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Can San Francisco Add 150,000 More People?

Posted: Jun 20, 2012

 In 1968, biologist Paul Ehrlich wrote the best-seller “The Population Bomb,” warning of mass starvation in the face of uncontrolled human population growth. Taken as alarmist at the time, the book nevertheless started a debate about the world’s limited natural resources and the human race’s voracious appetite.

Of course, we didn’t all starve, thanks in part to advancements in agriculture. But more than 40 years later, with the doubling of the world’s population, we’re faced with a different doom-and-gloom scenario: climate change. Ehrlich, now a population studies expert at Stanford University, hasn’t backed down. He says the government should actively discourage childbearing. “If you’re a patriotic American, you stop at two, and if you’re super-patriotic you stop at one,” he said.

That’s certainly not how most city planners, let alone Americans, are thinking. In places like San Francisco City Hall, officials enthusiastically embrace a pro-growth strategy to expand the city’s tax base, and create vibrant communities in blighted or underdeveloped areas. Most of that growth will come from new people moving into the city, since San Francisco has the smallest percentage of children of any major metropolitan center in the country — 13 percent.

But a larger population stretches resources, even in a dense, efficient metropolis. People create waste, and consume water, food and energy. They pollute the air with cars. And they encroach on the last vestiges of natural habitat.

Environmental resources begin to deteriorate when San Francisco’s natural ecosystems — and those of the larger Bay Area — reach their limit, or “carrying capacity.” The accepted regional projections over the next 25 years show the region increasing air pollution, exceeding water supplies, battling sea-level rise, and consuming more power — all due, in large part, to population increase. Read more here.

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