1972 Rockefeller Commission Report on Population Was Surprisingly Insightful


President Nixon initiated a study of population that holds many insights of lasting value.  In the late 1960’s President Richard Nixon was very aware of a growing population and the problems it could cause (see my earlier entry “Who Would Have Thought Richard Nixon a Visionary“).  As a response, he set up the Rockefeller Commission under John D. Rockefeller III.  The Rockefeller Commission Report is a diverse, well-researched, and well-written report, a real eye opener, and it is clear now that it did not get the attention it deserved.   I will be writing more entries around some of the key revelations in this report, as there are just too many striking insights, still applicable today, to cover them in a single entry.  Here are a few highlights, however.

The goal of a sustainable future need not be described in detail for us to pursue it, as long as the fundamental concept is understood.  Last line of chapter 1 of Rockefeller Commission Report: “… no generation needs to know the ultimate goal or the final means, only the direction in which they will be found.”   I think we have that understanding, as many have arrived at it independently around the world – a sure sign of a fundamental truth, in my humble opinion.

Urban sprawl is analyzed and explained.  Chapter 3 describes the urban-suburban sprawl that was occurring in 1972, and which has continued through today, and points out that it is driven by people wanting to live in the country but still have the advantages of the city.  Unfortunately, those who take up residence in the country near the city find that they are soon absorbed by suburban development, and they effectively end up in the city after all.

The report compares the effects of 2- versus 3-child families over time.  Chapter 4, on the economy, points out that with larger average family size, U.S. gross national product will grow a lot more as well, placing increased demands on natural resources and the environment.  A smaller population reduces those demands and provides a longer timeline in which to adjust to natural and human-caused environmental changes.  A faster growing and larger population, accordingly, increases the pressure to adapt and reduces the opportunity and resources needed to do so.  Effectively, a faster growing population increases our risks.

A new population study comparable to the Rockefeller Commission Report would be an asset in pursuing the long-range planning we need today.  It would be very interesting to see the Rockefeller Commission Report re-done in the next few years.  The original report has proven surprisingly accurate, even prescient, and it spelled out and analyzed many trends that are continuing today.  It is increasingly apparent that we need long-range planning at scales ranging from local to global, and such studies will be needed to maximize the accuracy and effectiveness of such plans.  The study also provides excellent insight into the forces driving population growth and movements.

As always, I appreciate your comments..

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