Vermonters for a Sustainable Population (VSPop) advocates for the stabilization of the Vermont, U.S., and global populations at levels that are in balance with the natural resource base and that meet the needs of those populations without endangering neither the needs of future generations nor ecological integrities. Although the size and growth of the human population is a global issue, VSPop believes that the U.S should be a leader and a role model in achieving a sustainable population.
VSPop envisions a future where most of Vermont's land remains largely undeveloped, our remaining farm lands and open spaces are used for local agriculture, and our forests maintained at about 75% of the landscape with large parcels interconnected so that our forests are habitats for all forms of native wildlife. VSPop believes a sustainable population is one that produces no lasting environmental degradation. Because the impacts of human activities are a product of both the number of people and the lifestyles of those people, the size of a sustainable population depends on the choices made by its members. VSPop supports efforts to reduce the impact of our society by encouraging more sustainable lifestyles. However, VSPop believes that such changes promise at best only a partial remedy, and that our current level of population growth will fully negate any advantages that a more conscientious lifestyle could provide. Furthermore, while some argue that population growth poses no threat because lifestyle changes will reduce our society's ecological footprint, such changes are not yet in practice, and the assumption that they will be achieved does not justify avoiding the difficult issue of U.S. population growth. The important immediate goal is to stabilize our population size so that it is not growing. Then we can begin to figure out what population level is sustainable. Of course, position and policy statements are works in progress; and VSPop is always open to suggestions for changes.
Here are summaries of each Position Statement and links to the full Statement...
Vermont Happiness Index: VSPop recommends that governmental bodies at all levels discontinue using Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of societal health, and that GDP be replaced with a better metric for sustainable progress, such as a Genuine Progress Indictor, or Vermont Happiness Index. Read the full Statement
The Environment: Continued population growth increases mankind's demands on the natural world and can overwhelm other efforts to protect our environment and provide for a sustainable future. If we are to halt the destruction of our environment, human populations must be stabilized at levels that are sustainable. Read the full Statement
Steady State Economy: VSPop recommends that policy makers at all levels of government work to carefully transition our current growth-centric economies into sustainable, steady state economies. A steady state economy can be compared to a mature and healthy forest ecosystem -- it does not grow in size, but it is a living, evolving system with a startling array of interconnected parts. Vibrant and remarkably diverse assemblages of species cooperate and compete within the forest, and there are opportunities for new species and ecosystem functions to develop over time. Read the full Statement
US Fertility: VSPOP supports universal access to free family planning education and services, including abortion. We believe that reducing the proportion of unplanned pregnancies (almost half of all U.S. pregnancies) and a gradual shift in cultural norms toward an average age of 25 for the birth of a first child will bring myriad societal, economic and ecological benefits. Read the full Statement
US Migration Law: VSPOP calls for reform of immigration policy with the principle goal of stabilizing the U.S. population at a level that is sustainable. Read the full Statement
Consumption: VSPOP supports a multi-level campaign, reinforced through government policies offering incentives and sanctions, to reduce the consumption of nonrenewable resources and increase ecologically benign production of renewable energy and resources. We also insist, however, that such efforts are not, in themselves, sufficiently potent to result in a sustainable U.S. society; they must be implemented in concert with efforts to stabilize the U.S. population to a level that is sustainable. Read the full Statement
Land Development: The purported benefits of land development, especially land development that would promote population growth, no matter what its purpose, must be seriously challenged by governmental agencies and environmental organizations. Read the full Statement
Vermonters for Sustainable Population Policy Position:
Vermont Happiness Index
By: George Plumb
June 17th, 2010
Vermont will have an index that will measure the overall happiness of its citizens on a statewide basis. Eventually the indicator should also be measureable at the municipal level as well as well as different economic levels.
The U.S. currently uses the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as its indicator of economic health. GDP measures the total market value of all goods and services produced within a geographical region for a given time period. This indicator was created as the Gross National Product in 1934 and changed by the Commerce Department in 1992 to the GDP. It was never intended as a measure of well being but that is what is has been used as since that time. It has been assumed that if the GDP goes up then the well being of the people living in the region measured goes up as well.
There are many problems with this measurement. First, it measures activity that is harmful as well as beneficial. As an example if a person has cancer and tens of thousands of dollars are spend trying to treat that cancer then that contributes to GDP. Or if there is a disastrous oil spill and that takes billions of dollars to clean up that also contributes to GDP. The second problem is that it doesn't measure the harmful results of economic activity. If a huge dam is installed on a river and the river is essentially destroyed and fish are no longer able to migrate in that river that impact is not measured. The third problem is that it does not measure the important non-paid work that people may do such as cooking their own food instead of buying a meal out or volunteering as a hospice care volunteer. The fourth problem is that GDP only measures the total economic activity, it does not measure how that activity is distributed. So as is happening now, the rich can get richer while middle and low income people get poorer and have to work harder and longer just to meet their basic needs. The sixth problem is that GDP assumes that we can grow in consumption of natural resources forever and on a finite planet that is not possible. Finally and most importantly it doesn’t measure whether we are any happier or better off, it just measures how much we are consuming.
We need to develop a new measure that measures the true quality of live for all people and not just the economic activity.
The VSPop endorses the concept of a Vermont Happiness Index, or some similarly titled indicator, to replace the GDP.
The Vermont Happiness Index would measure the following:
- The psychological well being of individuals.
- A work week that provides a reasonable amount of leisure time for all.
- Community vitality.
- Preservation of the culture.
- The health of individuals.
- The education of individuals.
- Conservation of the environment on which all life depends.
- Living standards that meet the basic human needs for all.
- Good government that is accessible to and responsive to its citizens.
Within these nine broad categories actual measureable indicators will be developed. As an example in category number 5 related to the health of individuals the data on the average age of death and the number of people who die of cancer each year is already available.
A very important indicator that is essential for inclusion is a measure of the population size and whether it is stable or growing.
A growing population has many results that decrease the quality of life. These include traffic congestion, time and energy wasted in long commutes, destruction of bio-capacity, pollution, rising costs of homes and land, costs of additional infrastructure such as roads and schools, sprawl, loss of scenic views, noise and light pollution, loss of biodiversity, increased posting of private land, parceling of land into ever smaller pieces, increased crowdedness of public recreation areas, increased rates of crime, and degradation of democracy.
Another indicator that must be measured is the degree to which we have a steady state economy rather than a constantly growing economy.
A steady state economic policy is explained in the policy position by that name in this section.
The Vermont legislature should appoint a special commission to study and make recommendations on how to develop and implement a Vermont Happiness Index.
Other countries are already studying or implementing a more progressive indicator. Brazil has a GNH pilot project. Maryland is using a Genuine Progress Indicator. With its relatively small scale and strong sense of environmental and social values Vermont is in an ideal situation to change from GDP to another indicator.
VSPop Policy Position: The Environment
January 9, 2010
VSPop envisions a future when the size of our population and our consumption of natural resources are in balance and sustainable so that all people have a high quality of life and all ecosystems on earth support all forms of life in numbers that maintain the ecosystems.
Human population growth and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put humans and the plant and animal kingdoms at serious risk and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the disasters our present course will bring about.
The environment is suffering critical stress:
Global climate change with melting ice, rising sea levels, more violent storms, and draughts will bring suffering to millions of environmental refuges and create loss of many species of wildlife. Air pollution near ground level, and acid precipitation, are already causing widespread injury to humans, forests, and crops.
Heedless exploitation of depletable ground water supplies endangers food production and other essential human systems. Heavy demands on the world's surface waters have resulted in serious shortages in some 80 countries, containing 40 percent of the world's population. Pollution of rivers, lakes, and ground water further limits the useable supply.
Destructive pressure on the oceans is severe, particularly in the coastal regions which produce most of the world's food fish. The total marine catch is now at or above the estimated maximum sustainable yield. Some fisheries have already shown signs of collapse. Rivers carrying eroded soil into the seas also carry industrial, municipal, agricultural, and livestock waste – some of it toxic.
Loss of soil productivity, which is causing extensive land abandonment, is a widespread by-product of current practices in agriculture and animal husbandry. Since 1945, 11 percent of the earth's vegetated surface has been degraded, an area larger than India and China combined, and per capita food production in many parts of the world is decreasing.
Tropical rain forests, and tropical and temperate dry forests, are being destroyed rapidly. At present rates, some critical forest types will be gone in a few years, and most of the tropical rain forest will be gone before the end of the next century. With them will go large numbers of plant and animal species. Carbon sequestration will be greatly diminished.
The irreversible loss of species, which by 2100 may reach one-third of all species now living, is especially serious. We are losing the potential they hold for providing medicinal and other benefits, and the contribution that genetic diversity of life forms gives to the robustness of the world's biological systems and to the astonishing beauty of the earth itself.
Our massive tampering with the world's interdependent web of life, coupled with the environmental damage inflicted by deforestation, species loss, and climate change, could trigger widespread adverse effects, including unpredictable collapses of critical biological systems whose interactions and dynamics we only imperfectly understand
The earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive effluent is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy is finite. Its ability to provide for growing numbers of people is finite. Current economic practices which damage the environment, in both developed and underdeveloped nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global systems will be damaged beyond repair.
Pressures resulting from unrestrained population growth put demands on the natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainable future. If we are to halt the destruction of our environment, we must accept limits to that growth.
We 6.8 billion people are in population and resource overshoot. Since the mid 1980s we have been consuming resources faster than the sustainable rate of replacement. We are consuming our resource base. By 2005 the global overshoot was 31% and rising. The world’s 33.6 billion acres of biologically productive land and water (biocapacity) divided by the world’s 6.47 billion people (in 2005) equals 5.1 acres of resources available per person, on average. But average consumption in 2005 was 6.7 acres, 31% overshoot. Using related data for the U.S. we are at 88% overshoot.
Five inextricably linked areas must be addressed simultaneously:
We must bring environmentally damaging activities under control to restore and protect the integrity of the earth's systems we depend on.
We must, for example, move away from fossil fuels to more benign, inexhaustible energy sources to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the pollution of our air and water.
We must halt deforestation, degrading and loss of agricultural land, and the loss of terrestrial and marine plant and animal species.
To stop the greatest mass extinction in modern history and provide enough habitats for wildlife, one third to half of earth’s bio-capacity must be set aside for other living things – a stunning increase from less than 15% now.
We must manage resources crucial to human welfare more effectively.
We must give high priority to efficient use of energy, water, and other materials, including expansion of conservation and recycling.
We must stabilize population.
To halt resource depletion-overshoot and mass extinction, human numbers need to return to 3 billion or less. U.S. resources can sustainably support about 200 million, less than two thirds of our current population. And that’s only if we slashed our average consumption in half!
Therefore, it is absolutely crucial to our future viability on the planet that we humanely and compassionately reduce births to allow the size of the human population to drift back to a truly sustainable level, long-term.
This will be possible only if all nations recognize that it requires improved social and economic conditions, and the adoption of effective, voluntary family planning.
To bring about a sustainable population we must implement the policies on fertility, steady state economy and immigration that are also on this web site.
We must reduce and eventually eliminate poverty.
To eliminate poverty we must move from a fossil fuel dependent, growth for ever economy to a steady state economy where there is fair access to resources for all people. Our present economic system enriches a few at the expense of billions.
We must ensure sexual equality, and guarantee women control over their own reproductive decisions.
Cultures, laws and policies must be changed so that women have equal status with men, are provided equal education, and are able to make their own reproductive choices.
Information on family planning and access to birth control must be easily available.
In 1992, 1700 of the world’s leading scientists, including the majority of Nobel Laureates in the sciences, signed a Warning to Humanity written by the late Henry Kendall, chair of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Some of this statement is taken from that document.
VSPop Policy Position: Steady State Economy
May 6, 2009
The U.S. economy, and eventually the global economy will make a transition from growth to a steady state economy. This steady state economy will: (1) be sustainably scaled to fit within the capacity provided by ecosystems; (2) provide equal opportunities for all people to accrue the benefits of economic activities; and (3) provide for the efficient allocation of resources such that the prosperity of the human economy promotes the health of the ecosystem on which it depends. A steady state economy can be compared to a mature and healthy forest ecosystem. It does not grow in size, but it is a living, evolving system with a startling array of interconnected parts. Vibrant and remarkably diverse assemblages of species cooperate and compete within the forest, and there are opportunities for new species and ecosystem functions to develop over time.
Most of our environmental problems are, to a greater or lesser extent, the result of population growth. Population growth is driven in great part by the dominant cultural belief that the economy must be constantly growing. A growing economy depends on a growing population and growing consumption.
While a growing economy has resulted in a higher quality of living for some in wealthier countries, it has now reached the point where it is causing more problems than it is solving. These problems include global warming, loss of natural habitat and biodiversity, collapse of ocean fisheries, loss of access to clean water sources, and many other examples of unsustainable resource use.
A constantly growing economy with finite resources conflicts with the principles of physics and ecology. We need to replace “economic growth” with “sustainable economic development” which is a shift in focus from ever growing resource use to improvement in the quality of life. Simply stated it is “better not bigger.”
We must move towards a steady state economy as first proposed by Herman Daly and now advanced through the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy (steadystate.org). A steady state economy brings together what have been two separate disciplines into one discipline: ecological economics. It recognizes that our economic system is really a subset of our environmental system and the two must work in harmony. A steady state economy promotes “economic development” (improvement in quality of life and efficiency) and discourages “economic growth” (expansion of population and consumption).
There are three basic criteria for the maintenance of ecological sustainability: (1) renewable resources should be extracted at a rate no faster than they can be regenerated (sustainable yield); (2) waste generation from economic activity such a resource consumption and land uses should not exceed the assimilative capacity of the environment (sustainable waste disposal); and (3) nonrenewable resources should be used at a rate no faster than we can find renewable substitutes (as an example coal for energy should be used no faster than it can be replaced by solar and wind).
The transition to a steady state economy begins with a moral discussion about our goals for life on the planet and our responsibility to future generations, as well as a recognition that economic growth conflicts with environmental protection.
The VSPop endorses the concept of a steady state economy. To implement this type of economy the following will need to be accomplished.
Population levels will need to be stabilized with total fertility rates to be at or even below 2.1 until we figure out what is a sustainable population level.
Governments, businesses, and households must, based on the science of ecology, identify limits for resource throughput (e.g., ecological footprint), and apply appropriate measures to stay at or below those limits (e.g., through the use of cap and trade or similar quota systems).
There needs to be a broad natural capital depletion tax to assure that resource inputs from the environment to the economy are sustainable, while giving strong incentives to develop new technologies and processes to minimize impacts.
The application of the precautionary “polluter pays principle” should be applied to assure that the full costs of outputs from the economy to the environment are charged to the polluter.
U.S. tax policies should be modified to support a steady state economy rather than a constantly growing economy. Child tax deductions should apply for no more than two children. Taxes should be shifted from the “goods” to the “bads (e.g. not taxing solar panels to taxing coal production).
U.S. spending policies should favor a steady state economy over a growth economy (e.g. subsidizing solar research and not clean coal production).
Governments need to compile and report indicators of true economic health and progress (e.g., the Ecological Footprint, the Genuine Progress Indicator, and the Happy Planet Index), rather than relying on GDP, which is a poor indicator of well-being.
Individuals should be encouraged to exhibit and support behavior that favors sustainability. Examples include limiting family size to two or fewer children, buying local when possible, eliminating conspicuous consumption, limiting energy consumption, and using renewable energy.
The President should appoint a special commission to study and make recommendations on how to keep the economy healthy as we make the transition to a steady state economy.
Countries in which citizens are not currently consuming enough to meet basic needs may need economic growth to help improve quality of life. Their primary goal initially should be to stabilize population at a sustainable level. Industrialized countries that have experienced economic growth and have fairly stable populations with high per capita consumption, should focus on reducing their consumption of natural resources.
The Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy-www.steadystate.org
The International Society of Ecological Economics-www.ecoeco.org
An Introduction to Ecological Economics by Robert Constanza, et. al., 1997, CRC Press
Steady-State Economics by Herman Daly, 1977, W. H. Freeman and Company
VSPop Policy Position: US Fertility
VSP believes in a Vermont, an America and a planet Earth where every child is conceived as the result of a conscious decision. While we acknowledge that this is somewhat unrealistic, we note that our nation has a dismal record today; close to half of all U.S. pregnancies are unplanned. We believe everyone in America should have full access, universally supported throughout the health care system, to the necessary tools to plan the number and timing of children they will bear. And we support a cultural transition to a time when, thanks to enlightened policy, parenthood is almost universally delayed until at least the mid-20s; we believe that giving people a chance to grow up a bit makes for a much happier and healthier experience for every family member.
Currently, the fertility rate in America is 2.1 births on average for each woman in the population, which, in the absence of immigration, will eventually lead to a stable population. Given the high level of consumption of Americans, and the challenges inherent in reducing that consumption meaningfully, we believe that efforts to reduce consumption should be paired with efforts to reduce unplanned births in the hopes of a brighter future for this planet and its fragile ecosystems.
Our call for reductions in the rate of unplanned pregnancies, however, go beyond our views on population growth; across our society, reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies will also improve the quality of life for all of America's children. Although millions of babies born as the result of an unplanned pregnancy will thrive under the loving care of a devoted family, not all do; many of society's most naggingly persistent ills are statistically associated with unplanned births to families unable to provide a nurturing and safe environment. By a wide margin, research shows that planned babies are much more likely to be happy, healthy and productive in adulthood. A reduction in unplanned pregnancies will, therefore, lead to improved circumstances for America's children and improved outcomes for our society as a whole.
We support mandatory, age-appropriate reproductive health education in all of America's public schools, with full inclusion of not just the tools but also comprehensive instruction on proper use of all practical forms of birth control. While we don't oppose the inclusion of content promoting the benefits of abstinence, research has consistently documented that abstinence-only programs are ineffective in reducing not just abortions and unplanned pregnancies but unprotected sex in general and premarital sex in particular.
We call for mandating that health insurance plans include full coverage of birth control supplies and services, including abortion. Until universal health insurance coverage, including family planning services, becomes the norm, we endorse government support for free family planning services, including abortion, regardless of ability to pay.
We strongly encourage the gradual adoption of a cultural norm of delayed chilbearing, with the age of 25 as a model for the earliest optimal entry into the role of parenthood. We endorse pre-marital counseling that includes instruction in the use of family planning while respecting as much as possible an individual's cultural and religious values. Such counseling should also help to improve the overall quality of life for children by empowering their parents with stronger skills in vital areas such as household budgeting, conflict resolution and nutrition.
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VSPop Policy Position: US Migration Law
The United States is already the third most populous nation on the planet and will contribute more to global population growth by mid-century than any other nations except Nigeria and India. According to the Pew Research Center, immigration accounted for 54% of the growth in the U.S. population between 1965 and 2015 (72 million of the 132 million increase) and is projected to account for 88% of the growth of between 2015 and 2065 (103 million out of 117 million).
The magnitude of this population's ongoing growth is troubling in terms of both domestic and planetary sustainability issues – due to its extremely wasteful and polluting habits of consumption. As an example, the US population constitutes only 5% of the global population but annually accounts for 22% of global carbon emissions, throws away over 200 million tons of municipal waste and uses 24% of global energy production while destroying 1.2 million acres of its farmland per year2.
Furthermore, the US bio-capacity – its domestic surface area available to produce resources and assimilate waste – provides only 48% of the population's annual subsistence. 52% is provided by importing bio-capacity, drawing down resource reserves, and degrading habitat.
Like all sovereign nations, US population fluctuations in any given year are the results from the net gain from natural increase (fertility minus mortality) and net migration (in-migration minus out-migration). In 2010, the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau summarized the sources of population growth as 60% from natural increase and 40% from net migration. This Census Bureau breakdown, however, does not take into account the impact of births to immigrants. Because many immigrants arrive on our shores at a time of life when they have not yet reached their desired number of children, the numberical impact of immigration overall is necessarily much greater than the 40% of population growth represented in the Census analysis. Taking these fertility impacts into account, the Pew Research Center estimated in 2008 that 82% of population growth by the year 2050 would result from immigration. They also estimated that in that time the U.S. population would increase by one hundred and twenty five million people.
In a consideration of how best to slow the growth of the U.S. population, we aspire to raise awareness and promote policies that encourage a reduction in natural increase while maintaining our democratic society's inherent respect for personal beliefs and freedoms. But given that more than three quarters of our anticipated population growth will result from immigration, we note that it is the sole province of the US Congress, as elected representatives of this sovereign nation, to set migration policy as it sees fit. We call on our government, therefore, to set that policy at a level consistent with a stabilization of U.S. population growth. Neither of these aspects of our activism should be construed as precluding the need for aggressive transition to a sustainable economy based on renewable resources and greatly reduced consumption habits.
Celebrating and admiring the positive contributions that representatives of planet's diverse cultures and ethnicities make to the Unites States upon joining our citizenry, VSP welcomes legal immigration into the US at a rate that promotes stabilized domestic population.
As current US migration policy precludes a stabilized national population, VSP petitions the US Congress to alter it so that in any given year the number of people invited into our nation is roughly equal to those who freely chose to leave the previous year.
VSP notes that our policy position on this matter should be viewed in the context of filling the unmet need for a comprehensive US national population policy, this position being one component of such a policy.
VSP notes that there are countless individual American citizens and organizations who, based on environmental & sustainability concerns, are advocating for migration policies similar to our own. We consider such advocates "sustainable population advocates" and welcome them as colleagues and constituents.
VSP notes that population growth in the US does not occur in a vacuum, and that advocating merely for stabilizing population in the US is an unbalanced approach to striving for planetary sustainable development. We strongly urge and support efforts to reduce global fertility to 2.1 or below as soon as possible, so long as all such reduction are achieved voluntarily by promoting the idea of, and/or objectively removing the barriers to unconstrained access to family planning services and contraception to all those who want them – the education of women being a paramount objective in these goals.
VSP is also well aware that most people who try to come here illegally do so because of economic conditions in their own countries. Because of this VSP urges that trade agreements with other countries and subsidies to U.S. businesses be economically fair to other countries and that foreign aid economic development and funds for family planning be significantly increased.
VSPop Policy Position: Consumption
Vermonters for a Sustainable Population (VSPop) works to minimize the harm the human race is inflicting on the earth. We believe that the greatest success we can achieve in that goal will result from not only reducing the future size of the population, but also by reducing levels of consumption.
Total consumption in any given region is defined by the product of the average consumption per person (per capita consumption) in that society multiplied by the number of people populating that society. VSP is interested in minimizing the impact of both of these variables.
To reduce the per capita consumption, VSP calls for a new definition of a meaningful and fulfilling life, one that focuses more on human well-being and social enrichment and less on the acquisition of material things. The potential benefits of cleaner technologies and energy supplies may certainly help achieve that goal. We encourage everyone to reduce the use of nonrenewable fuels in transportation, to reduce, reuse and recycle whenever possible, to shape our diets around foods that require smaller investments of energy and resources, and to reduce the societal costs of transporting goods by buying locally whenever this is practical.
VSP does not prioritize consumption at this time because a number of other state and national organizations focus almost exclusively on reducing per-capita consumption.
The other variable needed to reduce overall consumption is population size. While we have made progress in stabilizing per-capita consumption, significant further reductions won't happen if population growth isn't stabilized as well.
The larger a population grows, the harder and more expensive it becomes to convert to a more sustainable lifestyle. The desire to live more sustainably requires proportionately greater investments in resources and time as population increases. Whatever a society's per-capita footprint (use of the earth's resource base), its total footprint expands due to the size of its population causing greater ecological damage.
In summary, we should all strive to consume less. And this must be done in concert with reducing population or we will continue to consume resources and produce waste at an unsustainable level.
VSPop Policy Position: Land Development
For the purposes of this paper, "Land Development" is taken to be the construction of new buildings, parking lots, roads, etc. that results in one-half acre or more of a largely impermeable surface. It does not include redevelopment of an existing site that already had impermeable surfaces.
Since the completion of the Interstate Highway System in the 1960's, Vermont's population has grown from around 400,000 to 626,000 at the present time. This, along with even larger population growth in New England and the U.S., has resulted in major developments at the interstate exits, the equivalent of cities on our mountain sides, and suburban housing development converting what once were very rural communities into largely suburban communities.
Land development in Vermont has reduced the acres of crop land from 617,263 in 1997 to 516,924 in 2007. Vermont's forest cover, which had been increasing due to the abandonment of hill farms, is now in decline for the first time in over a century and the current forest cover is about 73% of the state or about 23% less than the 95% of the natural condition.
Population growth and economic growth are the underlying causes of land development. Land development creates many environmental and social problems. Land development means that the biocapacity - the ability of the land to foster habitat for a variety of life forms - is destroyed. Land development also results in impermeable surfaces, creating more storm water runoff and pollution. Furthermore, each unit of new residential housing has an "ecological footprint" that is much larger than the land itself. In addition, each additional home means that more food needs to be imported from distant places; and about 95% of the food consumed in Vermont comes from out of state. Almost all household goods are manufactured out of state, meaning resources from elsewhere are used and then have to be transported to Vermont. Businesses also create ecological footprints and the size of these footprints depends on the size and the nature of the businesses.
The majority of Vermonters understand that land development negatively impacts those qualities that make Vermont both unique and the state where Vermonters want to live. Land development destroys green spaces and makes Nature less accessible to all citizens. Land development eliminates wildlife habitat, which in turn reduces biodiversity and the availability of fish, game, and wild edibles. Land development increases traffic congestion, water, air and light pollution, and reduces both community connections and local self-governance as people are less likely to know their neighbors. Even land development to accommodate population growth in cities is questionable because it increases the number of voters who have less appreciation for the natural environment that most Vermonters admire. In turn, more urban and suburban voters would likely elect policymakers who do not appreciate the natural environment either and who instead champion unsustainable economic and population growth.
While some development or redevelopment may be necessary to meet changing employment and economic needs, any proposed development project should be carefully evaluated to determine whether it is both desirable and sustainable in the long term. Although Act 250 and other environmental legislation have helped to protect our environment, this legislation has loopholes and is failing to preserve enough of Vermont's natural beauty that Vermonters value so highly.
The purported benefits of land development, especially land development that would promote population growth, no matter what its purpose, must be seriously challenged by governmental agencies and environmental organizations.
VSPop acknowledges that Vermonters benefit from more higher-wage jobs; and so VSPop supports commercial and industrial development that offers higher-wage jobs to current Vermont citizens and their children, but that will not result in population growth. Further, such development should accommodate only businesses that will not lobby for policies to increase the number of Vermont residents. VSPop encourages state and local policymakers to develop and implement ways of selecting such businesses. VSPop also supports commercial development that ensures a sustainable and acceptable standard of living for existing Vermont residents and their offspring (e.g., solar farms). VSPop also encourages the distribution of new businesses throughout the state, rather than concentrating them in already large cities.
Our economic system that currently depends on population growth and resulting land development should be transitioned to a steady state economic system (see the VSPop Position Statement on the Steady State Economy).
Vermont should continue its strong support for protecting undeveloped land through land trusts (such as the statewide Vermont Land Trust and the many local and regional land trusts), public ownership such as town, state and national forests, zoning and other mechanisms.