I don't know exactly how many people live in Florida. Do you? I read that it was about 21 million, but that was last week, so it might be 22 million by now. And that doesn't include the odd million or two in the annual snowbird migration.


Many recent studies address how much Florida's population may grow in coming decades. Some expect it to double again. Others are slightly more modest. But all have one common prediction: Florida will grow and grow, and then perhaps grow some more.


The worst part is that many folks think this growth will be wonderful, or even necessary to keep Florida's economy afloat. But if it's true that our state's economy would collapse without continued population growth, exactly what kind of future do they envision? Construction forever? Houses and shopping centers wedged tightly from sea to shining gulf?


That kind of unsustainable growth is called a pyramid scheme — except in Florida, where it's known as progress. We've been lucky at it for over a century, and maybe Florida can keep it going for a while.


If we can just double Florida's population again a time or two, perhaps we can postpone Florida's economic, if not environmental, reckoning until we Floridians of today have all gone to that great voting booth in the sky.


Meanwhile, we plan for the coming hordes. Experts tout sewers as a replacement for polluting septic tanks. Then pipes break, or back up in a storm, and sewage flows through the streets. But it's only happened 23,000 times in the last 10 years.


We plan more highways to evacuate terrified millions in advance of a new breed of super-hurricanes. Some run through swamps. Not too smart, considering what happens when a hurricane hits a swamp.


And our state government struggles to keep up with a land that has already grown out of all recognition. Like the lumbering Stegosaurus, which reputedly had two walnut-sized brains, one in its skull and another halfway down its spine, Florida may soon need a second capital halfway down the peninsula.


The Florida Republican Party is way ahead on this, considering moving its headquarters south to where it believes its voter base is. Could Florida come to be governed from Tallahassee and Orlando, the way the increasingly ponderous Roman Empire needed administrations in both Rome and Constantinople?


I suggest that we take action now to curb Florida's population growth while there is still some wiggle room, figuratively and literally. Perhaps the most obvious tactic would be to turn our welcome centers at the state border into "unwelcome centers" (we could call them "safety centers") to frighten tourists into not settling permanently in Florida.


Exhibits could have captions like:


"You could be eaten by an alligator. Or a bear. Or species yet unidentified lurking in the Everglades."


"If you buy a home in Florida, it will likely be literally underwater before you pay off the mortgage."


"Skin cancer is our official state blemish."


"Unattended children are frequently carried off by pelicans."


Half seriously, though: I'm thinking states like Michigan and New York don't want to lose residents to Florida (New York's Mr. Trump excepted). It wouldn't cost much to collaborate with Rust Belt states on a marketing campaign, aimed at shivering Great Lakers who may be eyeing Florida:


"Better weather is on its way! Global warming will soon create an ideal climate of warm summers and mild winters, with just enough snow to be fun for the kids! No need to move to Florida — Florida is coming here!"


In total, somber seriousness, let's do away with corporate welfare in Florida. No more tax breaks for developers. If the same laws applied to everyone, we'd have half the sprawl and twice the integrity.


Don't invite Yale University to move to Florida. Don't poach businesses from Kentucky. As much as we need quality jobs here, they help Floridians more and balloon the population less if they're homegrown.


Spend some real money to protect surviving wilderness lands and purchase conservation easements. That way growth is at least localized. Hint: Fewer taxpayer-financed sports stadiums can mean more dollars available for land preservation.


Florida is growing toward catastrophe. Sprawl never pays for itself (guess who does). Let's sit down and discuss the problem while there's still room to sit down.


Michael Stephens lives in Gainesville.