Study: Growth Not Good for the Environment

A Shippensburg University study has found that the ecological carrying capacity of the county will have a hard time with continued growth, Brandon Shulleeta writes in today’s Progress. Commissioned by Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population—and funded in part by the city and the county—the study (4.9MB PDF) is limited to environmental matters, and considers how well our water, air, and other natural resources on which we depend will fare under an ever-increasing population density. It turns out that the trouble starts when the population climbs from our existing 140,000 to 217,000, when we’d wind up with air pollution problems, nitrogenous waste in water, and storm water filling our lakes and streams. The forecast was done in part with the CITYgreen program, a sort of a grownup SimCity.

The good news is that the requisite 55% population growth is a long way off, but the bad news is that it’s well within my likely lifetime. These results are sort of obvious—more people are bad for the environment, duh—but the ability to quantify the county’s ecological carrying capacity is important as one of a great many factors to use to determine if we want to grow, how much we want to grow, and how fast that we want to do it.

Disclaimer: I’m on the board of ASAP, I’ve helped oversee this study in that (limited) capacity, and I helped write the press release announcing this study. Really, I’m about as biased as I could be on this, save that I’ve got no financial interest in the matter.

10 thoughts on “Study: Growth Not Good for the Environment”

  1. It’s disingenuous to use the title, “growth not good for the environment.”

    According to this report, the negative impacts we always are threatened of will not take effect until around 2040, and that’s if the recession clears up and growth rates go back to where they were a couple of years ago. In other words, “some growth is fine, but not too much” would be more accurate to the actual data.

    But, more importantly, the report assumes no change in the “intensity of growth” from current levels. Zero infill. Zero walkable communities in the Albemarle growth area. No Neighborhood Model. Does anyone really think we’ll be putting ourselves around in private motorcars 30 years from now when we are set to cross the threshold?

    So really it should be, “sprawl growth is bad for the environment” But there are other kinds of growth …

  2. This study doesn’t seem to say that more people are bad for the environment, but that developing in the ways that we have in the past are bad for the environment. The main issues are stormwater runoff and air pollution. In my opinion, runoff issues are completely solvable, and are really only a symptom of bad design. In an area like ours with little industry, air pollution in mainly from cars and trucks. We’ve already seen moves toward more efficient vehicles, and hopefully we will build in a more compact way in the future that will have people driving even less. This study is a lot less stinging than I was expecting. It sounds like real environmental impacts are pretty far off, and that is based on us not changing our ways, which hopefully isn’t the case.

  3. Headlines are inexact. That’s just how it goes. More to the point, I think it’s awfully idealistic to say that we might have growth that isn’t harmful. Sure, it’s possible. We might also cure cancer and heart disease, but nobody’s proposing that we take that into account for our population projections. Rational forecasts must assume that there will be no radical deviation in the world from its current path. Given that development patterns have not changed meaningfully in the past forty years, I can’t see any reason why we should assume they should change meaningfully in the next forty years.

    This study is a lot less stinging than I was expecting. It sounds like real environmental impacts are pretty far off, and that is based on us not changing our ways, which hopefully isn’t the case.

    I guess that’s the good news for ASAP: nobody rational could look at this study and accuse us of doctoring it. :) Environmentally, these numbers are too small and these dates are too far out for them to be particularly effective in changing people’s minds.

  4. Lars, that’d be incorrect. NYC exceeded it’s carrying capacity long ago. That 18 million resulted in a almost complete collapse of the existing ecosystems. Furthermore, to maintain that number of people, water has to be piped in from elsewhere (from the Catskills, I believe). Also do you remember many years ago there was a trash barge that no state would take from NY? At some point a locality reaches a point where it is no longer self-sustaining. It’s not the end of the world for that area, but if everywhere did it, then it would be the end of the world.

    Think of it like this, if you shut of all externally produced power, water, and food going to NYC how long would that population survive? Apply the same to Albemarle and that’s our carrying capacity.

  5. Albemarle is already past that point. Does that make us bad people or mean that no one else should be allowed to move here?

  6. Not only should no one else be allowed to move to Albemarle. There needs to be a limit on the number of children that can be born. We have to make sure the population stays static. No kids are allowed to be born without someone dying first. I guess we’ll need a nine month rule of some sort. :-D

  7. No danger of that. :) In fact, the natural population increase (from births and deaths) is just over 1:1, meaning that the population would grow without any immigration, but only very slightly. And, given the apparent fourth stage of the demographic transition, that’s not likely to continue.

  8. The bigger issue is not really population growth but rather the increase in the amount of resources used by each person (often at the expense of the quality of life of others elsewhere). Does that make us “bad people”? Many world faiths might say so. For example:

    Matthew 19:21-22: “Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”

Comments are closed.