2004 February 18 Wednesday
Sierra Club Election Battle Over Immigration Issue

Former Democratic Governor of Colorado Richard Lamm is on a slate of anti-immigration candidates that are running for positions on the board of directors of the Sierra Club. Lamm says the environment can not be protected from massive population growth.

Our natural American birth rate will lead to a stable population around 2050. But with the current level of immigration our population will be approximately 500 million on its way to a billion. I have yet to meet an American who wants one billion neighbors. What possible public policy advantage would there be to an America of 500 million? Do we lack for people? Do we have too much open space, parkland and recreation? What will 500 million Americans mean to our environment?

We have a chance to stabilize America’s population or we can double it and double it again: The key driver is immigration. If we continue with our present policy of mass immigration (America takes twice as many immigrants as the rest of the world combined) we will continue to grow and grow and grow. The geometry is relentless.

Opponents of Lamm's faction claim immigration is not a proper issue for the Sierra Club to take on.

But to Sierra Club members like McGinn, the immigration-reduction stance being advocated by what he calls "outside " candidates is part of a misguided insurgency as insidious as any noxious weed.

"Everything gets related back to the environment in one way or another, but that does not make it an environmental issue," said McGinn, 44, the de facto local spokesman for Groundswell Sierra, which says its mission is to "save" the 112-year-old Sierra Club.

But if something hurts the environment why is it not an environmental issue?

Sierra Club activists in a group called Support US Population Stabilization (SUSPS) support candidates for the Sierra Cluib board who will change Sierra Club policy back toward opposition to immigration and advocacy of population stabilization. SUSPS states its polices on its main web page:

SUSPS® is a network of Sierra Club activists who support a comprehensive approach to environmentalism within the Sierra Club. This approach includes effective action for population stabilization in the United States. Currently Sierra Club policies call for stabilizing U.S. population but do not address the combined impacts of mass migration and birth rates on U.S. population growth.


Immigration into the U.S. averaged a near replacement level of 178,000 per year from 1925 through 1965. In 1965 Congress increased legal immigration approximately 6-fold through the Immigration and Nationality Act. After subsequent legislation further increasing yearly legal immigration, the U.S. now takes in a million legal immigrants and an estimated 700,000 illegal immigrants each year. This high level of migration will be responsible for nearly 70% of U.S. population doubling during this century.

Environmentalists need not apologize for acknowledging this demographic reality. To the contrary, environmentalists who refuse to recognize the seismic shift of demographics in the U.S. betray their own cause. Only by confronting birth rates and mass migration as the root causes of U.S. population growth will we be able to ensure sustainability for future generations - of all species.

Another website which advocates for the anti-immgration Sierra Club board candidates is SierraDemocracy.org.

One advocate for reduced immigration who is already on the Sierra Club board says the immigration opponents are being unfairly accused.

"It's a democratic process. To accuse these candidates of taking over the Sierra Club is like accusing the Democrats of taking over the White House," said board member Paul Watson, who co-founded Greenpeace and now heads the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

As Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee goes thru the math about population growth in California and shows that immigration is the major driver of population growth.

This is what typically happens in California every year:

As 300,000 foreign immigrants - legal and illegal - arrive in California, another 500,000-plus babies are born (60 percent of them to immigrant mothers, incidentally), and 200,000 or so Californians die. The state's net population growth is 600,000.

Adding 600,000 new souls a year translates into 6 million each decade.

Walters discusses the battle for control of the Sierra Club position on immigration and concludes:

It's a microcosm of California's reluctance to seriously debate growth in its most fundamental terms even as we cope with its massive impacts.

I do not want to see the population of California double. That is one of the reasons why I am for the stop of all illegal immigration, deportation of all illegal immigrants, and much greater selectivity for who can come in as legal immigrants. I hope Richard Lamm and his allies win the Sierra Club board election.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 February 18 02:24 PM  Immigration Border Control

Bill said at February 19, 2004 7:50 AM:

I think that a larger population will help us keep pace with China and India from a military and economic standpoint in the second half of this century. China has about the same land mass as we do. India much less. Both countries have rapid economic growth and a rising standard of living. So what's the big deal?

Engineer-Poet said at February 19, 2004 8:29 AM:

The US fought and won WWII with ~150 million people.  What good would it do to have 3-4 times as many?  We don't need quantity, we need quality.

China is rapidly running out of arable land and water to make it productive, causing it to become a big importer of food.  The USA already has water problems in California, and some east-coast cities had drought conditions last year which forced water rationing.  Adding more people means more demand on the same resources and greater pressures (and expenses) on everyone.  Right now there is nothing resembling a land shortage in the USA, and it sure would be nice to keep it that way.  Let's allow the problems of China, India and Mexico to be their problems, rather than repeating the same mistakes.

To the extent that greater immigration means higher social-insurance taxes, it becomes more difficult to raise and educate the productive parts of the next generation.  This exacerbates problems rather than solving them.

Bob Badour said at February 19, 2004 9:47 AM:


In the nuclear age, we do not need huge armies to deter enemies from invasion. In the coming decades, the biggest threat does not come from large armies, but from small cells of fanatics with ever growing means to possess highly destructive weapons.

Technological advance and not population growth represents the greatest risk. Defending against the advance does not require huge numbers of unskilled and untrainable peasants who present a net economic drain. Defense requires a geographically dispersed economy relying on the advanced technology skills of a contributing population.

Bob Badour said at February 19, 2004 9:50 AM:


The US fought WWII for 4 years with 150 million people along with the combined populations of the allied forces. But the US ended WWII in about a week with two bombs and no more than a few thousand men.

Randall Parker said at February 19, 2004 10:13 AM:

Bill, I can't answer your question in 25 words or less or even 100 words or less. The answer is something I've covered at length in dozens of previous posts. For an insight into all the short-term and long-term problems caused by our current types and amounts of immigrants see my category archive Immigration, Border Control.

lance sjogren said at February 21, 2004 4:27 PM:

Bill makes a stronger case for mass immigration than most of those who lobby on its behalf.

Support of mass immigration is basically a right-wing position. The US needs population growth if it is to retain its military and industrial supremacy in the world. Mass immigration guarantees a buyer's labor market- wages can be reduced to the bone and benefits can be stripped. As long as there is an excess supply of workers, someone can be found to fill a job no matter how low paying and how degrading.

Personally I do not agree with these right-wing views, that is why I am a restrictionist on immigration.

Randall Parker said at February 21, 2004 4:54 PM:

The short version of my rebuttal to Bill's position is that we only benefit from immigrants who pay more in taxes and produce more in goods and services that they generate in costs. If an immigrant uses more in social programs than the immigrant pays in taxes then where is the benefit? If the immigrant is a criminal and gets jailed then that person is a big net cost every year. If the immigrant's children do poorly in school and never amount to much we gain next generation net costs as well.

If we bring in lots of scientists and engineers and keep out the people with little education then we derive a net benefit.

Go on and read my category archives on this topic. You might be shocked to learn that, for instance, the average education level of Mexican immigrants is 8th grade. Go digging for info on Hispanic SAT scores versus white and East Asian SAT scores. Again, I think you will be shocked with what you find if you haven't already read the details. How this can be a net national security benefit for the United States escapes me.

Lance, I agree about the reduced wages and benefits. How can that be a good thing? Americans used to be proud of how much money even their manual laborers made. That is no longer the case.

Vigilante said at March 24, 2004 6:49 AM:

I am not a member of the Sierra Club. I am a supporter of Move-On.Com. But I am totally stunned by what I see on Move-On’s splash page.

Some one named ‘Wes Boyd’ has a sidebar taking sides on an internal dispute within the Sierra Club.

Who is this guy Wes Boyd, and who gave him this space for such a wrong-minded and divisive purpose?

It’s not as if Move-On has resources to spare, or that it finds itself on cruise control with respect to its mission of removing Bush from the White House. I can’t for the life of me understand why Wes Boyd has attempted to divert Move-On from its mandated purpose of replacing the current President to a peripheral project of dabbling in the internal politics of the Sierra Club.

Not being a Sierra Club member, I am not privy to all of the recent nuanced political history with respect to the Club’s position on population control. But I will say that it seems perfectly natural for an NGO with environmental preservation as its organizational mission to be concerned with population control. As a matter of fact, the Sierra Club has for decades advocated stabilizing the American population for the sake of the environment. Overpopulation and over-consumption are critical root causes of excessive resource extraction, habitat destruction wilderness loss and biodiversity loss etc., etc. Finally, along with other means of population control immigration reduction is an appropriate policy to pursue if our environment is to be protected against the current demographic and consumption trends.

I have to add that Boyd has provided s link to an anti-democratic political clique within the Sierra Club that is only bent on perpetuating the current incumbent Board of Directors; a Board which refuses to take a position on immigration because of its ‘controversy’. Finally, the site to which Boyd links us has resorted to orchestrating Rove-like distortions and defamation when it characterizes the well respected environmentalists it opposes as “right wing racists”. Dick Lamm? David Pimentel? Frank Morris? Robert Roy van de Hoek? These guys are neither racists nor the unwilling tools of racists. I think they are the real deal.

What’s going on here? Wes Boyd is leading Move-On.Com on an errant hay ride. Let’s get back on task before we get split off on divergent wedge issues.

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