Bill Gates Badmouths Paul Ehrlich on Immigration – Gates is Wrong, but Not for the Right Reason

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By Leon Kolankiewicz

Leon is an Advisory Board Member and Senior Writing Fellow with CAPS. A wildlife biologist, and environmental scientist and planner, Leon is the author of Where Salmon Come to Die: An Autumn on Alaska's Raincoast, the essay “Overpopulation versus Biodiversity” in Environment and Society: A Reader and was a contributing writer to Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation.

In a career that spans three decades, three countries and more than 30 states, Leon has managed environmental impact statements for many federal agencies on projects ranging from dams and reservoirs to coal-fired power plants, power lines, flood control projects, road expansions, management of Civil War battlefields, NASA's Kennedy Space Center operations and a proposed uranium mine on a national forest. He also has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop comprehensive conservation plans at more than 40 national wildlife refuges from the Caribbean to Alaska.

The writer's views are his own.

January 29, 2014

The name “Ehrlich” is practically synonymous with modern concern about overpopulation. In 1968, at the behest of the legendary conservationist David Brower, then the dynamic executive director of the Sierra Club, the husband and wife duo of Paul and Anne Ehrlich penned the best-selling book, The Population Bomb – igniting the population movement and uniting it (temporarily, at least) with the environmental movement.

In the 45 years since, the Ehrlichs have written many other books and innumerable articles and scholarly papers about the perils of population growth and, more generally, about the plight of the biosphere and the unsustainability of modern civilization from a combination of population overshoot and unbridled consumption.

Quotable, colorful Paul has been interviewed countless times by reporters and writers, appeared in many documentaries, and was a guest on the legendary Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson nearly 20 times back in its heyday. In 1968, he co-founded the activist group Zero Population Growth (ZPG), now Population Connection.

For these unrivaled efforts, the Ehrlichs, especially Paul, have been recognized and reviled, rewarded and ridiculed, lauded and lampooned.

However, one thing neither Ehrlich ever did was take hardline positions on reducing immigration to the United States.

But this did not stop Billionaire Bill (Gates) from taking a swipe at Paul Ehrlich recently when he wrote:

[Ehrlich] pushed aggressively for draconian immigration policies that, if enacted, would have kept out much of the foreign talent that came into the U.S. over the past three decades and added greatly to the U.S. economy.

Wow, this is news to me, Bill. To us population activists who really do advocate reduced immigration to safeguard America’s landscape, resources and environment from the scourge of too many people, Paul Ehrlich’s wishy-washy hemming and hawing on the topic over the years has always seemed more wimpy and indecisive than “aggressive” or “draconian.”

Gates himself has a well-documented agenda of throwing his considerable fortune and power into pushing aggressively for bringing in ever more lower-wage foreign IT workers – undermining American IT professionals and undercutting their salaries. Perhaps this accounts for his peculiar view of Ehrlich and immigration. To Billionaire Bill, any hint of trimming back mass immigration rates that have soared in recent decades to more than a million annually smacks of “draconian.”

In 1979, the Ehrlichs co-authored a book called The Golden Door: International Migration, Mexico and the United States, which was notable for its sympathetic take on immigration and immigrants. Certainly not what one would call “draconian.”

While Paul Ehrlich was a long-time member of the advisory board of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), that alone does not imply 100 percent endorsement of the relatively centrist positions FAIR took – supported by most of the American public – on reducing levels of legal and illegal immigration.

The Ehrlichs also both served several years on the advisory board of the group Carrying Capacity Network (CCN), for which I once worked. They quit in 1995 specifically because they disagreed with a decision by CCN’s board of directors to reorient the Network’s mission from a broad educational emphasis to one focused more forcefully on immigration reduction advocacy to halt U.S. population growth ASAP. The Ehrlichs couldn’t abide that shift, so they quit. While CCN’s position might have been described as “draconian” by Bill, the Ehrlichs went out of their way to distance themselves from it.

Bill Gates

During the 1997-1998 internal struggle over a ballot initiative within the Sierra Club over whether it should support reduced immigration in pursuit of U.S. population stabilization, Anne and Paul were early supporters of the initiative. Anne was then on the Club’s board, but under pressure from that board, which intensely opposed the initiative, both Ehrlichs dropped their support. Again, not exactly “draconian.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made outstanding contributions in support of family planning and population programs in developing countries worldwide. But in pursuit of higher profits, Bill Gates actively aids and abets perpetual population growth and the environmental pressures it causes in his own home country. Paul Ehrlich is complicit because of his relative silence on immigration’s demographic and environmental impact on the homeland – but even that doesn’t spare him the mighty Gates’ scorn.

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