Florida’s Population Decline is No Cause For Alarm

September 2, 2009 • News

Florida’s recent decline in population is making national headlines (NY Times, USA Today) and is being portrayed as a major cause for concern. The truth is that those expressing this alarm are merely clinging to an old, tired, and harmful mode of thinking.

After 63 years of massive population expansion — which changed forever the ecology, economy and society of the state – Florida’s 0.3% decline actually seems like an opportunity to many. It is a chance for America’s Sunshine State to develop a sustainable economy, which it can then model for the rest of the nation.

Ecological economists like Robert Costanza, Director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont, have known for a long time what seems to be eluding most mainstream economists: relying on ballooning populations and constant increases in infrastructure is not a sustainable economic model.

What once may have been possible and even desirable in the earlier part of American history is pernicious and unsustainable today.

“The long term solution is to move beyond ‘growth at all costs’,” says Costanza, who was raised and educated in Florida – a state which increased its population by 88% from 1980 to 2008.

“We must break our addiction to the current economic ideology and create a more sustainable and desirable future that focuses on quality of life rather than merely quantity of consumption or population growth. It will not be easy; it will require a new vision, new measures, and new institutions.”

The misguided hope among many is that, once this economic crisis dissipates, Florida will again experience a population expansion and greater consumption. But this would only reset the timer, beginning again the steady countdown to a renewed crisis. For a nation wrestling with high unemployment and a spiraling national debt – not to mention accelerating carbon emissions, climate change, and rapid species extinctions — that’s not an option.

There are ways to do it, says Costanza. “It is not a sacrifice of quality of life to break this addiction. Quite the contrary, it is a sacrifice not to.”

Robert Dietz, Executive Director, Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, adds “The ‘end of an era’ of population growth has many eyes trained on Florida. We need an economy that meets human needs without undermining the life-support systems of the planet. Florida can lead the way toward this vision of economic health. Population stability presents an opportunity to seize – an opportunity to make the economy better instead of bigger.

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