Peak & Prairie

Rocky Mountain Chapter's
Online Newsletter
February / March 1998


Supporting Statement for Proposal A

Why We Need a Comprehensive U.S. Population Policy

by Fred Elbel, Chair, RMC Population Committee


"The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness", wrote John Muir.


The preservation of wilderness, of free-flowing rivers, unspoiled coasts and forests with a diversity of life is our responsibility. As environmentalists, we must be the voice for future generations and other species in shaping today's policies. The effects of population growth are long-term and cumulative. The United States is the third most populous country on Earth and is the only major developed nation still growing rapidly.

We will double to half a billion in the next century unless current policies are changed. The environmental impacts of this growth will be staggering. The Nature Conservancy reports that one-third of U.S. plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction. The primary cause is habitat destruction. More people exploit more land for housing developments, shopping centers, industrial parks and highways. Farmers are filling wetlands as prime farmland is subdivided. Wildlife is lost, waterways are dammed and polluted in the service of more people. Visualize the consequences of a further doubling of U.S. population: gridlock, sprawl, pollution, more habitat destruction, and overcrowding of parks and recreational lands.

While American consumption is massive in total, use of most resources has stabilized on a per capita basis. Overall demand is increasing, however, because of continued U.S. population growth. That growth results primarily from high levels of U.S. immigration. According to the National Academy of Sciences, immigration will account for 2/3 of future U.S. population growth. Unless immigration is reduced, U.S. and global environmental impacts will accelerate.

Some argue that this issue must be addressed only "in a global context." This is the same faulty argument that opponents of U.S. reductions of greenhouse gases made at Kyoto: the U.S. must wait for a global solution before acting. But environmentalists know our impact is too great to ignore. We must lead the rest of the world, not follow it.

Some claim that immigration is too divisive an issue. Yet clear majorities of all major American ethnic groups support reductions in current high levels of immigration. A 1996 Roper poll found that 83% of all Americans favored reduced immigration levels.

Some say that taking a position on immigration will alienate friendly legislators. This is merely a scare tactic. These legislators vote for sound environmental legislation because it benefits their constituents. This would not change if the Club forthrightly addresses U.S. population growth.

Taking "no position" on immigration is a position: support of unsustainable U.S. growth. Recall the expression, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." Right now, the Sierra Club is part of the problem.

Barbara Jordan, Chair of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, called for reduced immigration, declaring, "It is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest." In this case, reducing U.S. population growth also serves the global interest because of the massive impact we have on global ecosystems.

Sierra Club members must think like environmentalists: long-term and inter-generational. The Club will be in trouble if its leaders think like politicians: short-term and expedient. The Club needs a comprehensive, long-term U.S. population policy -- now.


"Unity in diversity is a principle that demands of us personal maturity. We must develop the ability to tolerate the creative chaos of many voices and opinions all expressing themselves at once; to not seek control over the thoughts or behaviors of others just because they are different from us; and to listen with respect and recognize the dignity of those with whom we disagree." -Marianne Williamson in The Healing of America.