Statement of Brock Evans about Sierra Club Ballot Initiative
on Population and Immigration Policy
January 9, 1998
I have served on the Board of Directors of the National Hispanic Environmental Network
for the past five years. Before that, I served for fifteen years (the last two as President)
of the Human Environment Center, a group devoted to improving environmental
employment opportunities for minorities. I spent many hours on the picket lines in
Seattle in the 1960's, demanding fair housing for all races. My wife's last name is Garcia.
That is why I reject the reckless charges of 'racism' now being hurled at those
suggesting that uncontrolled, official illegal, immigration into this country in
the present numbers, is maybe an environmental issue that we should all be concerned
about. It just is, and all the ad homenim attacks on those who say so won't make it
go away. Attacking the messengers certainly won't mean fewer shopping malls,
subdivisions or beachfront condos that those 17 million new Californians (2/3
of whom will be immigrants if my figures are correct) will be demanding by 2020.
I am sorry that today's immigrants are mostly of a different skin color than
the majority population already here, because that makes it easier for opponents
to make 'racist' charges. Myself I don't care if the immigrant part of our
population/land destruction problem is Swedes or Welshmen or Swiss or Egyptians...
whoever or whatever increases our numbers has the same disastrous effects on our
wildlife and open space or coastlines. A change in skin color won't make the problem
go away and won't change my concern about it.
This is an environmental issue (among others). Somehow, if we love our earth -
yes, even the earth of this, our own country, where we live (not some abstraction
from far away) we must face it. No, it is not the only environmental issue, and it
is not the only population issue. And yes, probably the best way to deal with it
ultimately is to help the countries of origin become economically and socially
attractive places to live in. I applaud and have supported all such efforts,
and will continue to do so.
But that is all off in the future, and may or may not actually occur. In the
meantime, every year for perfectly understandable reasons, immigrants come
here, seeking that better life that they know cannot be obtained in their
homelands. I would want to do the same. In fact, nearly all of our own
ancestors did do the same. The reason there should be reasonable restrictions
on immigration into this country (say, perhaps equivalent to what I understand
to be the policies of every other country in the Western World) is that this is
something we can do here - and now... and it will make a real difference, out
there on the ground where it really counts) our ground, our precious American
earth - in terms of acres not paved, forests not cut, species still living.
"I want to do what I can do - now, in my own time
and for my own place, knowing that many like me around the globe are
fighting for their places too. "
I read an article recently where an opponent of immigration limits said
'it won't save a single tree'. To me the math is compelling, and it says
otherwise. If we are to have 125 million more people in this same finite
space we call the United States by 2050 or so, and 2/3 of them are immigrants,
legal or illegal, where are those 80 millions going to live, shop, recreate?
It is false and patronizing to assume that newcomers don't come here for the
same reasons our ancestors did, or that we stay here for: they want to live
, to savor all the good things about our easy, luxurious, and
incredibly wasteful and destructive way of life. That's why people come,
and that's why they bring their families too That's why I would want to
come, for sure. So it will be a lot of trees and it will a lot of acres
for new highways and subdivisions... and a lot of wetlands and a lot of
shorelines and a lot of pollution and a lot of farmland. And a lot fewer
birds and plants and animals.
No, I don't think this "American Earth" that David Brower and Nancy Newhall
have spoken of so eloquently and for which five generations of us have
sacrificed and fought, is any more special than any other place on this
lovely planet of ours But it is my place. I live here, and I have the power
to actually do something about it to help make it safe and to pass it on
into the future. I don't find it productive to propound soothing abstractions
about the rest of the world... I want to do what I can do - now, in my own
time and for my own place, knowing that many like me around the globe are
fighting for their places too.
This is one thing I (we) can do, and it will make a difference. It is not
the only thing, but it is something.
Yes, I know it sounds selfish - and that makes me uncomfortable. "You've
got yours. ..now you're telling the little brown brothers to stay home,"
said a good friend of mine. Ouch! That hurts. But that's not what it's
all about, not for me. It's about this living earth and what we all -
our increasing numbers are doing to it. And it's about my search for
something tangible to do - now - about this 'population problem' we all
have been saying is at the root of every environmental issue for
three decades now.
Some of my friends do say: "OK, we concede that maybe it is an environmental
issue. But it is not an issue for the Sierra Club. It will tear us apart,
it just makes us shout at each other, many of our chapter and group
leadership have rejected it, and students are leaving us in droves.
And besides, won't it alienate others who represent a cultural diversity
that we want to attract to our larger banner?"
These are compelling arguments, because we live in a less than perfect
world, one in which issues are not always (or even often) discussed
only on their merits. There is a truth in it, because the Sierra Club
cannot do everything, and we, like every other group, have to pick and
choose the issues on which we really will focus and concentrate our
considerable power. I love the Club as an institution; I've been a
member for 33 years, 20 of which were as a staff and Board member.
We can't do everything.
But we can take a stand. I remember the debate in the Club two years
ago over the initiative to advocate no more logging on public forests.
We heard all the 'pragmatic' arguments then, too; that it will destroy
our effectiveness, that we won't be able to negotiate any more with the
other side, that it will make us look ridiculous, etc. And these arguments
were often made by well intentioned persons who secretly hated the idea
of logging in National Forests too, but were afraid that it would
somehow 'hurt the Club' if we dared to say it out loud. They knew
it was the right thing to do, but they were afraid understandably,
to say it.
"...the Club now stands for no more of the logging
that we have always hated and which we always knew was wrong and harmful.
We took a stand".
The measure passed, and the Club now stands for no more of the logging
that we have always hated and which we always knew was wrong and harmful.
We took a stand. The Club has done very little since that one to actually
try to implement it - but our stand has given heart to others who are.
I suggest that it may be the same here. It if passes, at least we have
taken a stand, one which most of us instinctively know is the right
thing for this earth, our earth. If not at least we tried.
I hate the idea that the debate over what may or may not be fair and
reasonable levels of immigration into the United States might polarize
us, or take our attention and energy away from other important issues.
I hope that that isn't the case, and my 30+ years with the Club and
many similar debates (e.g., I remember the mass resignations in
the 1970s when we endorsed a labor strike against Shell over working
conditions) tells me that in the end, we will survive this one too.
Our Board and staff and groups and chapters will either do or not do
something about this part of our country's population/land destruction
problem. We are not all-powerful in any event; we are just a great
institution made up of many committed people who love and care for
the earth, and who want justice for it and for all the wonderful
life forms (including ourselves) that it supports. We are all trying
to do the very best we can even if we can't do everything.
But we can, at least, take a stand. And a major pact of the education
job we will have to do will be to help our many friends out there
from other communities to understand that this matter has nothing
at all to do with race or skin color, but that it has everything
to about our earth, and what it will be like in fifty years.
I hope I do not lose any of my many friends in California, a state
I dearly love and for which I have fought all the years of my
environmental career. I apologize to those who say that they do not
understand why I would do this. I know that they care as much about
this earth as I do and I value their friendship.
I guess in the end it is because I believe that the present course
is harmful to just about everything I have fought for these past
thirty years, and so I must take this stand.