Statement of Brock Evans


SUSPS Home     Overview     What You Can Do     History     Democracy     Misc


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.

"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. "

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 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 like Americans , 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. 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.

"...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".

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 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.

Brock Evans



Brock Evans is former Vice President for National Issues of the National Audubon Society, with primary responsibilities in the public lands and forest management areas. Before that, he was Northwest Representative of the Sierra Club, based in Seattle (1967-73); and then Director of the Club's Washington, D.C. office (1973-81). In 1990, Evans was honored with an appointment as Fellow of the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, where he resided and taught a course on the Politics of the Environment.
A native of Seattle, Mr. Evans received his B.A. degree from Princeton University, and a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School. He has authored many articles and spoken at numerous public appearances and congressional hearings on the subject of forest management, land use, and energy issues. For several years he served on the Areas of Agreement Committee, an industry/environmentalist group working for joint funding for forestry.
Evans received the Washington Environmental Council's Environmentalist of the Year Award in 1972, the Sierra Club's highest award, the John Muir Award, in 1981, and numerous other awards for distinguished service and leadership including New England Environmental Leadership Award (1985), United Nations' Environmental Leadership Award (1985), Idaho Wilderness Leadership Award (1989), and League of Conservation Voters Outstanding Performance Award (1989). He is currently Executive Director, Endangered Species Coalition, and active with environmental, scientific, and religious organizations.


SUSPS Home     Overview     What You Can Do     History     Democracy     Misc