Too many people, too little power
People ëlongage,í power shortage
by Ric Oberlink
Per capita consumption of electricity in California has
been flat for 25 years. In 1979, per capita consumption of electricity in
the state was 7,292 kilowatt-hours. In 1999, it was down to 6,952
kilowatt-hours. Twenty years of more gadgets, new toys, and bigger
appliances yielded a 5 percent decrease in per capita consumption of
So California should be in Fat City regarding energy
supplies. We shouldnít need any new power plants. We should be able to
shut down the dirtiest of the old plants because weíre using less
electricity. However, during that same 20 years the stateís population
grew from 23 million to 33 millionóa 43 percent increase!
California doesnít have a power shortage. It has a
population "longage." The power "shortages"ólike
traffic congestion, sprawl, depletion of habitat for wildlife, and virtually
every environmental problem in Californiaóare due primarily to population
Last year California grew by 571,000 people and now has a
population in excess of 34 million. Its annual growth rate of 1.7 percent
exceeds that of Bangladesh. We think of Europe as the crowded Old World and
think of America, especially the West, as the land of wide-open spaces. Yet
the population density of California already exceeds that of Europe and in
30 years it will exceed that of present-day China. Clearly, itís time to
say enough is enough.
Many people mistakenly think Californiaís population
has grown because people move here from other states. In fact, during the
last decade more people moved from California to other states than
migrated from other states to California.
Most population growth in the U.S. is due to immigration.
The baby boom of the í50s and í60s has been supplanted by the
"immigration boom" of the í80s and í90s that continues today.
According to the Census Bureau, two-thirds of future population growth will
come from immigration. The proportion for California is higher. Californiaís
immigrant population is almost 9 millionóexceeding the combined population
of Norway and Costa Rica.
Previously, we worried about energy shortfalls only in
summer when air conditioners are humming. Now we have experienced Stage 3
power alertsóthe highest level of energy emergencyóin December and
January. Yet politicians and media have failed to identify the cause. People
are not using more electricity. There are simply more people.
After brownouts in July of 2000, Pacific Gas and Electric
proposed placing a floating power plant on San Francisco Bay.
Environmentalists threatened to board and disrupt the floating power plant
should it sail through the Golden Gate. The idea was scrapped.
Given the obvious connection between population growth
and the demand for new power plants, you might think that environmental
groups would emphasize stopping the stateís population growth. They donít.
Oppose new power plant construction? Sure. Oppose the population growth that
causes it? Too controversial.
Not all environmentalists are so timid. The late David
Brower resigned last year as a director of the Sierra Club, in large part,
because of its failure to take a responsible position on population growth
and immigration. "Overpopulation is perhaps the biggest problem facing
us, and immigration is part of that problem," Brower said.
Gov. Gray Davis has offered bold rhetoric, but nothing of
substance to address Californiaís energy problemsólong-term or
short-term.* He certainly didnít mention population growth in California.
Let us hope that other leaders have more courage.
Ric Oberlink is an environmental consultant for Californians
for Population Stabilization.
paid out $9 billion for extra power from mid 2000 to presstime, according
to Arcataís pro-conservation Sacramento lawmaker Wes Chesbro, whom we
ran into at the co-op. We pointed out that it wouldnít have been
necessary had their been some conservation.
Regarding the sensitive issue of immigration, it is necessary to go
deeper than to simply boil down problems to too many people and needlessly
high legal immigration quotas.
Policy change, assuming one could counter pro-immigration interests such
as megacorporate lobbyists in Washington D.C., can prove to be a false
course of action if it is not done along with at least a strong attempt to
eliminate oppression and exploitation globally. The U.S. and its corporate
agenda has disturbed local economics and communities, often with disastrous