Fred Elbel letter to Sierra Club Board

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August 22, 1997
Board of Directors
Sierra Club
San Francisco, CA

I first joined Sierra Club 20 years ago. I am currently Vice-Chair, South Platte Group, and Population Chair, Rocky Mountain Chapter. I have been extensively involved in the fight to preserve Utah Wilderness over the last several years. I have lobbied in DC several times on behalf of Utah Wilderness and on population issues. I have traveled internationally on business, and am Vice-president of my townhome association.
I am actively involved with several population organizations. I believe that if population growth is not addressed in the US, all of Sierra Club's hard-won victories will be lost in the next 30 to 50 years. ANWR will be drilled for oil, the new National Monument will be mined for coal, and air and water quality standards will be unattainable. I am concerned for the world our children will live in - as Sierra Club so aptly states, concerned "for our families, for our future".

"Is my Sierra Club an environmental organization?"

I am writing out of concern for the direction that the Sierra Club has taken, specifically as it relates to population issues. As an interested party, I have observed the actions of the inaugural meeting of the current national Population Committee in Boulder, Colorado on July 12 through 13, 1997. To say the least, I was disappointed. More precisely, in contrast to population activities of other national organizations, the activities of the current committee address anything but population. Perhaps the national Population Committee should be renamed the "consumption" committee, or the "social justice" committee.
Let me emphasize that I respect the individuals I met - my issue is not with individual personalities. My concern, however, does involve certain outside agendas that members seem to be bringing to the Population Committee under the guise of population issues.
The three-day committee meeting did not at any time discuss or address quantitative demographic projections, concepts of biological carrying capacity and sustainability, nor did the committee even address the significance of these issues and the relevance of discussing them. To substantiate my point, the following highlights illustrate the focus of the committee:

  • No mission statement, board resolutions on population, or documentation from past population committees were provided even when asked for. The committee essentially started "from scratch".
  • Nearly all of Saturday was spent discussing consumption, sustainability, and how to relate these issues to culturally-sensitive populations (as opposed to all Americans).
  • The committee was asked to support the US Sustainable Population Policy Project (USS3P). Chair Karen Kalla stated that her personal belief was that the US should not adopt a national population policy. She stated concern that if the USS3P addressed immigration, then the Club could not endorse it. The issue was then dropped.
  • The only motion made during the weekend was for the committee to support the Voluntary Simplicity Conference in Los Angeles in May of 1998. Motion carried.
  • Dinner Saturday night was held to honor world-renowned scientist and environmentalist, Dr. Al Bartlett, who organized committee use of University of Colorado facilities over the weekend. Prof. Bartlett had offered to present his famous after-dinner talk on the consequences of exponential growth. Over half the Committee boycotted the dinner with the result that the talk was never presented to the Committee.

On May 3, 1969, the Sierra Club Board resolved "to commit themselves to limit the total population of the United States in order to achieve a balance between population and resources; and to achieve a stable population". On September 20, 1969, the Board resolved the following: "... urges the United States ... to abandon all policies, projects, or programs, including tax exemptions, designed to foster, subsidize, or promote population growth".
More importantly, the Sierra Club "Population and Consumption" newsletter, September 1994, #335, stated that The Sierra Club Population Program includes the following elements "... US National Population Policy - to have our country adopt a policy for a sustainable population level within the carrying capacity of our nation's ecosystems".
So I ask: Is my Sierra Club an environmental organization? Has Sierra Club under present leadership completely abandoned it's concern for the population-environment connection in order to cater to those whose priorities are social? The Sierra Club in the past has attracted thousands of members because of its stand on population. How can the Club continue to attract members and participants in its population-environment efforts when the current national Population Committee is, at best, marginally adhering to established Sierra Club policies?
As a long-time activist and Sierra Club member, I strongly request the Board reconsider it's ineffectual position on population growth, and reform the Population Committee in a meaningful way so as to focus on substantive population issues.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Fred Elbel


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