Our VoiceHealth & Environment

Don’t get tricked into scapegoating immigrants on Earth Day


Lindsay Schubiner • Apr 22, 2015

Cover image of Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot via Amazon.com

Over the past month, a series of arresting images that claim to show the environmental consequences of overpopulation have been proliferating across the internet, perhaps timed to maximize their impact for today’s celebration of Earth Day. However, the message behind the photos is not as straightforward as it appears.

Bear with me here. These photos are taken directly from a book called Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot, which is part of a campaign to foster fear about the environmental impacts of overpopulation. The organization behind this campaign is called Global Population Speak Out, and it is backed by three other organizations: Population Institute, Population Media Center, and Foundation for Deep Ecology. Population Institute and Population Media Center are affiliated, and both of them are led by someone named William Ryerson.

Now it starts to get interesting. William Ryerson is the former president of a known anti-immigrant organization misleadingly called Progressives for Immigration Reform. This organization is part of a network of anti-immigrant organizations created by well-known eugenicist John Tanton.

Most people who share these photos probably intend to send a message of environmental conservation—an important issue, to be sure. But they don’t realize that fears about overpopulation have historically been used to advance nefarious population control tactics.

This photo essay is part of a long history of the use of fear of overpopulation to advance policies that are biased, unjust, or often downright racist. Fears of overpopulation, combined with eugenics ideology, were used to justify sterilization campaigns in the U.S. that targeted women of color and lasted into the 1970s. These fears of overpopulation have also been used to promote inhumane anti-immigrant laws that foster racial profiling, separate black and brown families, and have caused innumerable deaths. Yet scapegoating immigrants won’t even address the root causes of environmental degradation.

We certainly can’t condemn Population Media Center as a whole, but I for one would like to see them explicitly reject the type of overpopulation fear-mongering that has been used for such troubling ends.

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