Official Sierra Club Population Policy

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The Sierra Club has had an active population program since 1974, and a policy on the issue of population growth since 1965. The Sierra Club, in 1989 stated that "Immigration to the U.S. should be no greater than that which will permit achievement of population stabilization in the U.S."
The Sierra Club Global Environment web page states that "Ending population growth in this country and around the world is an essential part of any effort to protect the environment, sustain the ability of the earth to support life, and enhance the quality of life for all human beings."
Thus, the 1996 "neutrality policy" on discussing the immigration-population connection reversed over 30 years of Sierra Club policy.

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Population Policy History

First Mention

Dan Luten, a Sierra Club volunteer, wrote an article published in the Sierra Club Bulletin in which he asked, "[We], each of us, should be asking himself whether he is concerned for an enduring wilderness or merely for his own lifetime....It is time to ask the question: Does a wilderness program, a wilderness policy, without a population policy make any sense?" The topic became a part of the Club's Biennial Wilderness Conferences in the early 60's. The Sierra Club's Board of Directors first expressed its concerns in 1965.


The following are the policies on population growth as adopted by the Sierra Club's Board of Directors and key committees as noted:


The "population explosion" has severely disturbed the ecological relationships between human beings and the environment. It has caused an increasing scarcity of wilderness and wildlife and has impaired the beauty of whole regions, as well as reducing the standards and the quality of living. In recognition of the growing magnitude of this conservation issue, the Sierra Club supports a greatly increased program of education on the need for population control.
Adopted March 13, 1965; amended July 8, 1995


The Sierra Club endorses the objectives of legislation to establish federal machinery to deal with the problems of rapid human population growth
Adopted March 13, 1966, amended July 8, 1995


The Sierra Club urges the people of the United States to abandon population growth as a pattern and goal; to commit themselves to limit the total population of the United States in order to achieve balance between population and resources; and to achieve a stable population no later than the year 1990.
Adopted May 3-4, 1969


  1. The Sierra Club urges that the United States and each of its individual states and lesser political entities abandon all policies, projects, or programs, including tax exemptions, designed to foster, subsidize or promote population growth.

  2. The Sierra Club urges that the United States and each of its individual states and lesser political entities actively promote educational processes aimed at stabilizing the population within the earliest possible time.

  3. The Sierra Club urges that the United States condition the granting of all economic foreign aid on the actual implementation of birth control programs in each of the foreign countries receiving such aid and that wherever possible economic foreign aid be given primarily for the purpose of funding such control programs and not for purposes which actually compete with the fundamental need to limit population growth.

  4. The Sierra Club urges that each of the individual states of the United States legalize abortion.

Adopted September 11-20, 1969


The Sierra Club endorses a resolution from the organization Zero Population Growth concerning measures to inhibit population growth. In essence, the resolution parallels an earlier Sierra Club statement of policy.
Whereas, every human being and every American, present and future, has a right to a world with a healthy environment, clean air and water, uncluttered land, adequate food, sufficient open space, natural beauty, wilderness and wildlife in variety and abundance, and an opportunity to gain an appreciation of the natural world and our place in it through firsthand experience, and
Whereas, population growth is directly involved in the pollution and degradation of our environment -- air, water and land -- and intensifies physical, psychological, social, political, and economic problems to the extent that the well-being of individuals, the stability of society, and our very survival are threatened, and
Whereas, human populations are making ever increasing demands upon irreplaceable natural materials and energy sources, and Whereas, the protection of the quality of our environment is impossible in the face of the present rate of population growth, including that in the United States, despite the advanced state of technology and the growing affluence of some segments of human society,
Be it resolved by the undersigned organizations--
That we must find, encourage, and implement at the earliest possible time the necessary policies, attitudes, social standards, and actions that will, by voluntary and humane means consistent with human rights and individual conscience, bring about the stabilization of the population first of the United States and then of the world;
That pursuant to this goal, families should not have more than two natural children and adoption should be encouraged;
That state and federal laws should be changed to encourage small families and to discourage large families;
That laws, policies, and attitudes that foster population growth or big families, or that restrict abortion and contraception, or that attempt to constrict the roles of men and women, should be abandoned;
That comprehensive and realistic birth-control programs should be available to every member of our society; That environmental, population, and sex education should be readily available; That there should be increased research into the sociology of population stabilization and into the improvement of contraceptive technology;
That private and governmental departments, commissions, and committees should be created to deal effectively with the population problem; and That the foreign policy of the United States should reflect the urgent realities of the population-environment crisis.
Adopted June 4, 1970; amended July 8, 1995

World Population Year

The Sierra Club welcomes the deliberations of the World Population Year Conference to convene in Bucharest in August 1974, and urges participating nations to support an action plan designed to cope with problems related to population levels:

  1. The Sierra Club is concerned with the quality of life for all humanity. Further unrestricted population growth will have unavoidable adverse effects on present and future living standards and particularly will act to prevent improvements of standards of living and intensify conditions of overcrowding and hunger for millions in developing nations.

  2. Excessive population density intensifies every environmental problem associated with lack of adequate living space, lack of sufficient vital natural resources, and the disposition of wastes.
    These environmental problems include the poisoning of air, water and land resources; insufficient production of the food and energy necessary to sustain life; and increased susceptibility to disease arising from the debilitating effect of this pollution and resource exhaustion. The Earth's limited reserves of arable and habitable land, as well as mineral and energy resources, are already being so severely strained by the existing population that it is clear that increased population growth threatens our survival as a civilized species.
    Food and resource scarcity complicates the inequitable allocation of these resources, promotes competition for these resources, promotes competition between nations, and can lead to destructive economic and military conflict. Increased population density creates environmental problems that transcend national boundaries. Accordingly, regulation of population growth within nations is a proper subject for policy formulation and other action by the United Nations.

  3. Therefore, the Sierra Club resolves that:

    1. The aim of policies adopted by the United Nations Conference on Population should be that world population should be reduced to a level no greater than the carrying capacity of the Earth.

    2. All individuals should be assured the ability to control reproduction by the availability of information and facilities, where needed, for the whole range of reproductive control. Technical assistance should be available to nations requesting it from the United Nations.

    3. An intensive and broad-based educational program should be instituted, directed at persons in all countries, regardless of economic or educational level, designed to increase their awareness of the direct relationship between large family size and the adverse consequences of excessive population growth, and the material advantages to existing and future world populations of restraint on growth.

    4. A full discussion should be had of the issues of racial or national genocide. The Sierra Club believes that restraints on population growth are not incompatible with a rational worldwide control over the distribution and use of vital resources and that they do not constitute a threat of national or racial genocide. The Sierra Club recommends that all nations, including developed nations, help to formulate and participate in international programs designed to curb population growth.

    5. Population growth already overburdens parks, preserves, and other recreational facilities. The continued enjoyment of natural areas without irreparably impairing those areas depends on formulation of careful policies for population reduction and proper land use.

    6. The Sierra Club makes the following specific recommendations for action:

      1. The United Nations Conference on Population should urge that all national programs that provide incentives to large families (tax relief, financial assistance, etc.) be replaced with programs encouraging small families.

      2. Each nation should be urged to create a national population commission to formulate policy on population-growth restraint and implement any programs that may be developed.

      3. The United Nations or another appropriate international agency should expand and create a continuing program for the effective collection and dissemination of data on population-growth trends and densities, as well as the relation of such data to problems of resource allocation and conservation. They should develop and to the extent possible:

        1. implement large-scale educational programs on the hazards of unrestrained growth and on the mechanisms of contraception and family planning;

        2. conduct research on contraceptive techniques; and

        3. train personnel to carry out the foregoing.

      4. Those countries with the available resources should be urged to contribute funds to defray the cost of population growth restraint programs initiated by less affluent nations and by international agencies.

      5. Achievement of these ends should be made a top priority for United Nations action at all levels, including formulation of concrete programs for national implementation and funding.

If the above goals are immediately pursued on an international level, we believe that population reduction may be achieved by voluntary controls on reproduction.
Adopted May 4-5, 1974; amended July 8, 1995

Birth Control

The Sierra Club supports legislative efforts to expand birth control services and research.
Adopted May 6-7, 1978, Policy Code 9.0

Population Stabilization

The Sierra Club reaffirms its dedication and its conviction that:

  1. All nations of the world, including developed nations, should formulate and participate in programs designed to curb their own population growth, and

  2. All developed nations, including the United States, being the countries with impact on the world environment disproportionate to their population sizes, have an obligation both to end their population growth as soon as feasible and to substantially reduce their consumption of this planet's non-renewable resources.
    Adopted May 6-7, 1978, Policy Code 9.0

National Polulation Policy

In 1982, the Club supported introduction of a National Population Policy bill, emphasizing foresight capability. The bill was reintroduced in three consecutive Congresses.


In November 1990, the Club's grassroots leaders gave population the greatest number of votes among potential new major Club national campaigns. The Board of Directors subsequently declared the international population assistance drive one of the Club's seven federal priority campaigns for 1991-1992.
Subsequently, "The volunteer population committees at the group and chapter level increased from 12 in early 1990, to 45 in early 1991, to 120 in early 1992, to 275 in 1993."
From Sierra Club Population History Page

International Conference

In 1994, the Sierra Club attended the United Nations' International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in support of our national position on assuring reproductive health and family planning services for all people by the year 2000.


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Immigration Policy History

U.S. Population Policy and Mass Immigration

The Sierra Club supports the development by the federal government of a population policy for the United States, as a means of articulating national goals and coordinating federal efforts to achieve those goals.
U.S. Mass Immigration Laws, Policies, and Practices
The Sierra Club urges Congress to conduct a thorough examination of U.S. immigration laws, policies, and practices. This analysis should include discussion of

  1. The impact of immigration of different levels on population trends in the United

  2. The disproportionate burden on certain states, and

  3. The effect of immigration to the U.S. on population growth and environmental quality in this country.

Substantial international migration, whether legal or illegal, arises to a great extent from the growing desperation in many societies of the world. With world population increasing at more than 70 million per year, it is clear that international migration can make only an insignificant contribution to easing world population pressures. Currently, only the U.S., Canada, and Australia among all countries accept more than a handful of permanent immigrants.
All regions of the world must reach a balance between their populations and resources. Developing countries need to enlarge opportunities for their own residents, thus increasing well-being, eventually lessening population growth rates, and reducing the pressures to emigrate. Developed nations must work towards greater conservation of resources as well as population stabilization in order to reduce impact on depletion of non-renewable resources, creation of pollution, and damage to ecosystems. This combination would remove the root causes of international migration, by providing more equitable opportunities for people throughout the world.
A major challenge facing the United States is to help influence the world in this direction. The U.S. foreign assistance program and other U.S. international activities can be major means to address such concerns.
Therefore, the Sierra Club urges continuing review of U.S. foreign policy and foreign assistance programs to ensure that their efforts enhance reduction in population growth rates, improve environmental protection, and further environmentally sound development in all countries of the world. Adopted May 6-7, 1978, Policy Code 9.0

Mass Immigration

In 1980, the Sierra Club testified to the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Reform, stating:
"It is obvious that the numbers of immigrants the United States accepts affects our population size and growth rate. It is perhaps less well known the extent to which immigration policy, even more than the number of children per family, is the determinant of the future numbers of Americans."
"[It is an]... important question how many immigrants the United States wants to accept and the criteria we choose as the basis for answering that question."

Mass Immigration

The Sierra Club has long supported the idea that an end to population growth in the U.S. and each country around the world is essential to environmental protection. In particular, club policy calls for "development by the federal government of a population policy for the United States" and for the U.S. "to end (its) population growth as soon as feasible."
Immigration to the U.S. should be no greater than that which will permit achievement of population stabilization in the U.S. (policy confirmed by the Club's Conservation Coordinating Committee).
The Sierra Club will lend its voice to the congressional debate on legal immigration issues when appropriate, and then only on the issue of the number of immigrants - not where they come from or their category...
Sierra Club statements on immigration will always make the connection between immigration, population increase in the U.S., and the environmental consequences thereof.
Sierra Club Population Report, Spring 1989

Mass Immigration

The Sierra Club National Population Committee stated:
"The Population Committee's priority is getting the U.S. to resume its international leadership in providing support for population growth reductions throughout the world. However U.S. population growth is also of concern. Immigration is a matter of environmental importance because of its connection with U.S. population growth..."

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Recent Population-Immigration Policy Reversal

The following Sierra Club Board resolution, adopted in 1996, refutes over 30 years of Sierra Club policy:

Mass Immigration
February 1996:

The Sierra Club, its entities, and those speaking in its name will take no position on immigration levels or on policies governing immigration into the United States. The Club remains committed to environmental rights and protections for all within our borders, without discrimination based on immigration status.
Adopted Feb. 24-25, 1996

Mass Immigration
April, 1998:

In the April, 1998 general Sierra Club election, members voted on the role of a comprehensive U.S. population policy within the Sierra Club. Initiative "A" lost, although 40% of the voting membership supported the initiative. Many believed the election was unfair because of the forced "A" versus "B" ballot questions and unethical tactics employed by the Sierra Club management.


Subsequent Developments

Population Reduction

"The Sierra Club Board of Directors recently clarified -- not changed -- its existing policy to state that the world and the U.S. should go beyond population stabilization to reduction,...."
     -- Carl Pope, Oct. 21, 1999 directive
"The Sierra Club advocates reductions in the population of the United States and the world... The Board clarified that the Club favored an eventual decline in US population, since we had already decided in 1970 that expected 1990 levels were the highest that were environmentally sustainable in the long term, and we are now much above that level...."
     -- Sierra Club 1999 population policy

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More Information

Further information on Sierra Club Population Policy may be obtained directly from these Sierra Club website:


Information and policy statements may also be obtained from the following Sierra Club representatives

  • Gene Coan, for Population Policy information, at

  • Sierra Club, 85 Second Street, 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3441, USA. (415) 977-5500, (415) 977-5799 (fax).

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