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Center for a Livable Future


September 17, 2010

CLF Hosts Population ‘Summit’

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  • Bob Lawrence, MD, Director, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future
  • Stan Becker, PhD, JHSPH Professor, Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health


  • Brad Heavener, State Director, Environment Maryland
  • Brian S. Schwartz, MD, MS, JHSPH Professor, Co-director, Program on Global Sustainability and Health, Co-director, Joint Geisinger-JHSPH Environmental Health Institute

The ever-increasing population of the region, and its effects on the health of the Chesapeake Bay, was the focus of a special three-hour symposium at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recently. Sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, the event brought together experts in population growth, sustainability, and the environment to examine the impacts and suggest solutions to the region’s rapid growth.

Brad Heavner, state director of Environment Maryland; Brian Schwartz, MD, M.S., JHSPH professor of Environmental Health Sciences; Tom Horton, former Baltimore Sun Reporter and author of several articles and books on the Chesapeake Bay; and Stan Becker, PhD, JHSPH professor in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health, presented their views on the challenges to restoring the Bay with a state population that is expected to grow by 260,000 households by 2010.

“The big question is can we truly restore the Chesapeake Bay given the population projections for future growth?” asked Heavner of Environment Maryland, a statewide citizen based advocacy organization. Heavner said recent federal actions, including stronger rules and deadlines imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency on cleaning up the Bay, were doing what the Clean Water Act should have done 35 years ago by imposing firm deadlines. “In Maryland, we know how to reduce the pollution; but it will take a lot of money…to retrofit impervious surfaces and getting farmers to change the way they do business. From a scientific standpoint we know what it will take,” he said.

In his talk, “People Pressures: Lifestyle Choices, Consumption and effects on the Chesapeake Bay,” Brian Schwartz pointed to the converging effects, or “perfect storm” of ecosystem and species decline, climate change, and energy scarcity as factors limiting the region’s growth.

“The environment is being degraded because we’re already using too much of it,” he told the audience. Schwartz compared the US ecological footprint —how much land and resources needed to support a population—to India. He noted that, on average, an individual in the US, which is adding three million people to the population each year, requires 10 times as much space. “If you want to save the bay, do you tell people to give up their kids first, or live a little bit smaller on the planet? That’s the big discussion. Which is the better strategy?”

Tom Horton, a former reporter for The Baltimore Sun, who now writes and teaches about environmental issues and growth, said reducing the impact of an increased population to the Chesapeake Bay region would be difficult. “Just think about what it means to reduce the impact of 17 million to a time when there were just 8 million people,” he said, referring to the population increase since 1985. He called it a “tall order” to totally offset the effects on a projected additional population of two million people in the next decade.

“A lot of people will tell you agriculture doesn’t have a thing to do with population. But, in fact, it responds to agriculture,” he said, noting the increase that ethanol production has had on the planting of corn, the use of additional fertilizers and the resulting expansion of the Chesapeake Bay dead zone.

Stan Becker, JHSPH professor in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Heath, kicked off a lively panel discussion moderated by CLF Director Bob Lawrence. “The US is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have an explicit population policy,” he said, adding that the country has a growth rate with many more births than deaths. “What is the sustainable population growth?” he asked. “The only sustainable population growth rate is zero.”