffen.  Reducing consumption is not going to get us to a sustainable population.  If one person reduces her consumption by 50%, but another person is added through birth or immigration, the net effect is a 25% increase in consumption.  And the world continues to be a more crowded place.  Remember this next time you are waiting in line for something or can’t get a reservation at a national or state park, or you have to reduce your water consumption when there was always plenty before.  Think of what could have been if Nixon had not buried that Presidential Commission report on population stabilization.

  • Maxkummerow

    Population matters. Impacts are more than linear and there are even thresholds beyond with population growth leads to crashes and permanent damage–like climate change and mass extinction. It’s a shame population stabilization got lost in all sorts of other arguments. Controlling population is like brushing teeth–something everybody should do because it makes for better outcomes.

  • Hikerprof

    No case was made for a steady-state economy. No real alternative to the increasing destruction of the environment  and ,of course, no mention of quality of life issues. When DOES population stabilize?
    What ARE the consequences of continued growth? Silence from PBS.

  • Fred Elbel

    The United States is the world’s highest-consuming nation. US per capita level of consumption is drastically magnified by our large population -  now over 311 million. Our booming population is growing as fast as many third-world countries. Indeed, since 1945 our population growth rate has rivaled that of India. 

    The good news is that American women voluntarily achieved replacement level fertility (2.1 children per woman) in 1972. Yet population momentum would still have driven our population to keep growing for several decades. Then population would have gradually tapered back to sustainable levels. This is because it takes a period of time equal to the average life expectancy (approximately three generations or 73 years in the U.S.) for a reduction in fertility to be realized as a reduction in actual population numbers.

    The bad news is that we are still operating under a government-mandated program of forced population growth: the United States takes in over one million legal immigrants into our country every year. This is more than all other countries combined – making the US is most generous immigration nation on the planet. In addition, we also take in close to 3 million illegal aliens each year who sneak into our country and evade apprehension at our border.

    That’s a lot of people in a high-consuming country which is already depleting the resources of other nations, let alone our own (oil is but one example).  Indeed, mass immigration is driving US population to double within the lifetimes of children born today.

    Sadly, even the so-called “environmental” groups sold out on the population issue.  In 2004, the Los Angeles Times revealed that David Gelbaum, a super rich donor, had demanded the Sierra Club abandon discussion of mass immigration in exchange for a $100 million donation, saying: “I did tell [Sierra Club Executive Director] Carl Pope in 1994 or 1995 that if they ever came out anti-immigration, they would never get a dollar from me” – . Negative Population Growth changed their name and also dropped immigration – the root cause of US population growth.

    We are now operating under a corporate sponsored mandate of “growth at any cost”.  May our children forgive us.

  • Geoff Dean

    Good show, as always.  But one caution, and one suggestion:  The caution:  don’t mix up reducing the rate of population increase with decreasing the population.  Just as with the federal deficit and the national debt, reducing the former doesn’t reduce the latter; it just means that it grows more slowly.  If we want to cut the debt, we have to make the deficit into a surplus; if we want to reduce our population (which, for the world as a whole, I think we must), we have to make the rate of population growth negative.  The suggestion:  as a parallel to following up on Paul Ehrlich’s work, follow up with Dennis Meadows and his colleagues on their work on Limits to Growth – and maybe on one of the best spin-offs from that study, the C-ROADS analysis of climate change that the UN is using (see

  • Geoff Dean

    Well, I think the immigration issue is irrelevant – whether people live in the US or India or Canada or Europe or Africa, they still live on Earth, and it’s earth’s resources that are being devoured.  The real issue is consumption levels.  And we know that, after a certain point, more consumption doesn’t bring more happiness – see The Spirit Level or The Equality Trust for research on that point.  So how can we cut back on our overconsumption, and spread the wealth of this planet around more fairly?

  • Wanda Gomez-Berger

    …: the Census Bureau predicts we’ll still reach 439 million by 2050″
    This from the outfit that woefully underestimated the past decade’s growth. See

    Absent stringent curbs in immigration we will be bloating toward one billion by century end – all the while singing that mindless refrain, “We are a nation of immigrants.”

  • Wanda Gomez-Berger

    “I think the immigration issue is irrelevant”…this is an oft repeated canard.

    Americans have no say in the population policy of “India or Canada or Europe or Africa”; we do have responsibility here. The U.S. should be a model for others – not a Petri dish for the overflow from countries refusing to restrain their population growth or a ‘lifeboat’ for their failure.

    A salient fact is that Mexican women emigrating to the U.S. are having MORE children than those remaining in Mexico.

  • Mallarde

    Even if we cannot achieve success halting world population growth, we owe it to our children and to all those that gave up their lives for this country to stop our own population explosion.  We do need to condemn our country to some sort of overpopulation martyrdom because we cannot make the rest of the world so wonderful that people no longer want to move here.  Why do we want to become like China or India?

    Even if world population stops, there are too many people that want to move here.  What is the point of destroying our quality of life and the quality of life for our descendants?  Even if consumption levels drop, we have too many people already.

  • Paul137

    David **Gelbaum** (not Geffen) was the source of the $100 million in hush money that induced the Sierra Club to shut up on immigration.

  • Anakushar_peace

    Myself and my children, when they were young, received medicaid and county health services.  When we went to doctors and the county hospital (Parkland), I felt like I was in Mexico!  Honestly, I would say close to 90% were Hispanic.  I think health care and social services should be reserved for citizens!  I do not discriminate and love all peoples, but that isn’t the issue!  The issue is you come here legally, learn the language, pay your fair share, like everyone else, and you are then an American and have protections and rights the same as any other citizen in this country.  We can not help anyone else until we fix ourselves…works on a societal level as well as individual.  I never knew we, as a country, allowed so many to immigrate here…1 million a year?!  Incredible, I agree that must be reduced.  As far as having too many children, which I think we are, fertility drugs should not exist!  If you can’t get pregnant, you can’t get pregnant…big deal!  Do you know how many children are out there who have no homes or families?!  Raise them!  Do we just ignore them, exclude them?  We must fix what’s broken before we can move forward.  I am completely baffled by the Republicans cutting funding for birth control and trying to make abortion illegal.  If you want to cut social services then why would you support bringing more children into this world by denying birth control and abortion?  Insanity!   ~PEACE~

  • Guest

    Paul Ehrlich was greatly mistaken in all of his predictions.  This wasn’t mentioned in any detail in the story.  I don’t think we will EVER get a balanced story from a PBS show when it involves any controversial issue in which liberals and conservatives differ.

  • Phyllis

    Population is the elephant in the room. People refuse to recognize we are on a sustainable path. I am afraid only a huge shortage of food or oil is going to  wake people up, but by then it will be too late.

  • Dick Ryon

    It isn’t Negative Population Growth that changed its name and emphasis. The organization that changed is Zero Population Growth, that became Population Connection. Population Connection has “gone global”, talking about world population and reproductive programs, while ignoring what is going on in America. 

    Negative Population Growth remains steadfast in advocating reduced US population growth, including curtailing illegal immigration and reducing legal immigration to meet American needs. 

  • Anonymous

    If you see THIS happening anywhere in the near future, especially in the US, you are living in a dream world.  The only thing this country is dedicated to is over-consumption for the elite and eventual starvation for the masses.  And if this wasn’t happening, well, then I’d say, how many people do you want us to take into this country and have to share out the goods with?  One million more?  Ten million more? 

    How many will finally be too many for the pro-immigration people among whom I suspect you are one?  When will you people finally understand that a country can, from an environmental standpoint, only hold so many people before it self-destructs?  We were not meant to be the garbage bag for the the world.  (Oh, you have too many people?  Oh, that’s fine!  Just dump ‘em here!  We’ll take ‘em.)  And do what with them?  I’d like to know!  It’s certainly not give them jobs! We don’t have enough jobs for our own people!  What are we doing taking in more?  Enough is enough!

    And just in case anyone thinks I’m a racist;  my family has whites, Native Americans, Chinese, Mexicans, African-Americans and Japanese in it.  Oh, I forgot the Jews, that too.  People have come to my daughter’s home before and asked in a puzzled tone, “are you all one family?”

  • Anonymous

    They seem to equate anti-immigrant with racism.  It’s so ridiculous.  My husband and all his family are immigrants from China.  My ex-son-in-law is from the Netherlands and I have relatives from Mexico but I say we should halt all immigration except that which is necessary to save lives (such as Islamic women who are being persecuted).  I’m talking about regular legal immigration also.  We should train and educate Americans for the jobs that we say that we don’t have people to fill.  I don’t believe any of this nonsense about Americans being ‘what?’ incapable of learning these skills?  Give me a break!  This is classism at its worst and is just an attempt by American CEOs to get cheaper workers.  That’s all it is!  If we don’t wrest control of our government back soon we’re going to find ourselves back in feudalistic times very soon.

  • populationcontrolnow

    Agree on all your statements … except for one things… multi national corporations plan aggressively to exploit workers globally by any means necessary. Since over-population is driving EVERY issue we have in front of us, there will be an endless supply of cheap labor to exploit.  Who is behind over-populations… mostly religion. So those cultures who understand that you should procreate responsibly, will be overrun in the future by religious/political voters who ran amok in over-procreating… and thus the divisive class issues will only grow worse. You are absolutely right that Americans CAN AND WILL do these jobs. It’s a bunch of BS and we all know it.
    It will take mother nature to put an end to mankind’s abuse of planet earth.

  • populationcontrolnow

     David Gelbaum is an evil seed.. and this has happened with many other donors of various organizations. I read about this years ago and immediately ended my donations to Sierra Club. I spread the word to as many folks as I could; and it is sad to punish Sierra Club but I will not tolerate Gelbaum’s idiotic and agenda driven position.
    Also, it is imperative that we straight-forward and mention that the fastest growing group in America is the Latinos who came here largely illegally, have the voting power to vote a/g Americans on critical issues, and who have historically had no problem taken the free ride that America offered; much like Europe’s immigration problems. Many states have been overrun in the schools, hospitals, and welfare offices, amounting to deficits in the billions. This cannot continue, and I do feel really sorry for future generations. This is not the America our ancestors worked so hard to create.  Personal responsibility folks— in all areas including procreation.

  • responsibleprocreationnow

    I agree — we are ALL so tired of the being called racists when most of our families today are comprised of diverse, mixed-ethnicity and religions. You are absolutely correct: enough is enough! Personal responsibility and self-reliant, hard work ethic — refusing to take a dime you didn’t earn yourself is becoming a thing of the past. And illegal immigration is driving a lot of it… we hear everyday illegal immigrants say, “You are a rich country, you can afford to pay for us.”  Makes your blood boil.  This is not racism, it simple math.

  • Anonymous

    You’re right, which leads to other things I’ve said on other websites;  it’s all going to blow up in their faces (the corporations).  Too many unemployed poor people will eventually add up to a very bad situation.