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The Planet

December 1997, Volume 4, number 10

The Pending Vote on Immigration Policy Within the Sierra Club
A petition drive has brought the Sierra Club's population policy to a vote of the membership. In a ballot mailed in February, you will be asked whether you support the petitioners' position or a reaffirmation of current policy.

Q & A
What is the issue on which the Club will vote?
Club members will vote on whether the Club should take a position on U.S. immigration policy, or remain neutral on the topic.

What is the present Club position?
In February 1996, the Board of Directors voted unanimously (with one abstention and two absences) that the Club should not take a position on U.S. immigration policy. Members of the Board expressed concern that the issue was being discussed in ways that were polarizing the Club and that were unproductive and detrimental to our efforts to reduce global population growth.
After three years of discussion, the Club had failed to develop a policy on immigration that commanded support across the spectrum of Club leaders, activists and members. When a consensus based organization like the Club was not able to find a policy with such broad support, the Board concluded it should remain out of the issue.

Why is the Club voting if the Board does not believe the organization should take a position on immigration?
Under the Club's by-laws, any time a sufficient number of members (presently about 1,300 out of a total membership of 530,000) request a direct membership vote on an issue, such a vote is mandatory.
These members disagree with the Board's neutral position and believe that it is important for the Club to take a position on immigration because of its effect on U.S. population growth -- Alternative A.
Their ballot measure is printed below on the left.

What is the Board's response position?
In September 1997, the Board of Directors voted unanimously (with two abstentions and two absences) to adopt an alternative ballot measure that restates their neutral position and urges the Club members to vote for it. The Board measure -- Alternative B -- is printed below on the right.
At the Club's 1997 annual meeting, the delegates from the Club's 65 chapters and 12 regions also voted for the Board-adopted alternative.

When will the vote take place?
Members will receive ballots early next year, and have until mid-April to return them.

How will members be informed about the vote and the issue?
The January/February issue of Sierra magazine will carry two essays, one representing each side of the issue. (Those arguments are reprinted below.) Each side will present a 400-word ballot statement in the ballot itself. Proponents of each position will also prepare a 750-word essay that chapter newsletters may run if they choose.

Can Club chapters and groups take a position on the issue?
Yes, chapters and groups can take positions on this issue internally, and publicize them through editorials in their chapter newsletters.

I'm a Sierra Club member and I want to get involved in this debate. What can I do?
The most effective thing individual members can do is get involved in the debate within their chapter and groups. Many Club members will be watching the dialogue and the position taken by their chapter or group in making up their minds how to vote.

Can I write a letter to the editor of my Chapter or group newsletter?
Yes, but the Club's rules request newsletter editors to publish a balanced mix of letters from both sides of the topic.

Alternative A

    Why We Need a Comprehensive U.S. Population Policy

    Shall the Sierra Club reverse its 1996 decision to "take no position on immigration levels or on policies governing immigration into the United States," and adopt a comprehensive population policy for the United States that continues to advocate an end to U.S. population growth at the earliest possible time through reduction in natural increase (births minus deaths), but now also through reduction in net immigration (immigration minus

    The Argument:
    Environmental degradation results from too many people using too many resources. For 30 years the Sierra Club demonstrated leadership in addressing the continuing growth of the human population--locally, nationally and globally. In 1970 Club policy stated: "We must find, encourage, and implement at the earliest possible time the necessary policies . . . that will . . . bring about the stabilization of the population, first of the United States and then of the world."

    But the 1996 Board of Directors effectively abandoned this policy and now continues to abandon it. The grassroots-sponsored petition gives members the opportunity to vote to return the Club to a responsible environmental position.

    Already the United States has lost 90 percent of its northwestern old-growth forests, 50 percent of its wetlands (93 percent in California), and 99 percent of its tallgrass prairie. Never-ending population growth overwhelms every environmental victory. This is especially true for land and habitat issues such as protecting forests and wilderness, halting urban sprawl and farmland conversion and saving endangered species. As the 1996 policy of The Wilderness Society states: "Population policy should protect and sustain ecological systems for future generations. . . . To bring population levels to ecologically sustainable levels, both birthrates and immigration rates need to be reduced."

    The United States is the world's third most populous country. Its 270 million high-consuming Americans affect the global environment as much as several billion people in developing countries do. Then why not curb excessive American consumption? We should; it's a Club priority. But were we to cut per capita resource use in half (itself an enormous task), our environmental impact would not diminish if our population doubled in the meantime. In 1996 the President's Council on Sustainable Development emphasized: "Stabilizing population without changing consumption and waste-production patterns would not be enough; neither would action on consumption and waste without efforts to stabilize population. Each is necessary; neither is sufficient."
    Unlike other industrialized countries, the United States is growing rapidly--by 3 million people per year. According to the Census Bureau, immigrants and their descendants will account for two-thirds of U.S. growth between now and the mid–21st century. At present growth rates our population will approach half a billion by 2050--the population of India in the 1970s. No wonder the President's Council Task Force on Population and Consumption stated that "reducing immigration levels is a necessary part of population stabilization and the drive toward sustainability."

    We urge the Sierra Club to develop, advocate and enlist public support for solutions to the problem of excess immigration, mindful that the United States itself is creating an unsustainable demand on global resources, which in turn causes an unsustainable level of immigration. The solutions will require substantial financial, scientific and humane aid from the industrial nations, especially the United States, to enable people to enjoy life, health and the pursuit of happiness in their native lands. But the solution to the problem of immigration is not, as the Board's position suggests, to pretend that the problem does not exist. The solution is to recognize that world population growth and U.S. population growth must be addressed simultaneously.

    In 1994 the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, chaired by the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, declared: "We disagree with those who would label efforts to control immigration as being inherently anti-immigrant. Rather, it is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest." Recent polls show most Americans, including most minorities, agree. Clear majorities of African-Americans and Latinos favor substantial reductions in legal and illegal immigration, according to surveys by the Roper Poll, The Wall Street Journal, and the Latino National Political Survey. These Americans, especially those of low income, understand that they and their environment are adversely impacted by excessive immigration.

    The 1996 Board decision to take "no position on immigration levels or policies" reverses long-standing Club policy to curb U.S. population growth at the earliest possible time. We believe the Club must adopt a comprehensive population policy that necessarily addresses immigration. We agree with mainstream national commissions, with the majority of Americans of all major ethnic groups, The Wilderness Society, and environmental leaders including our supporters Dave Foreman and Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson.
    Stabilizing population is essential to protecting the environment. A vote for this ballot question will enable the Sierra Club to work realistically toward reducing U.S. population growth . . . for the environment . . . and for present and future generations of life everywhere.

    The article above was written by Dick Schneider, Population Committee chair of the Sierra Club's San Francisco Bay Chapter, and Alan Kuper, Population-Environment Committee chair of the Ohio Chapter.

    Alternative B

    Let's Focus on Underlying Causes, Not Symptoms

    The Sierra Club reaffirms its commitment to addressing the root causes of global population problems and offers the following comprehensive approach: The Sierra Club will build upon its effective efforts to champion the right of all families to maternal and reproductive health care, and the empowerment and equity of women. The Sierra Club will continue to address the root causes of migration by encouraging sustainability, economic security, human rights, and environmentally responsible consumption. The Sierra Club supports the decision of the Board of Directors to take no position on U.S. immigration quotas and policies.

    The Argument:
    "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." --John Muir

    The Sierra Club stands at a historic crossroads. Two competing positions on the spring ballot will test our understanding of the words of our founder, Scottish immigrant John Muir.

    One position says the Club must call for a "reduction in net immigration."

    The Sierra Club position, which we ask you to support, asks members to reaffirm and maintain the Club's strong commitment to addressing the root causes of global environmental problems. It recognizes that concern for the population and environment of the United States must be global in scope if we are to live peacefully, side-by-side, in a healthy environment. The Sierra Club's Board of Directors, Council of Club Leaders (representing local chapters), National Population Committee, and hundreds of Club leaders in each region support this position.

    The 1997 United Nations Population Report reveals enormous progress toward reducing population growth worldwide through voluntary approaches consistent with universal human rights. The Sierra Club has successfully worked to reduce birthrates throughout the world by supporting improved educational and economic opportunities for women and by supporting the right of all peoples to reproductive and maternal health care.
    But this important work is not over. Extremists in Congress are still striving to deny millions of people the critical right of access to family and reproductive health services. And here in the United States, there are more unwanted births than immigrants every year.

    Working with activists worldwide, the Club has come to better understand the full range of factors that contribute to global population growth. Numerous studies have found that global birthrates and global migration across borders decrease when (1) people have full access to reproductive and family health services, including maternal and infant care; (2) women have full and equal access to education and equal social, economic and political status; (3) governments protect comprehensive human and environmental rights; and (4) sustainable development preserves local communities and livelihoods.

    With these important factors in place women have healthier and smaller families. This holds true regardless of race, nationality and economic or citizenship status.

    But population growth is only one of the many interconnected factors that influence the health of the environment. Much of our environmental degradation is a symptom of an unsustainable global economy, partly driven by government policies that exacerbate poverty and undermine laws protecting public health and human rights.
    Deeply entrenched government subsidies promote overconsumption, thus wasting natural resources. To protect the natural resources and global environment upon which we all depend, we must find positive alternatives to overconsumption both here in the United States and around the globe. Overconsumption anywhere is a threat to the environment everywhere.

    To address the environmental consequences of migration, we should address the causes, not the symptoms. Restrictive immigration quotas will not end the human-rights abuses and economic inequities that drive millions around the world from their homes. They cannot help provide millions of families with access to the basic means of livelihood. They cannot end the destruction of soil, air and water that drives so many from their place of birth.
    Any position that grounds us in divisive debate over severe immigration reduction will dramatically cripple the ability of the Sierra Club to effectively address population issues and the multiple factors that drive global migration. Such an effort will also cause serious political damage to the Sierra Club and the environmental movement.

    To protect the environment we rely on our ability to build trust and to forge an inclusive movement. African-American and Latino communities and their elected officials are our most consistent allies when it comes to the Sierra Club's conservation priorities. A focus on further restricting immigration quotas would undermine our ability to work with these essential allies. We must not become involved in this issue.
    Whatever our motivations, focusing on restricting immigration further could associate us with racist groups and the growth of hate crimes such as occurred against Asians and Latinos following passage of California's Proposition 187 (another "color blind" initiative to reduce immigration).

    We gain strength politically when our actions demonstrate commitment to the broad underlying causes of environmental degradation globally. We need your help in working together to forge strong alliances based upon mutual respect to solve our environmental problems.

    Please cast your vote in support of the Sierra Club position.

    The article above was written by Peter H. Kostmayer, a former congressman and the executive director of Zero Population Growth, and Karen Kalla, co-chair of the Sierra Club National Population Committee.

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