A deafening silence
Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
It’s astonishing how the media have 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.
The U.S. environmental movement has not managed to elect a good environmental president since Jimmy Carter nearly 30 years ago. The combination of current presidential administration and Congress, environmentally speaking, may be the worst in history.
In recent years, the environmental movement has lacked courage to address the root cause of most environmental problems: rapid and apparently endless U.S. population growth. With our high levels of consumption, we Americans are stealing the resources of the world from other species, other peoples and future generations.
The longer the environmental movement and its flagship, the Sierra Club, shirk their responsibility to speak out forcefully for a policy of U.S. population stabilization – that includes both reduced levels of fertility and immigration – the worse off all future generations will be.
Since I was a teen-ager in the 1950s, 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 since my youth is the underlying cause of the rapid population growth: from high fertility to massive immigration.
And there is the politically correct rub: No one in the United States (and especially not in the Sierra Club, it seems) is allowed to talk about immigration without being labeled a racist. The deafening silence that results is especially devastating in a place like California, which has been recognized as one of the world’s 25 biodiversity hot spots, and which is being relentlessly paved over.
Some people argue that rather than opposing migration to 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. Even optimistic projected increases in the rates by which 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 power society.
Should present U.S. population double, then the additional 300 million people will be the ecological equivalent of adding billions of people in the developing countries. The last thing the world needs is more high-consuming Americans. But, as a consequence of some of us being labeled racist, the entire U.S. environmental movement has been cowed into silence.
It’s the well-to-do and powerful in our society who support current policies of record high levels of immigration. Such support may sound noble in principle, but it’s easy to be pious when one does not suffer the consequences; those are borne by society’s poorest members.
It is ironic that the organization that has launched the most strident attack on environmentalists 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 Corp. all show that current U.S. immigration policies have a negative impact on the economic well-being of the poorest Americans.
And poll after poll shows that the general public across all major ethnic and racial groups wants immigration levels to be reduced.
True leaders are unafraid to speak the truth. The late Sierra Club hero, David Brower, 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.”
Ben Zuckerman is professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA. This column was distributed by Knight Ridder Newspapers.