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
Two population commissions--the President's Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, headed by John D. Rockefeller III; 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--and all of that post-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 2050.
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. population.
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 connected.
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.
B. Meredith Burke, an international demographer/economist, was chair of the Maternal and Child Health Advisory Board of San Mateo County. She is currently a visiting scholar at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.