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Newspaper Celebration of Population Growth Perpetuates Cultural Myth

It’s my mission to point out the programming that keeps our culture speeding toward a cliff, fueled by its destructive addiction to MORE. My radar is finely tuned to pick up not just themes and premises, but even the subtleties of word selection that reinforce our society’s belief that bigger is better. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes not so subtle. Ocassionally I get a little cranky that so many cannot yet see what I call “growthism” in news reports, headlines, editorials and even television commercials. I get even crankier toward those who keep creating and serving this Kool-Aid.

I try to be diplomatic when drawing attention to examples of growthism Kool-Aid. After all, most who drink it – and many who serve it – are blissfully unaware of its toxic ingredients. They don’t realize we are members of a cult – the cult of growth, and when we swallow the Kool-Aid we are making a suicide pact. Forgive me for being tough on my hometown newspaper today. This is going to be a cranky moment.

It all started last month with the release of 2010 U.S. Census data showing my county passed the City and County of Denver as most populated in the state. My county is basically the Colorado Springs metro area. The headline shouted (in all caps), “POPULATION 20% HIGHER THAN IN 2000.” The day that story ran, our local paper also editorialized about it, under the headline, “COLORADO SPRINGS, SYMBOL OF SUCCESS We are larger and healthier than the rest.”


Here are a few tidbits from the editorial (boldface is my emphasis added):

“El Paso couldn’t be the largest county in a popular state if people did not like moving here and staying here. We have been successful because we have done a lot of things right.”

“Colorado Springs metropolitan area has become the state’s healthiest urban economy. New data show the metro’s economic output grew by 2.7 percent from one year to the next, faster than that of in any other metro in the state.”

“…we are an example of how it should be done. Failing metros lose population or stagnate. Only successful metros grow by 20 percent in 10 years. Good job, Colorado Springs.”

The only acknowledgement that there might be any downside at all to economic and population growth was a mention that such success involves “tolerating the sights and sounds of economic activity.” There is nothing written about how Colorado Springs’ growth increases the city’s ecological footprint, using up even more of someone else’s share of the planet. And there is certainly no acknowledgement of the inconvenient truth that no city can perpetually grow its population.

The newspaper’s editorial serves as a classic example of growthism. I expect few readers questioned its unexamined assumptions because they’ve been programmed from birth to believe them. When nearly everything you read assumes growth is good and bigger is better, most of us come to believe it. We’re not even tempted to question it. “Growth is beneficial” has become “conventional wisdom.”

A few days after the news story and editorial, a local columnist weighed in under the headline “Being No.1 will come in handy – eventually.” Again I’ll share a few juicy excerpts:

“We’re No. 1!”

“We’re tops in Colorado.”

“County Commissioner Sallie Clark said the population number ‘is almost a status symbol.”

The column focuses on a longstanding competition between Colorado Springs and Denver for state transportation project funding and attention from Colorado’s governor and legislature. Sadly, here the “benefits” of being bigger can seem very real. Commissioner Clark told the columnist population statistics will help the county “because a lot of the formulas for grants from the state and federal government are predicated on population.”

Those giving this a quick, casual read might nod in agreement with these sentiments. But I’ve been doing the math here in Colorado for a decade and I’m quite certain the costs of growth more than devour any benefits one can claim growth brings. However, as long as these types of unexamined assumptions are printed and spoken, and go unchallenged, this destructive growth-worshipping belief system will live on.

Dave Gardner

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    I recently revisited Colorado Springs, a city I lived in for 20 plus years but moved from 6 years ago. I was amazed at how bedraggled the town looked (other than the interstate going through it) and how shoddy the roads were – potholes everywhere! The city appeared much more prosperous and well kept when I first saw it a quarter of century ago. Are these signs of unkempt commons the consequence of “status” and “growth”? Somebody’s ripping us off, so don’t believe the hype!


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