I take issue with the assertion of Bill Matuszeski, director of the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office, in the July-August Bay Journal that "There is plenty of suitable land to accommodate any foreseeable population in the Chesapeake watershed . . ." It may be literally true, but it's tragically misleading.
Mr. Matuszeski apparently believed the Bay can be spared the harmful effects of population growth if the Bay states carry out the proposals of Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening and others to reduce future sprawl development by "managing" growth and focusing development into already built-up areas.
I think the reality was much more accurately stated by former Maryland Sen. Bernie Fowler in the July-August 1993 Bay Journal: "I don't think we can continue to tolerate the immigration of people into the Chesapeake Bay watershed and expect to clean the Bay up."
Consider this list of the region's ills, all harming the Bay directly or indirectly: loss of wetlands, forest and farmland to development; air pollution by cars, industries, power plant and incinerators; stream and groundwater pollution by farm, lawn and golf course pesticides, fertilizer and manure; and water pollution by toxic industrial wastes.
People cause each of these and, other things being equal, obviously the more people who live in the region, the more each of these ills will increase. Of course, other things need not be equal, and won't be.
Increasing the density of future development can reduce the average individual contribution to development of former farmland, for example, and to some other ills on my list. (Indeed, growth "management" is essential even if we also try to slow or stop growth, because we have already severely harmed the Bay, and because we certainly won't stop population growth anytime soon.) Other regulatory, technological and educational efforts can reduce the average individual contribution to the rest of the ills.
But as long as population grows, the region's total air pollution by cars, for example, will keep increasing unless we can somehow keep reducing the average person's contribution to it - every year, forever! - at least as rapidly as population grows. The same goes for every other human impact on the environment. Are we likely to achieve that?
Even if we thought we could, why would we want to? Why would we choose, instead of trying to stop population growth, to accept ever-increasing sacrifices required to try to accommodate it - the increasing costs of technological fixes, the ever greater personal inconveniences. (In the car example, say, much smaller cars, tougher and tougher emissions inspections, restrictions on driving.)
What could the Bay states do to slow population growth?
Regarding the portion of our growth caused by people moving into the region, I recognize the states cannot put up "Keep out" signs at their borders. What they could do is stop trying to entice businesses to move in, in the guise of creating jobs and "broadening the tax base."
Our officials seem to think the jobs they seek to attract will be reserved for people who already live here, ignoring the fact that jobs attract people to move here, too, perhaps leaving our own unemployed still unemployed. And our officials all seem to forget that the population growth stimulated by new employers creates new public costs to soak up the increased tax revenues, leaving the states more crowded but no richer - likely poorer, in view of what we spend (and lose in tax breaks) to lure the businesses.
Regarding the portion of our growth caused by our own reproduction, there's more that state governments can do.
First, they need to make it just as easy as they can for people to control their reproduction. That would include mandatory sex education in schools, starting before puberty. (That doesn't mean only birth-control how-tos; it could include strong support for abstinence.) It also implies cheap or free contraceptives for everyone who wants them, conveniently available.
Second, we need state policies that favor small families, such as ending income tax exemptions after the first or second child. Similarly, we should not subsidize child-care, at least not for middle-class parents of more than two children.
We should strongly encourage adoption in place of reproduction, partly by making adoption easier, cheaper and quicker.
I grant that I'm asking politicians to take a big risk by offering leadership on population issues. Most citizens, far from seeing population growth as a problem (except in their backyards), seem to favor current growth-encouraging policies. But sooner or later, the official or candidate who helps them see how population growth contributes to the problems that are on their minds, and leads in efforts to slow it, will earn their profound gratitude.
Actually, perhaps the best way to spread the understanding is for public schools to teach about population issues; students will bring the issue home to their parents.
In Maryland, there is a very good precedent for mass education on population issues. In 1982, Baltimore had the country's only school-districtwide population education program. Unfortunately, it's now apparently long gone and forgotten.
In 1978, the Maryland Department of Education prepared and distributed statewide a superb instructional package on population, with which high school social studies students would spend a couple of weeks studying the pros and cons of population growth, its environmental impacts, the amazing speed of exponential growth, why a population that reduces fertility to two children per couple will still keep growing for about one human lifetime, and the like. The lessons don't indoctrinate; they provide facts and call for student discussion and opinions.
Unfortunately, I can't find anyone in the department now who remembers this package or can find a copy, and people there say under current priorities, there's no chance the department will update and reissue it. We need to change those priorities.
I recently sent Maryland's Governor Glendening a letter along the lines of this commentary. His reply said "your concerns on population growth are shared by many Marylanders" (I wish I could believe that!) but otherwise dwelt only on the need to "manage" growth and on his plans to do so. That was not encouraging.
Finally, for any reader who agrees in principle that in addition to "managing growth we need to stop it, I have a question: If you may be having children in the future - how many?