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The media will be freaking out over this in the next few days: The country is about to give birth to its 300 millionth resident. (No. 300 million could also sneak across our borders and cross into the country – though don’t expect that person to land on the cover of newspapers. We’ll surely see a cute baby picture.)

This could happen by Monday. As of 10:45 a.m., we were 36,455 people away, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s population clock.

The landmark has prompted some interesting reporting on the impacts of our population growth and what we should expect to see in the coming decades. This is a local story. The West Coast is going to continue to grow.

The Christian Science Monitor reports:

The one sure thing about U.S. population as it moves past 300 million – expected to happen in the next few days – is that there will be more Americans. A lot more.

Everything else is informed speculation. Still, much will turn on how big the United States becomes and how fast it grows – from its use of natural resources to its settlement patterns to shifts in political clout. … In any case, Americans are expected to continue to gravitate west and south. Today, the Top 10 fastest growing states, cities, and metropolitan areas are all in those regions, mostly in the West. In general, the West and South have been growing two to three times as fast as the Northeast and Midwest.

The great American midsection, meanwhile, will continue to empty out.

It’s also an environmental story. We have reported on the pressures that California’s state parks feel as the state continues growing. Some in that story theorized that we are running out of land. That may be true locally, but it is not true across the country, says Gregg Easterbrook, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. In a Sunday column in the Los Angeles Times, Easterbrook writes:

The rising population will bring with it more: more of everything. More people, more sprawl, more creativity, more traffic, more love, more noise, more diversity, more energy use, more happiness, more loneliness, more fast food, more art, more knowledge, maybe even more wisdom. Today the United States is 50% larger in population and development footprint than a mere four decades ago, and if current trends hold, four decades from now it will be a third larger still. That means our national infrastructure must grow by at least another third to accommodate further population – a third more highways, housing subdivisions, schools, trash landfills and everything else. I hope you like the United States, because there is a great deal more of it coming.

In spite of that, we should not worry about running out of land, he says.

The U.S. is among the world’s least-populous nations, with one-eighth the population density of, say, Britain. The “built-up” area of the United States is far smaller than most would guess, with about 7 percent of the U.S. land mass converted to cities, roads and similar uses. … Subtract the parts of the Rocky Mountains, Southwestern deserts and Alaska that aren’t suitable for most kinds of habitation, and there remains plenty of land in the U.S. for substantial future population increases. Some nations – Bangladesh, China, India and Japan – already are approaching their usable-land limits. America’s lies far in the distance.


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