Environmental degradation results from too many people using
too many resources. For 30 years the Sierra Club affirmed its
commitment to address the continuing growth of the human
population-locally, regionally, and globally. In 1970 Club policy
stated: "We must find, encourage, and implement at the earliest
possible time the necessary policies . . . that will . . . bring about
the stabilization of the population first of the United States and
then of the world."
But in 1996 the Board of Directors effectively abandoned this
position. Fully mindful that population is a sensitive issue, members
can vote on reinstatement this spring.
Already the United States has lost 90 percent of its
northwestern old-growth forests, 50 percent of its wetlands (93
percent in California), and 99 percent of its tallgrass prairie.
Never-ending population growth negates every environmental struggle.
This is especially true for land and habitat issues such as protecting
forests and wilderness, halting urban sprawl and farmland conversion,
water depletion, and saving endangered species. As the 1996 policy of
The Wilderness Society states: "Population policy should protect and
sustain ecological systems for future generations. . . . To bring
population levels to ecologically sustainable levels, both birthrates
and immigration rates need to be reduced."
The United States is the world's third most populous country.
Its 270 million high-consuming Americans affect the global environment
as much as several billion people in developing countries. Were
population growth in the developing world to stop tomorrow, projected
U.S. growth over the next 50 years would still cause global
environmental impacts equivalent to adding billions of people in
developing countries. Population growth here cannot be ignored.
Why not curb excessive American consumption? We should; it's a
Club priority. But were we to cut per capita resource use in half (an
enormous task), our environmental impact would not diminish if
population doubled. In 1996 the President's Council on Sustainable
Development (PCSD) emphasized: "Stabilizing population without
changing consumption and waste- production patterns would not be
enough; neither would action on consumption and waste without efforts
to stabilize population. Each is necessary; neither is sufficient."
Unlike other major industrialized countries, the United States
is growing rapidly-by 3 million people per year (a "new" Chicago
annually)-due to more births than deaths and immigration. To stabilize
population, both contributions must be addressed. To reduce
birthrates, the Club appropriately supports a host of policies here
and abroad-comprehensive family planning services and improving
education, employment opportunities, and health care for all women,
men, and children.
Most U.S. population growth, however, is now due to
immigration. According to the Census Bureau, post-1970 immigrants
(when Congress increased immigration levels) and their descendants
will account for over 80 percent of U.S. growth between now and the
mid-21st century. At present growth rates our population will approach
half a billion-the population of China in the 1940s-by the year 2050.
No wonder the PCSD's Task Force on Population and Consumption stated,
"Reducing immigration levels is a necessary part of population
stabilization and the drive toward sustainability."
In 1994 the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, chaired by
civil rights activist and former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan,
declared: "We disagree with those who would label efforts to control
immigration as being inherently anti- immigrant. Rather, it is both a
right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage
immigration so it serves the national interest." Recent polls show
most Americans, including most minorities, agree. Clear majorities of
African-Americans and Latinos favor substantial reductions in legal
and illegal immigration, according to surveys by the Roper Poll,
The Wall Street Journal, and the Latino National Political
Survey. These Americans, especially those of low income, understand
that they and their environment are adversely impacted by excessive
The 1996 "no position on immigration" decision overturns
long-standing Club policy to curb U.S. population growth at the
earliest possible time. We believe the Club must adopt a comprehensive
population policy that necessarily includes immigration. In this we
agree with mainstream national commissions that have examined this
issue, with the majority of Americans of all major ethnic groups, with
other conservation organizations such as The Wilderness Society, and
with environmental leaders including our supporters David Brower, Paul
and Anne Ehrlich, Dave Foreman, and Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson.
Without U.S. population stabilization, many Sierra Club campaigns are
doomed to fail. A vote for this ballot question will enable the Club
to work realistically toward reducing U.S. population growth for the
benefit of the environment and for this and future generations of
people and living things everywhere.
-- Dick Schneider, population committee
chair of the Sierra Club's San Francisco Bay Chapter, and Alan Kuper,
population-environment committee chair of the Ohio Chapter.