“Every environmental problem is a population problem.” Those are the words of the founder of Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson (1916 - 2005), a great environmentalist who served as Governor of Wisconsin and then a U.S. senator for nearly 20 years.
At the first Earth Day – April 22, 1970 – the senator from Wisconsin and conservationists across the country understood this. Unfortunately, as time has passed, the commitment to working towards a sustainable population has been abandoned by the environmental elite and our elected leadership.
With the campaign for immigration reform in full flower, this Earth Day is a good day to begin renewing the population discussion. The numbers of immigrants that the Gang of Eight is pushing to add to the country in their plan – not just as a one-off amnesty, but on an ongoing basis – are staggering.
The plan would grant a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million – or more (the real number is unknown) – illegal aliens currently living in the United States. The bill might result in 15 million more green cards being issued in the first 10 years, well above and beyond the 1.1 million green cards now issued each year, according to NumbersUSA, an organization that supports reducing immigration numbers to stabilize U.S. population.
Further, NumbersUSA says this would produce a more than 150 percent increase in legal immigration during the first decade following passage of the bill.
When discussion on overpopulation and the environment exploded in the late 60s and early 70s, immigration was approximately 250,000 per year. U.S. population had tipped over 200 million in 1970. Gaylord Nelson believed the country should have stabilized at 200 million, and many agreed. We’re closing in on 317 million now, and the trend is only up.
After leaving the Senate, Nelson worked with The Wilderness Society and continued advocating for the environment, warning about the perils of overpopulation and pressing for the country to lower immigration numbers. In 1995, on the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, President Clinton awarded Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.
Nelson believed that stabilizing U.S. population was a key part of environmentalism. He said, “The bigger the population gets, the more serious the problems become…. We have to address the population issue.”
As he continued his work, he came to believe the No. 1 problem for the U.S. was its unchecked population growth. He also said, “It's phony to say ‘I'm for the environment but not for limiting immigration.’”
In 1973, Nelson said, “It would seem clear that our hope for a livable future lies in a balanced growth policy.”
Let’s heed this past wisdom born from experience and look for a sustainable approach to population. Saying no to the Gang of Eight plan is a good start.