Peak & Prairie
February / March 1998
Letters to the Editor on the Pending
Vote on Immigration Policy
The Sierra Club has stood out from other environmental organization since it is built on a democratic structure and volunteer support. But both the structure and the support are under attack by the Club's Board of Directors. Without membership vote, the Board changed the prior population policy in February, 1996. When grassroots activists qualified a ballot proposal for the upcoming election, the Board saw fit to put a competing question on the ballot. My contention is that since the Board was able to make the original change without consulting the membership, everything contained in the ballot question which they have sponsored can also be implemented without a membership vote (in fact, it is already fully implemented). This makes clear that the Board question is on the ballot for one reason, and one reason only, to attempt to make the membership petition question fail. One would hope that the Board would realize the magnitude of their mistake and remove their question. One would also hope that the Sierra Club membership is sufficiently interested in retaining the democratic structure of the club to support the membership petition on it's own merits, and vote against the Board question if it remains on the ballot.
28 year Sierra Club member
In my youth, during the early part of this century, I lived in Boulder when it was a very small town with no pollution, little crime and surrounded by a countryside rich in wildlife and scenic vistas.
Had anyone told me that Boulder in 1998 would be part of a polluted, sprawling megaplex stretching more-or-less from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, I would have thought they were dreaming or insane.
But what is happening to Colorado is not a dream, it is a reality of catastrophic global population growth--growth happening in the United States at rates almost as frightening as in other parts of the world.
For that reason, I am writing to urge Sierra Club members to vote in the February national election to reverse the Sierra Club's recent "no position" stand on immigration.
For 30 years--until 1996--the Sierra Club demonstrated leadership in addressing the continuing growth of human population, advocating stabilizing the population, "first of the United States and then of the world." It did this by encouraging limits on immigration and a reduced U.S. birth rate, currently the highest of any industrialized nation.
I submit that the population crisis in this nation is so great that the Club has no choice but to ask that immigration rates be returned to the low levels of the 1960s, while at the same time working to reduce the U.S. birth rate and, as always, continuing to plead with Americans to buy less, drive less, and consume less.
We can ask for cuts in immigration without fear of being racist, since poll after poll has shown most Blacks, Hispanics--59 percent in Texas, one recent poll showed--and other minorities also favor sharp curbs in immigration, as do a majority of all Americans.
But we must do both, cut immigration and reduce the birth rate. Neither alone will suffice. Our nation--already the third most populated behind only China and India--will within about 50 years double in population and be as crowded as China in the 1950s.
That means, no matter what efforts the Sierra Club may put forth to plan, limit or direct growth, there will be a doubling again of the size of Denver metropolitan area, with staggering implications to the Colorado environment.
Dr. Don Spencer
Durango, CO 81301
1989 recipient National Medal of Science, member National Academy of Sciences.
(NOTE TO EDITOR: Because Dr. Spencer is elderly and in poor health, I helped him write the above letter. If you need to call him, please let the phone ring many times, as he uses a walker and needs time to reach the phone, or if you have questions, please call me, Kathleene Parker, at (505) 672-3108. Fax: (505) 672-0231.
Global population growth is an environmental issue that the Sierra Club must address. However, restricting immigration is not an important part of the strategy to address this problem.
The rate of global population growth is brought under control when women are given greater access to informed use of contraceptives, better education, and economic opportunities. These factors influence the root cause of population growth, and have proven successful in bringing the rate of growth down. Efforts like these should continue to be the focus of Sierra Club's work on population.
Our world is rapidly being depleted of finite resources and the foremost environmental issue that we in the U.S. must face is wasteful consumption. We are among the 1.1 billion wealthiest people in the world who consume 64 percent of the resources, while the 1.1 billion poorest consume only 2 percent. We know that the Earth simply cannot sustain the U.S. level of consumption for even its current inhabitants. Yet often corporations urge us to consume more, even as they attempt to evade their environmental responsibilities.
In September of last year the Sierra Club Board of Directors overwhelmingly supported the following position: The Sierra Club reaffirms its commitment to addressing the root causes of global population problems and offers the following comprehensive approach: The Sierra Club will build upon its effective efforts to champion the right of all families to maternal and reproductive health care, and the empowerment and equity of women. The Sierra Club will continue to address the root causes of migration by encouraging sustainability, economic security, human rights and environmentally responsible consumption. The Sierra Club supports the decision of the Board of Directors to take no position on U.S. immigration quotas and policies.
I whole-heartedly support this sensible position as sound environmental policy. The current Sierra Club position addresses the root causes of the population problem that ultimately lead to migration and it encourages sustainable consumption. This current position statement is also supported by the Council of Club Leaders, Sustainable Planet Strategy Team, the National Population Committee, and other Club leaders who feel this position is in the best interest of the Sierra Club as a whole.
A position to limit immigration will seriously harm the ability of the Club to build coalitions with environmentalists in ethnic and low-income communities. Many of the elected officials who support environmentally-sound policies represent urban centers and communities of color. In our effort to expand the effectiveness of the environmental movement, and to electing representatives who share our environmental values, it is imperative that Sierra Club work with immigrants (and nearly all of us are, or are descendants of, immigrants) as allies in the movement for environmental protection and restoration.
I urge Club members to vote against the proposed change in Club policy when you receive your mail ballot.