Mass immigration's impact on the American environment has become another of those issues that can't be discussed in polite society. The recent gyrations of the Sierra Club, America's premier environmentalist organization, demonstrates just how restrictive the gag order against discussing immigration has gotten, and why.
The Sierra Club, logically declared in 1989 that its goal of zero population growth required that "Immigration to the U.S. should be no greater than that which will permit achievement of population stabilization in the U.S." Native-born Americans have indeed done their part in achieving the Sierra Club's goal, reducing their birth rate to the replacement level. But continued massive immigration has lead the Census Bureau to forecast that the U.S. population will more than double from 275 million in 2000 to 571 million in 2100, even though the global population is now widely expected to drop in the second half of the 21st century. Hispanics are projected to grow from 32 million to 190 million. Non-Hispanic whites are expected to remain the largest ethnic group, growing from 197 million to 230 million, but only because the Census Bureau assumes that Anglo white birth rates will increase. If they remain at their current level of 1.8 children per woman, the non-Hispanic white population may well shrink. And this total figure of 571 million might be an underestimate, since it assumes that the overall net immigration rate will decline fairly steadily from 3.6 per 1000 people in 1998 to 1.6 per thousand in 2100. If, however, the per capita immigration rate remains steady for the next 100 years, watch out. Environmentalists' worst Blade Runner nightmares are likely to come true.
Despite the mathematical inevitability of high immigration's increasing America's population, in 1996 the Sierra Club leadership, hoping to outreach to minorities, discarded its immigration reform plank and decided to "take no position on immigration levels". While neutral-sounding, this policy has functioned as a gag order. For example, the Sierra Club recently shut down two of its email lists that discuss population issues on the Orwellian grounds that immigration reformers were using it for "dissension" rather than the "open communication ... for which they were created." Apparently, some communications are more open than others.
Dissident Sierra Club members forced a referendum in 1998, and garnered endorsements of immigration reform from superstar environmentalists like retired Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day; World Watch co-founder Lester Brown; novelist Farley Mowatt, author of Never Cry Wolf; photographer Galen Rowell, whose magnificent pictures have sold millions of Sierra Club calendars; and famed sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson, the brains behind the "biodiversity" movement.
Although the immigration realists merely wanted to go back to the 1989 Sierra Club policy that "The Sierra Club will lend its voice to the congressional debate on legal immigration issues when appropriate, and then only on the issue of the number of immigrants - not where they come from or their category," they were of course demonized as racists by the organization's management. One of the Club's few Hispanic leaders, Luis Quirarte, announced that if the initiative passed, "I plan to quit. I am a Chicano, and blood is thicker than water."
One might think that such racialist chauvinism, valuing La Raza over ecological health, would discredit the pro-immigration wing of the Club, but of course the opposite happened. Among the overwhelmingly liberal membership, such bullying worked well enough to block passage of the referendum.
Nonetheless, the Sierra Club has good reason to be extremely sensitive about race. For conservationists had traditionally argued, with much evidence, that it is not just how many immigrants, but also where they come from, that matters. In an era that's becoming increasingly hysterical about ferreting out any and all historical links to racists, modern environmentalists have much to worry about.
The conservation movement traces its roots back to the Northern European romanticism of the early 19th Century. The Germans were particularly attached to their native forests (and still are, as reflected in the strength of the German Green Party). This love of the Teutonic homeland tended to spill over into blood and soil neopaganism, most notoriously among the Nazis. The mountain-loving Hitler considered the outdoors-orientation of the German gentiles to be another proof of their superiority over the wholly-urbanized Jews.
In the U.S., the first great age of conservation began during the Progressive Era under Teddy Roosevelt and his activist Secretary of the Interior, Gifford Pinchot. The Progressives' reputation, long sky-high because they were seen as the forerunners of today's liberals, has curdled in our multiculturalist age due to their WASP chauvinism. For example, TR, Pinchot, Planned Parenthood's Margaret Sanger, and many other Progressives favored eugenics. Many of the Progressives' favorite causes — anti-machine politics, conservation, publicizing birth control, eugenics, muscular Christianity, immigration restrictions, and Prohibition — formed a fairly coherent agenda for maintaining the WASP domination of America in the face of heavy immigration.
Today's conservationists face a similar challenge posed not just by the size of the current immigrant influx, but by its destination and composition within the U.S. As anybody who flies cross-country can see, America is a relatively empty nation. There are, in fact, huge swaths of the country that would benefit from higher population density. For example, Wal-Mart's success has triggered a rapidly growing population around its headquarters in northwest Arkansas, which has turned a backward backwater into a pleasant part of modern America. Depopulating sections of the country, like the Dakotas, could desperately use an influx.
But immigrants are not flocking to the rural Midwest, where the native ecosystems have already been eradicated by agriculture. No, they are largely heading toward the sprawling cities, especially those in California, the Sierra Club's ecologically fragile homeland. (A major new report in the leading science journal Nature on the world's environments most in need of preservation, lists the California coast as the most endangered ecosystem in the U.S.) If America's population is headed for 571 million, then California's population could easily exceed a staggering 100 million.
If immigrants tended to come from cultures that shared a green-orientation with us, like Germany and Japan, or if they tended to be well-educated like the typical Sierra Club member, they'd pose less of a threat to the environment. However, most immigrants today tend to be poorly educated, and originating in societies that put little emphasis on conservation.
Latin Americans have shown a positive disregard for environmentalism as evidenced by their tendency toward littering and driving smog-belching old junkers. Hispanics have also demonstrated little interest in America's natural wonders: only 1% of visitors to Yellowstone national park are Hispanics, even though they make up about 10% of the population.
As a predominantly blue collar group, immigrants form Latin America indulge in the traditional working class disdain for hoity-toity upper middle class environmentalists. Only 7% of the Sierra Club's 550,000 members are minorities of any kind, compared to about 28% of the entire population. The political triumphs of the environmental movement have stemmed not from affluent, well-educated conservationists convincing blue-collar workers to vote against their own interests. Instead, the whole country has become more affluent, well-educated, and white-collar, thus spreading the tastes of the environmentalists through more of the electorate.
But we are importing a new proletariat from Latin America that's even less educated than the Archie Bunkers of the past. In recent years, Hispanics have finally begun to vote heavily. It seems likely that during an economic downturn, Hispanic blue collar voters will favor relaxing California's stringent restrictions on factories, construction, and landscaping.
Thus, the rapid growth of this ecologically apathetic group has dire implications for green politics. Iantha Gantt-Wright, the National Parks Conservation Association's cultural diversity manager frets, "The absence of cultural and racial diversity in national parks looms as one of the greatest threats of all [to our national parks] because it means parks can lose the very constituents who will be in a position to save them in 50 or 100 years."
Now, it's likely that upper middle class environmentalist views could be inculcated into today's Hispanic-Americans over the next couple of generations. But the process depends on their being economically and culturally assimilated into today's upper middle class. However, few will manage that trick if they continue to be engulfed by millions of additional Hispanic immigrants, driving down their wages, and surrounding them with environmentally lax Latin American cultural norms. The best way to kick-start this assimilation process is via an immigration pause.