The Environmental Movement's Retreat from Advocating U.S. Population Stabilization (1970 - 1998): A First Draft of History

by Roy Beck and Leon Kolankiewicz

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This important article is published in the Journal of Policy History, (ISSN 0898-0306) Vol 12, No 1, 2000, published by the, Pennsylvania State University Press, under the title noted above. The issue can be ordered for $12 from
       Pennsylvania State University Press
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This article is highly recommended to all population activists, environmentalists, and funders of environmental organizations.
From the cover page:

"The years surrounding 1970 marked the coming of age of the modern environmental movement. As that movement approaches its fourth decade, perhaps the most striking change is the virtual abandonment by national environmental groups of U.S. population stabilization as an actively-pursued goal. To begin to understand why that shift has occurred and the significance of that shift, it will be important to review the 1970-era movement and its population roots."


The article then examines in detail the events leading to abandonment of domestic population stabilization efforts by major environmental organizations. ZPG [now Population Connection] and Sierra Club are used as case studies in the article.
The article is a real breakthrough for discussing immigration policy in a calm, rational manner. It needs to be mailed to every single member of every single board of directors of every single national and regional environmental group.
The published (short) version can be ordered from Penn State Press, as noted above, or it can more easily be ordered from:
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NumbersUSA will send the article to environmental leaders and journalists you believe should receive the article.
In addition, the entire article is available on the web at
You can download and print the entire article, and email a friend about the article.
A longer, more comprehensive, version is also available on the above website.
This article is highly recommended reading.


Although it is primarily a scholarly presentation, the authors offer some logical and factual commentary illustrating the often ill-conceived environmental/population changes made by environmental organizations. Selected quotes from the long version appear below which apply directly to the Sierra Club and its Administration:
Regarding the Sierra Clubs major sprawl campaign the authors write that it "... focused on creating more regulation and management of U.S. growth ... and more closely packed dwellings ought to be embraced so that population could continue to grow without spurring more sprawl." (page 6).
"With the business and political establishments continuing to push for 'more growth' and the environmental establishments now pushing for 'smart growth', the special interest [environmental] groups had defined a spectrum for the media that excluded 'no growth' and 'greatly reduced growth' from the range of available, acceptable options." (page 7).
"The 1990's environmental movement is fundamentally different from the 1970-era movement because it has mostly abandoned that Foundation Formula [I = PAT]." [i.e., no "P"]. (page 10).
[The U.S. is] ... "consuming our 'natural capital' rather than living on 'income' -- an unsustainable course." (page 12).
"Between 1970 and 1990 (while environmental groups focused primarily on Individual Impact), increases in Population Size caused 93% of the rise in total U.S. consumption." (page 12).
"The 'half-Formula' [not including population] environmental movement would forever have to work for lower and lower Individual Impact [consumption] just to keep the environment from deteriorating further." (page 13).
"To talk of fertility reductions after 1972 was to draw disproportionate attention to non-whites." (page 16).
"Jesse Jackson told the Rockefeller Commission in 1971: '...Virtually all the security we have is in the number of children we produce." (page 16).
"And Manuel Aragon, speaking in Spanish, declared to the Commission [Rockefeller Commission]: '...what we must do is to encourage large Mexican American families so that we will eventually be so numerous that the system will either respond or it will be overwhelmed." (page 17).
"... The shift of focus of population groups [to women's issues] left the country with virtually no major voices explicitly calling for stabilization." (page 21).
"Perhaps the clearest sign that many population groups had divorced themselves from the environmental movement was that the long international document from Cairo made no mention of the connections between population growth and the environmental ills of countries with growing populations. ...Many environmental groups adopted those same de-linked population goals." (page 24).
[Brad Erickson of Political Ecology Group] "said the plan of the New Left greens in the 1960's had been to use the environmental issue as one of several they hoped would bloom into full manifestation of a progressive movement." (page 31).
"Over the previous ten years [before 1996] many of the old 'full-Formula' [e.g., I = PAT] environmentalists had gradually been ousted from many of the Sierra Club's top leadership positions, with the effect of sharply diminishing the priority attached to U.S. population stabilization." (page 35).
Regarding the Sierra Club's February 1996 change in policy, the authors state that, "in effect, the board had ceased the Club's work for U.S. stabilization." (page 35).
"For example, the only way to achieve immediate zero population growth without reducing immigration would be to cut the number of U.S. births in half. American women ... [would have to] adapt to a one-child family .... In effect, Americans would be asked to sacrifice their own aspirations to 'replace themselves' ... simply to make way for more immigrants from rapidly-growing countries that had chosen not to make such a sacrifice." (page 36).
"The two organizations [Sierra Club and ZPG] that had been the most outspoken for U.S. stabilization and immigration reduction in the 1970s and 1980s teamed up to defeat those same goals in 1998." (page 36).
"[Americans] were told by Sierra Club leaders that immigration-driven U.S. growth was environmentally acceptable because it was not making global environmental problems worse." (page 45).
"The Sierra establishment apparently saw no problem with an unlimited number of migrants moving to the U.S. precisely to join in this consumption binge while it lasted." (page 46).
Regarding Carl Pope's "Titanic" boat analogy [with its bulkheads spilling over] and immigration, the authors write "that barriers between distinct nation-states may well be essential to preventing one country's failure to address overpopulation from becoming the whole world's failure." (page 46).
"Under this same promiscuous "One World" or open borders logic, (foreign) mothers -- with their own private reproductive decisions -- have effective veto power over whether concerned Americans will be able to save [the U.S. environment] due to incessant population growth." (page 47).
"Surely, treating the entire planet as a 'global village' or one open commons is a formula for ineffectual local actions, for paralysis, and ultimately, for a disaster of global proportions -- a 'tragedy of the commons' writ large." (page 47).
Regarding Carl Pope's inconsistent statements regarding self regulating, the authors state Pope believes that "to migrate or not to migrate -- to impose or not to impose additional ecological burdens on an already stressed America -- should be the prerogative of prospective migrants themselves, not those Americans whose environment and quality of life are affected by ever more people." (page 47).
"The Tragedy of the Commons would convert "America the Beautiful" into America the Wasteland." (page 48).
"By the 1990's, ... environmental groups ... had agreed to press for environmental protections only when they did not conflict with the human rights agenda." (page 51).
"Under a globalist ethic, immigration policy should not be used to protect America's poor if it blocks the economic improvement of even poorer workers from other countries." (page 54).
"This globalist ethic seems to suggest that the American public and the U.S. government do not have a moral right to effect policies that give priority to the U.S. [environment] over another country." (page 55).
"Not one major environmental organization has seriously studied whether their globalist solution has any possibility of creating something other than that China-like population density [in the U.S.]." (page 58).
Explaining the changing nature of political influence, the authors state that, "the block of foreign-born Americans and their children in 1998 already was far larger than the block of Black Americans." (page 58).
"As long as 'enviros' played by the unwritten rules and didn't oppose the perpetual growth ethos ... they could be 'team players' who got enough support to stay in the game and who won enough small victories and compromises to keep them contented." (page 62).
"In forsaking U.S. population stabilization, environmental group leaders may have made a Faustian Bargain ... over the long run they paid with their souls, for they are condemning the American environment ..." (page 62).
"Membership and support for those organizations tend to grow in direct proportion with the real or perceived threat to the environment ... ergo, until or unless that growth damages the environment beyond salvation, it is a boon for these groups' membership appeals and donation solicitations. The recent sprawl campaigns of various organizations are a prime example of a greater loyalty to organizational well-being than the environment's well-being." (page 62).
"... to remain so large, environmental groups 'depend on huge transfers of money from foundations' ... which remain unconvinced that U.S. population stabilization is a good thing. Never-ending growth remains a goal of the national corporate community." (page 67).


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