Conservation Leaders: Does the Sierra Club Support Doubling Legal Immigration and Increased Population Growth?

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The Apply the Brakes Network calls on the Sierra Club to clarify its stance on Senate Bill S744.

The Apply the Brakes Network, a network of conservation leaders concerned about population growth, is calling on the Sierra Club to clarify its stance on the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill (S.744).

The Club’s call in their April 24th press release for a “pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants” has been widely reported as an endorsement of the entire Senate bill, which includes provisions that would double legal immigration levels. The U.S. currently admits one million legal immigrants annually. Apply the Brakes spokesperson Dave Foreman writes: “This increase in population growth would have huge environmental impacts, undermining the Sierra Club’s mission.”

Apply the Brakes ( was formed in 2006 to help fill the gap created by the decades-long retreat of U.S. environmental organizations from addressing domestic population growth as a key issue in both domestic and global sustainability. It includes such pre-eminent conservationists as Roderick Nash, Doug Tompkins, Dave Foreman, Brock Evans, and Andy Kerr.

Reporting on the Sierra Club’s action (April 24, 2013), Politico called it “a major shift that could help immigration reform supporters gain momentum as they try to push the measure through the Senate.” The article added: “Immigration reform supporters have a new ally — the environmental lobby.”

According to Apply the Brakes, regularizing 11 million immigrants currently in the U.S. illegally is a reasonable goal. But the Senate’s bill also doubles legal immigration levels, putting America on track to add hundreds of millions more people to our population in the coming decades.

Current U.S. population growth is driven primarily by immigration. According to the latest Census Bureau projections, as reported by the Pew Research Center (December 12, 2012), the U.S. population, which is now 315 million, will rise to 400 million by 2050. If the Senate bill passes, U.S. population will likely reach 445 million by 2050, adding some 130 million people in less than 40 years.

ATB argues that the consequences of such population increases would exacerbate virtually every environmental and biodiversity challenge we face, including air and water pollution, sprawl, habitat loss, and global climate change. With over 1400 species on the federal endangered species list today, many native species would likely be driven extinct by the competition posed by doubling the number of Americans.

ATB acknowledges that the Sierra Club has long been a leader in promoting clean energy and energy conservation. But, as environmental researcher Leon Kolankiewicz wrote in 2008, our increasing demand for energy in the United States is "driven entirely by population growth, not rising per-capita consumption."

ATB believes immigration-driven population growth would undermine the Club’s good work on energy issues, including its efforts to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to stop the Keystone Pipeline. Such conservation efforts will not be politically sustainable in the face of rapid population increases. Rather, the country should stabilize its population as soon as possible in order to facilitate conservation of all natural resources, smart growth efforts, and other quality of life issues.

When conservation icon David Brower was the Sierra Club's executive director four decades ago, he made this pointed observation: “We feel you don't have a conservation policy unless you have a population policy.”* In the late 1990s, when the Club retreated from its policy of addressing immigration and U.S. population growth, Brower exhorted in the July 1998 issue of Outside Magazine: “The [Sierra Club] leadership are fooling themselves. Overpopulation is a very serious problem, and over-immigration is a big part of it. We must address both. We can’t ignore either.”

ATB is calling on the Sierra Club to set the record straight. Is the Sierra Club endorsing the higher legal immigration levels proposed in the Senate bill and the environmental degradation likely to occur as a result?

*Quotation from Steward L. Udall. 1963, 1988. The Quiet Crisis and the Next Generation. Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books. p. 239

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