Immigration has direct effect on environment

EDITORS decide daily which stories to print and how much space to give them. If unbiased, they lead with the important points, subordinate all others. Discerning the important from the trivial is a judgment call.

The recent resignation of David Brower from the board of the Sierra Club was unarguably newsworthy. The San Francisco-based organization has 600,000 members and ranks among the most influential environmental advocacy groups.

Brower joined the club in 1933, was its first executive director in the 1950s and 1960s, and is ranked after John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt as a signal environmentalist.

Yet on May 18 he resigned from the board "with no regret and a bit of desperation."

Fittingly, Brower's act received its fullest coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle. A surprisingly large number of papers, including the Atlanta Constitution, chose not to run it at all. Others edited out what prompted Brower's act.

Brower asserted that "the planet is being trashed, but the board has no real sense of urgency." He protested the board's support of federal government proposals that he felt would contravene the club's original mandate to protect the California Sierras. He further chastised the club's leadership for not taking a strong stance on U.S. population growth and immigration.

"Overpopulation is perhaps the biggest problem facing us, and immigration is part of the problem. It has to be addressed," he said.

Even retaining this admonition left the casual reader ill-informed about the severity of the country's overpopulation problem. Shortly after the first Earth Day in 1970, the President's Commission on Population Growth and America's Future urged Congress to act with alacrity to stabilize the population of 200 million. Ecologists such as Paul and Anne Ehrlich of Stanford University peg 150 million as the maximum level consonant with long-term habitat preservation.

Congress rejected demographic accountability. Instead, it adopted policies that have added 75 million people in a scant three decades.

This January, the Census Bureau updated its historically conservative projections of future growth. Finally falling in line with academic demographers, the Bureau conceded that with unchanged immigration policies we are likely to add 300 million persons by the year 2100! If immigration policies - including our family reunification, refugee asylum, and H-1B visa programs - are liberalized, we could approach one billion.

At that level we will menace both our survival and the world's with our rapacious appetite for resources, renewable and nonrenewable. At our current level we are the world's largest consumer and polluter.

Not just Brower, but Earth Day co-founder and former Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, Harvard professor and sociobiologist E.O. Wilson, and Dave Foreman, chairman of the Wildlands Project and co-founder of Earth First, all urge scrutiny of the demographic and environmental effects of current immigration policies. Post-1970 immigration - both entrants and their descendants - is the sole force fueling 21st century American population growth.

Identifying causality is not assigning moral "blame." However, political pressure groups have sought to intimidate those correctly linking environmental degradation, population growth, and immigration by hurling such spiteful epithets as "racists" or "nativists." They would have us believe that trying to deflect this country from a path leading to a scenario resembling present-day China has become an unpatriotic act.

This intimidation has succeeded. Journalists are so loath to cover population stories that a dishearteningly small number attended the population session at the Society for Environmental Journalists' annual convention last fall.

It is a truism that the strength of a democracy depends upon well-informed voters. If overpopulation is the threat to local, national, and world survival that Brower and I both contend, public policies made in ignorance - a deliberately-imposed ignorance - can only result in a disastrous environmental breakdown.

If this is how a public act by an environmental icon is covered, I know that the pre-Democratic Convention population conference sponsored by Los Angeles-based Californians for Population Stabilization will be ignored - despite a speaker list that includes all the above luminaries.

Demography drives human destiny. David Brower knows this; our politicians discount it.

B. Meredith Burke is senior fellow at Negative Population Growth, a Washington, D.C.-based organization.