an Environmental Issue
Immigration Moratorium ASAP!
Alliance for Stabilizing America's Population
Since 1945, the U.S.'s population growth rate has equaled that of India's.
B. Meredith Burke, Published in tile San Francisco Chronicle,
October 28, 1997
What better way to push away news we don't want than to discredit the
messenger? An Internet message on "how to argue effectively" recommends:
"Compare your opponent to Adolf Hitler." A variation on this would be to
call your opponent a "racist xenophobe."
A forthcoming Sierra Club membership poll on whether to adopt a stance
on population and immigration policy has provoked just this sort of
response. Well before the first' Earth Day in 1970 the Sierra Club had
advocated population control as essential to protecting the environment.
We Americans who pleaded for "zero population growth" ESPECIALLY in the
United States (due to our high per-capita resource consumption) were
viewed as enlightened.
At that time our focus was on the above-replacement fertility of the
parents of the "Baby Boom" and on the frontier mentality that rejected the
reality of natural limits. When a place got too sullied or drained of
natural resources, we could just move on.
Two population commissions--the President's Commission on Population
Growth and the American Future, headed by John D. Rockefeller 11I; and
the Select Commission on Population, headed by Father Theodore Hesburgh, a
Notre Dame president--concurred that U.S. population needed to be
stabilized. Its 1972-level of 205 million was already threatening the
environmental legacy for future generations. The Rockefeller Commission
noted that, immigration policy would have to respect this demographic
reality. Father Hesburgh agreed.
Since 1945 the U.S.'s population growth rate has equaled that of
India's. But believing the fiction that immigration policy can be
divorced from population policy, Congress rejected both commissions'
recommendations to subordinate the former to the latter. In the years
since the sources of population growth have shifted radically.
Native-born Americans, especially those of white and Asian origins, have
had below-replacement fertility for. nearly 25 years. However, post-1970
immigrants and their descendants will contribute 90 percent of the
population growth between 2000 and 2030.
Leon Bouvier, a respected former Census Bureau demographer, has
calculated that without post-1970 immigrants and far more important their
descendants, the U.S. population would now be about 230 million instead
of 265 million. By the year 2030 it would be peaking at 240 million
instead of exceeding 350 million--on its way to way over half a billion by
Immigrants, not the "baby boom echo," are behind the new baby boom.
Nationally, 18 percent of 4 million U.S. births are to foreign-born
women, resulting in an above-replacement U.S. fertility rate. In
California, home to 50 percent legal entrants (and the vast majority of
illegal), births to native-born women have been well below their 1970
level since 1990--but births statewide have doubled. Immigrants are
responsible for ultimately doubling our child population--and hence the
number of potential parents in the next generation.
Intimidated by the "sacred cow" status of immigration policy, the
Sierra Club board issues contradictory dicta. Says Executive Director
Carl Pope: "We'd like to stabilize U.S. population, but the Board
believes immigration isn't an environmental issue." This statement implies
that Pope believes that population is linked to environment, hence the
immigration-environment link follows.
Immigration advocates say the question is one of consumption; not
population. But many of the 2,000 Sierra Club members who signed the
petition forcing the poll support the ecological equation that
environmental impact is a function of three variables: population,
consumption, and technology.
Endangered wetlands, global warming, congestion, and human encroachment
upon open habitat: how are these problems improved by a population
that has grown from 150 million in 1940 to 265 million today? If numbers
do not matter, is the experience of living in a city of 1 million the
same as that of living in one of 5, 10, or 20 millions?
In August environmental groups and activists--including many involved
in the '70s population control efforts--met in Colorado to form the
Alliance for Stabilizing America's Population (ASAP). They brainstormed
how to educate activists and legislators on the need to stabilize U.S.
Young people today have grown up with a crashing silence on the
population/environment connection: the press has engaged in a
quarter-century policy of disconnect between population stories and
environmental news. Now the members of the Colorado group are being
assailed as racist for maintaining that these two issues are intimately
But after 30 years of sounding the alarm I am proud to stand alongside
principled persons of renown as we endure the obloquy of those who assail
us--because they cannot rationally attack our message.
The author, an international demographer/economist, was chair of the
Maternal and Child Health Advisory Board of San Mateo County, California.
She was a visiting scholar at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University,
1996-97, and is a Sr. Fellow of Negative Population Growth. For more
information, Meredith Burke; Ph.D., can be reached by email at
Population-Environment Balance is a national, non-profit membership
organization dedicated to maintaining the quality of life in
the United States through population stabilization.