Mark Twain said, "A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." It's astonishing how the North American press has been stampeded into a feeding frenzy by mostly one-sided stories charging that an army of racist, anti-immigrant, animal-loving vegetarians is about to take over the venerable Sierra Club. As a 35-year member of the club, I am pained to see such distortion, all because some members of our environmental movement have dared to suggest that over-immigration contributes to environmental decay.
The U.S. environmental movement has not managed to elect a good environmental president since Jimmy Carter nearly 30 years ago. To achieve political success, our movement must adopt an agenda that truly reflects the world situation. Sadly, our organization's current approach is to avoid the one issue that should matter most to us: namely, the endless population growth in our own country that is ravishing our lands. Because of our high levels of consumption, such growth is plundering environments elsewhere on Earth as well. We are stealing the resources of the world from other species and other peoples, and from future generations.
As a teenager in the 1950s, I recognized that the high fertility of American women, if continued, would lead to a catastrophic U.S. population explosion. Fast forward a half-century to the present -- the U.S. population has doubled to about 300 million and continues to explode with absolutely no end in sight. Another doubling or tripling is projected in the lifetime of people being born today. What has changed is the underlying cause of the rapid population growth -- from high fertility to massive immigration.
However, no one in the United States (and especially not in the Sierra Club, it seems) is allowed to talk about immigration without being labelled a racist. The deafening silence that results is especially devastating in a place like my home state of California, which has been recognized as one of the world's 25 biodiversity hot spots, and which is being relentlessly paved over -- wild lands, farmlands, wetlands, you name it.
As California goes, I hardly need add, so goes the United States.
Just this past Sunday, in the usually pro-immigration Los Angeles Times, the lead story in its magazine told it as it really is, as the Sierra Club never tells it: "A human wave is breaking over California. It's flooding the freeways and schools. It's bloating the cost of housing. It's disrupting power and water supplies. Ignoring reality has not worked."
The author refers to a recent study from an organization I am involved with, called Californians for Population Stabilization. The study shows that most of California's population growth since 1990 is attributable to migration from other countries, plus U.S.-born children of immigrants. Our state is heading for a train wreck and no one in charge has the foggiest notion of what to do.
If our present U.S. population doubles, the additional 300 million people will be the ecological equivalent of adding billions of persons in the developing countries. The last thing the world needs is more high-consuming Americans. But, as a consequence of some of us being labelled racist, the entire U.S. environmental movement has been cowed into silence.
True leaders are unafraid to speak the truth. In 2000, Sierra Club hero, the late David Brower, who was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, said: "Overpopulation is perhaps the biggest problem facing us, and immigration is part of that problem. It has to be addressed."
Some people, including Sierra Club Canada, argue that rather than opposing migration to Canada and the United States, the "ecological footprint" of people here should be reduced. Yes, we all should strive to reduce our consumption, but this is not an either/or situation; population and consumption should be addressed in a comprehensive program.
Support for current immigration policies seems to come from the well-to-do in our society. Such support may sound noble in principle, but it's too easy to be pious when one does not suffer the consequences; those are borne by society's weakest members. It is ironic that the organization that has launched the most strident attack on those of us sounding the population alarm is the Southern Poverty Law Center, which purports to act for the benefit of the poor. Studies by the National Academy of Sciences, the Center for Immigration Studies and the Rand Corporation all show that current U.S. immigration policies have a negative impact on the economic well-being of the poorest Americans.
Present trends will produce a society that no environmentally sensitive person should accept. My own calculations show that rates of population growth in some places, including California, are so rapid that even optimistic projected increases in the rate we are using renewable resources, such as wind and solar energy, can't keep pace, and increasing amounts of fossil or nuclear energy will be needed to fuel our society. More than that, indicators of quality of life are a function of population size and not of consumption -- for example, streets will be just as crowded whether each person drives a high-mileage hybrid car (as I do) or an SUV.
Present Sierra Club policy forbids all members from making any official public remarks about immigration policies and levels, using their official Club titles. So, let me be clear, these are my own opinions, not the Sierra Club's. I hope, however, that in the not-too-distant future, my fellow Sierra Club members will recognize the need to put our genuine environmental concerns ahead of misguided political correctness.
Ben Zuckerman, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles, is vice-president of Californians for Population Stabilization and a member of the Sierra Club's national board of directors.