Young, Hip, Leftie Journalists & Enviros Are Often Clueless About Immigration-Overpopulation-Environment Connection

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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.

December 1, 2013

In my two decades in the trenches, as a somewhat reluctant warrior in our country’s seemingly endless and intractable skirmishes over the interconnected issues of immigration, overpopulation and the environment, I have noticed a disturbing trend: All too many 20-something and 30-something reporters, bloggers and environmental activists seem oblivious to the interconnections between these issues.

These interconnections are not rocket science, although they too are based fundamentally on arithmetic, logic and causality, yet on a much simpler level. To wit: For three decades immigration has been the main demographic force driving rapid, unsustainable population growth in the United States.

In the foreseeable future, demographers predict it will continue to be the main driver. In turn, this rapid growth in the number of Americans entails greater environmental impacts, because each additional human being consumes an additional increment of resources and generates an additional increment of waste. Again, this is not rocket science – just basic ecology.

What’s so difficult to comprehend about this? We might even depict it graphically as:

Certainly 1970s-era environmentalists, journalists and even politicians grasped the causal connection between the second two bubbles in this diagram: population growth entailing more environmental impact, which was why population was such a pivotal theme in the celebration of the first Earth Day. “We have met the enemy and he is us,” proclaimed cartoonist Walt Kelly’s character Pogo in a celebrated comic strip of that era.

But inserting the first bubble (immigration) into this causal sequence seems to overload the cerebral circuitry or cognitive capacity of those who struggle to count to three.

And thus we have the spectacle of many politically aware younger folks – born after that first Earth Day – who fail to connect these dots, however large or conspicuous they are. My hunch is that this is because in recent decades, national politics has devolved so as to cast the environment as an inherently “liberal” or “progressive” cause and cast restricting immigration as an inherently “conservative” or “retrograde” cause, and never the twain shall meet in this polarized universe.

Thus at first blush, anyone arguing that we need to curtail immigration to protect the American environment, leapfrogging from the first bubble in the above diagram to the third, is greeted as a wing-nut at best or a racist xenophobe at worst, guilty of the “greening of hate.” This is the bogus conspiracy concocted by open-borders zealots in which xenophobes are supposedly sneaking around trying to convert high-minded “liberal” environmentalists to a hateful cause that they should shun instead.

The irony is that our clueless critics have it exactly backwards: immigration restrictionists aren’t trying to stealthily infiltrate the environmental movement; rather, the modern immigration reform movement itself was actually founded in the 1970s by environmentalists concerned about the effect of increasing immigration rates on U.S. population size.

Nowadays though, folks with at best superficial schooling either in ecological principles or environmental history simply don’t link immigration to population growth, and/or population growth to more environmental impact. For them, it’s as if the diagram above were the diagram below:

At the risk of tooting my own horn, these folks should consult an academic paper NumbersUSA founder Roy Beck and I co-authored more than a decade ago for a special issue of the scholarly Journal of Policy History, published by the Pennsylvania State University Press. This “Special Issue: Environmental Politics and Policy, 1960s-1990s” was edited by none other than CAPS’ own Prof. Otis Graham. Its title? “The Environmental Movement's Retreat from Advocating U.S. Population Stabilization (1970-1998): A First Draft of History.”


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