The Big Picture


30 x 30…with 37,000,000 and 370,000,000?

Many of the same politicians and groups who are idealistically calling for protecting 30 percent of the United States land area from development by 2030, just nine years from now, are at the same time pushing for “immigration reform” that would add nearly 40 million residents and resource consumers to the U.S. population over the coming decade. 

This would boost our numbers from about 330 million at present to nearly 370 million in just ten years, and would guarantee that subsequent decades continue to experience massive, unending flows of immigration for as far as the eye can see or demographers can project, all the way to 2100 and beyond. 

All human beings and every American – even those who are conscientious and profess to be environmentally aware – inexorably impose certain demands (or what ecologists call a “load”) on the land and resources of the biosphere through consumption and waste generation (including carbon dioxide).  The mere act of living with the comforts and conveniences of the modern world necessarily causes environmental impacts, which can be reduced through better technologies and more environmentally enlightened behaviors and virtues, but never entirely eliminated. No amount of wishful thinking or technical wizardry will ever erase our ecological footprint completely.

In view of this reality, are these advocates of endless U.S. population growth via mass immigration – who also profess to be staunch defenders of land and biodiversity – deluding themselves and the American public?  Is endless U.S. population growth – and the nonstop additional development it would inevitably entail – compatible with redoubled efforts that actually succeed in conserving increasing amounts of open space and natural habitats? 

In May 2020, the Biden-Harris Administration formally released its grand vision to conserve “at least” 30 percent of America’s land and waters by 2030 in a report called “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful.”  Co-authored by the U.S. Departments of Interior, Commerce, and Agriculture, along with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the document characterizes itself stirringly as a “preliminary report to the National Climate Task Force recommending a ten-year, locally led campaign to conserve and restore the lands and waters upon which we all depend, and which bind us together as Americans.”

The Biden-Harris Administration places the 30 percent land and water conservation goal firmly in the context of the administration’s wider pursuit of solutions to the “climate crisis” and environmental justice, all while “growing our economy”:

This report is a first step toward developing a national conservation effort that reflects the President’s ambition, his determination to combat the climate crisis and address environmental injustice while also growing our economy, and his commitment to listening, learning, and supporting the extraordinary conservation work that is already underway across America.

While the word “population” is mentioned several times, it is only with reference to wildlife and fish populations, not human population size and growth. Population stabilization is mentioned once, but with regard to stabilizing the populations of wildlife species most at risk of extinction in the near future.


The report never once cites increased land and environmental demands from incessant human population growth in the United States as an impediment to achieving its land and water conservation goal. 

The complete absence of any acknowledgement of human population growth in this report raises suspicion that population is being deliberately elided rather than recognized as a factor in land conservation.


Today only about 12 percent of the U.S. land area enjoys some form of protection, as does 26 percent of the area of ocean under American jurisdiction. The 12 percent figure is the result of two centuries of interaction between demographic, conservation, economic development, and market forces.  In one sense, the idea that the aggregate area of conserved lands can be almost tripled almost overnight (in under a decade) from 12 to 30% – to an area equal to twice the size of Texas – seems utterly far-fetched.  It would require enormous and unprecedented participation by millions of private and rural landowners, who collectively own about 60 percent of the land in the United States.  These are the same proud, independent Americans who have always been skeptical, if not downright suspicious of and hostile towards, federal government initiatives and programs that smack of controlling their freedom to use their properties and the natural resources on those properties as they see fit.


Yet at the same time, the 30 percent conservation goal is framed vaguely enough for bureaucrats and activists to assume it is attainable even with the conversion and development of more than 10 million additional acres of rural lands and natural habitats during the decade of the 2020s to accommodate projected population growth and related urban sprawl.  

In 2018, a paper in Science Advances by a team of scientists tried to quantify what 21 types of “interventions” on America’s natural and agricultural lands could accomplish on behalf of carbon sequestration and reducing or slowing the increase of carbon emissions as part of multi-pronged national campaign to contribute to the global war on climate change.  At least two of those interventions bear examination because of their explicit connection to population growth:

  • Avoiding conversion of forests to other uses. The Science Advances authors observed that much of the most rapid forest conversions are taking place near growing urban areas, as well as in agricultural areas like the Central Valley of California, where urban growth pressures are also enormous.
  • Avoiding conversions of grasslands to cropland. Converting natural grasslands to cultivated cropland is of course a result of having to feed larger populations of people and livestock in America and around the globe.

Bison grazes on rangeland in the American West. The Biden-Harris Administration’s 30 x 30 campaign hopes to increase scenes like this, all while accommodating approximately 40 million additional Americans on the landscape in the first decade alone, and many more thereafter.

At the same time that they are hoping to admit tens of millions more immigrants – spiking faster and unending U.S. population growth – in its campaign to reduce U.S. carbon emissions and combat global warming, the Biden-Harris Administration is supporting a vast expansion of renewable energy sources. Because renewables possess much lower energy density than the fossil fuels they would replace, this would necessitate a huge increase in the presence of solar and wind farms on the American landscape – onto the very same constrained landscape that the administration claims it wants to conserve.  These conflicting goals of protecting more land from development and radically increasing renewable energy production are never acknowledged. The center cannot and will not hold.  A comparison recently made by energy expert and systems thinker Nate Hagens, PhD is apropos:

“…a 200-megawatt wind farm might require spreading turbines over 19 square miles.  A natural gas power plant with that same generating capacity would fit onto a single city block.”

The Biden-Harris Administration’s 30 x 30 plan is considered an interim measure in America’s contribution in the international campaign to drastically increase the share of the landscape dedicated to nature conservation.  Ecologists, conservationists, environmental groups, and many others have long pushed for protecting natural habitats – primarily to preserve wilderness and biodiversity.  Eminent entomologist and author Edward O. Wilson, for example, in his landmark 2017 book, Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life advocated that 50 percent of the planet be preserved in its natural condition to forestall the mass extinction of thousands of species, including perhaps our own.

In what has been called his most “impassioned” book to date, Wilson argued that humanity must move rapidly to preserve the biodiversity of our ecosphere. In Half-Earth, he maintained that our dilemma is too great to be approached in a piecemeal fashion; he thus proposed a solution appropriate to the scale of the problem: dedicating fully half the Earth’s surface area to nature.  Conserving thirty percent by 2030 in the United States and elsewhere is thus regarded as an interim goal.

Like the great conservationists cited above, scientist Wilson does not consider perpetual human population growth to be compatible with the preservation of biological diversity.  In an earlier (1992) book, The Diversity of Life, he wrote: “The raging monster upon the land is population growth. In its presence, sustainability is but a fragile theoretical concept.”  In a 2001 Scientific American article, Wilson explained: “The pattern of human population growth in the 20th century was more bacterial than primate. When Homo sapiens passed the six- billion mark we had already exceeded by perhaps as much as 100 times the biomass of any large animal species that ever existed on the land. We and the rest of life cannot afford another 100 years like that.”  Wilson referred to rapid human population growth as “our reproductive folly.” Could there be a harsher condemnation of overpopulation?