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All immigration, birth rates, protecting our environment, Sierra Club, & Alex Hildebrand
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

One would think those supporting the Green New Deal with the ominous warning we are all doomed in 10 years would support efforts to stop adding to the environmental burden in the United States by stemming the flow of immigration, legal and otherwise.

Everyone has a carbon footprint. And taking the Green New Deal at its face value, there is every reason to believe an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala and a legal immigrant from England would have a bigger carbon footprint as American residents.

There is no argument that we as a nation generate and dispose of more plastics, have larger living spaces, and consume more energy than almost anywhere else on the planet. While the Green New Deal might indeed accelerate the reduced use of fossil fuels, it comes up woefully short on how to stop the unabated consumption of resources especially by those aiming for upward economic mobility of which almost all immigrants come here to pursue.

Wouldn’t demanding tighter borders and fewer immigrants be one of the logical ways to reach the Green New Deal goals?

Suggest that in a room of Green New Deal supporters who also are champions of the plight of undocumented immigrants and you’ll be lucky to escape with your hearing intact.

The danger of absolute positions on issues is clear. Everything intermingles — the economy, education, the environment, poverty, national security, hunger, and so forth. No issue or dilemma exists in a vacuum.

The Sierra Club in the 1980s and 1990s raised the issue of population control and immigration as concerns they should address given both could impact the health of America’s environment.

This caused a rift in the organization John Muir founded in 1892 and led for 22 years as its president.

One of those that thought the Sierra Club was straying too far from its primary mission was the late Alex Hildebrand who farmed on the edge of the San Joaquin River south of Manteca for decades. Hildebrand was no ordinary farmer. Lawmakers and water bureaucrats in Sacramento considered the retired Standard Oil engineer one of the foremost experts on water issues in California. Hildebrand also, just like his father Joel before him, served as president of the Sierra Club.

Hildebrand’s stint at the helm of the Sierra Club was 1955 to 1957, 15 years after his father served in the same position.

Hildebrand shared that the dust up over population control and immigration was the reason he dropped his Sierra Club membership.

The dust up and the impact on membership led to the Sierra Club board of directors in 1996 to adopt the following policy statement, “The Sierra Club, its entities, and those speaking in its name will take no position on immigration levels or on policies governing immigration into the United States. The Sierra Club remains committed to environmental rights and protections for all within our borders, without discrimination based on immigration status.”

Between 1997 and 2003 the board reaffirmed that the club would take no positions on United States immigration policies and levels. It added language that the club would continue to address the root causes of immigration as well as underscored the need to reduce the United States birth rate.

By 2013, the Sierra Club strayed slightly from its previous stated policies by jumping into the fray to assure a path for citizenship for undocumented children brought to the US by their parents.

Why this is important is simple. The Sierra Club — the oldest environmental organization in this country with a fairly consistent record — has made it clear it is in the best interests for our country’s environment and the environment elsewhere in the world — if the root causes that trigger immigration are addressed. You can try to twist that all you want but the bottom line is the Sierra Club has believed for years that excessive immigration as well as the United States’ birth rate are causing negative impacts on our environment. It is why they have supported women’s reproductive health care rights that obviously include not just birth control but abortions.

The support of Dreamers does not deviate from their general attitude toward immigration but underscores the reality that’s those living in the shadows are subject to the wanton and illegal use of chemicals and such by the type of jobs they are forced to take. As a practical matter, giving them a path to citizenship that prevents them from being deported would give them as those most affected by pollution a voice “to fight polluters and fight for climate solutions without fear” as stated in Sierra Club policy adopted in 2013.

This needs to be pointed out not to raise the hackles of the Right to Live movement but to underscore a basic truth that our population level has a direct impact on the environment. The Sierra Club for more than two decades has steadily maintained that point without steering into divisive language or rhetoric.

From Hildebrand’s perspective, the Sierra Club dipping its toes into the ever churning political water revolving around immigration or birth rates had the potential for the organization’s effort to protect the environment to be caught in the political undertow causing irreparable damage to efforts to save wild rivers, protect natural wonders, and to advocate for a sound and balanced American environment.

It is clear, however, in this day and age of factions pursuing absolute objectives that the Sierra Club in broad terms has it right.

Our long-term solution for a better environment — which is also the stated goal of the Green New Deal advocates — has to include addressing immigration and our birth rate.

The Sierra Club obviously prefers addressing the root causes of immigration to roll it back which reduces environmental issues in this country and likely would improve and in countries of origin as well. But given how that isn’t working so well it would be reasonable for the Sierra Club to state in relatively specific terms that it is in the best interest of the environment to lower the flow of immigrants — legal and otherwise — into this country.

The fact immigrant families based on Census data tend to have higher birthrates immigrants can be a double whammy for the environment from the inferred general perspective carved out by the Sierra Club’s adopted positions on immigration.

That said can you imagine the vile wrath the Sierra Club would bring down upon itself if it stood in today’s public square and actively advocated for what their policy statements melted down to their most common denominators essentially call for  which is lower immigration and birth rates?

It would likely tear the Sierra Club asunder.

But is that the risk that needs to be taken to try and steer public debate to a sane level in this country in a bid to not just address environmental concerns but also a whole repertoire of issues that are all interconnected?