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34 Million Sardines in a Can


Is there anything more frustrating than sitting in rush hour traffic, day after day, knowing that it will never get better? How does standing in line at the grocery story, spending a full day at the crowded Department of Motor Vehicles, or having to squeeze into the packed elevator in a downtown high-rise sound? These are but a few minor, yet inconvenient, effects of the population explosion we Californian’s are facing. Our geographical space is not getting any larger, but our population is. The 2000 census showed California’s population increased by 13.6% over 1990 census figures to 33,871,648 people. California adds over 550,000 people annually, which is roughly equivalent to adding the entire population of the state of Vermont every year. Why is California so over crowded and what are the potential long-term effects of this overcrowding?



First of all, let’s look at some of the reasons why California is so overcrowded. Probably the biggest single reason people live in California is the weather. California is, meteorologically speaking, a very desirable place to live. There is a wide variety of weather from the snow-capped mountains of Northern California, to the valleys and deserts of Southern California. Between the two, there is the lush, rainy wine country of Sonoma County, the breezy coastal beach cities of Orange County, and the sweltering desert communities of San Diego and Riverside Counties. Together, these places offer atmospheric conditions for most everyone’s taste. Spend one winter in Minnesota and then try to come back and complain about how undesirable our weather is. There will not be much sympathy given by those around the country wishing they were here.

Other reasons people reside in California are the different forms of entertainment that are available. From skiing in the mountains to surfing at the beaches, there is always some form of physical activity in which to engage during most of the year. Other entertainment options include a wide variety of amusement parks, sporting events, the television and the motion picture industry, museums, fine dining establishments, and more shopping venues than could be visited in a year. These events might seem like a luxury to some, or perhaps a “must do” to others, but either way, they are definitely a magnet to those who do not consider themselves a “couch potato.”

Our strong job market has been the “dangling carrot” for many over the years. The aerospace boom of the 1990’s, for example, saw thousands of jobs created when large government contracts were signed. If California were a nation all to itself, it would boast the 6th largest economy in the world. Unfortunately, this strong job market has bolstered the problem of illegal immigration. Refugees from neighboring countries enter the United States illegally with the hope of finding work and being able to send money back to their families in their home country. This illegal border crossing is exacerbated by California’s liberal immigration policy. Governor Gray Davis and other state officials have increased the number of aliens it will let in on student and work visas. Statistics from the Census Bureau show many of these people stay in the state illegally after the expiration of their respective visas. If the alien has a child, who is born on U.S. soil, the child is automatically a U.S. citizen, thus making it very easy for the parents to qualify for citizenship. A comparison shows one out of four of California’s residents were born outside of the United States, while the national average is one out of ten born outside the U.S.

Now that we have looked at reasons why California is so overcrowded, let’s examine some of the short and long term effects of this problem. In the August 2001 edition of the Negative Population Growth online journal, California Historian Kevin Starr wrote: “The key challenge facing this state for the next century will be growth.” The Negative Population Growth (NPG) web site has statistics and articles related to the overpopulation of the nation and individual states. They cite sources such as the California Legislative Analyst’s Office who released the following statement:

“California’s staggering population growth is diminishing quality of life in the state. This Office warns that continued growth will produce additional strains on the state’s physical and environmental infrastructure, including demands on the energy sector, transportation system, parks, and water delivery system.” The NPG goes on to talk about how the population increased, habitats of species are destroyed to create room for housing and roads. Less than 1/10th of the state’s original wetlands are still around. One hundred and ten animal species and one hundred and seventy nine plant species are endangered or threatened as a result of construction demands. There are over 100,000 new students added annually to California schools, which are already the most overcrowded in the nation. Estimates from the State Department of Education show that sixteen new classrooms will need to be built every day, seven days a week, for the next five years to accommodate the ever-growing population. California averages 217 people per square mile in the state, which is nearly triple the national average of 79.6 people per square mile. San Francisco has an average density of 16,526 people per square mile. This overcrowding has resulted in high housing prices and apartment shortages, which force some people to live many miles from work. This increased distance means more time spent commuting and adds to the congestion on the roadways.

The United States will likely never institute a law like the Chinese government has which limits the number of children a family can have. We as citizens of this country are guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by the Bill of Rights. However, as a group, we must recognize our population problem now before it becomes uncontrollable. We must find alternative energy and food sources, plan for a shortage in housing, look for advances in medicine to cure sicknesses, and strive to protect our environment. We are a guest on this beautiful planet and have selfishly let our own desires get in the way of common sense. The answer is not a simple one, nor will it likely be one dimensional. It took many years for us to get to this point and will take many more for us to find a viable solution.

 

 
 
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