The stunning transformation of a continent's virgin forests, prairies, mountains and rivers into the most prosperous and powerful nation in history is a shining success story, but one that has come at an environmental cost. Over time, this growth has been driven at different times by high immigration rates, high birth rates, or both.
The impact on America's natural environment has been significant and, in some ways, permanent and irrevocable. It has also been driven by the long-term decline in death rates (increasing longevity) that all developed and developing countries have experienced and welcomed. population grew by 28 million in the 1950s "baby boom" era, high birth rates drove almost all of that growth.
And at least numerically this growth reached levels never before seen: Between 19 some 32 million more Americans were added to the population — the largest increment of any decade in our history — and in the 2000-2010 period, an additional 27 million joined our ranks — the third-most of any decade.
Immigration will continue to exercise a dominant role for the foreseeable future.
Ten thousand years ago this figure was a mere 0.1 percent.
Wherever and whenever human population growth occurs, it changes the environment or exacts a cost.
One of these costs is to other species that have inhabited earth alongside us since the very dawn of time, and with which our own species competes for habitat, resources, and energy.
Human overpopulation has led to dramatic declines in the populations of thousands of species and pushed hundreds to the edge of extinction.
Cumulatively, over the course of a typical human lifetime, the sheer quantities of resources consumed and wastes generated are staggering, especially in wealthier, developed societies like our own.
For example, from birth to death, the average American uses over 1,400 tons of newly mined minerals.