Our VoiceImmigration

A Real Turn-Off: Population, Borders, and Hidden Agendas


Jill Garvey • Jul 23, 2010

Population growth is a tricky topic in many a political sphere. Perhaps no more so than for progressives concerned about climate change. I myself have wrestled with how to reconcile a commitment to racial justice and civil rights and a desire to protect the planet from human inflicted havoc. A balanced, unbiased and, most importantly, effective approach to environmentalism is no easy feat. There are a few things I believe should be upheld in any movement I choose to support: equality for all, human dignity, and a commitment to oppose bigotry. However, some aspects of the environmental movement run afoul in these areas and create conflicts for like-minded individuals who genuinely wish to engage more deeply on environmental fronts.

In the environmental movement, agendas abound and many groups either avoid completely or run smack into the issue of explosive population growth. It’s easy to become alarmed by the sheer number of humans inhabiting the planet and just how quickly we’ve multiplied over the last three centuries. So easy in fact that some environmental groups devote themselves entirely to the topic. And while addressing the issue is necessary, it has, for decades, been plagued by sensational, often flawed claims about how population growth affects the ecosystem.

What strikes me about a few of the organizations that concern themselves with population growth is an approach that runs counter to conventional wisdom and scientific data. Common sense tells us that climate is not bound by national borders, but some groups spend considerable time focusing on restricting U.S. population growth in the name of environmentalism rather than adopting a global perspective. This puts these groups squarely in the midst of racially charged debates on immigration - mostly in favor of far-right, anti-immigrant forces. Ignoring for a moment the question of why any environmental group would want to align itself with bigotry, it must be asked what these groups believe borders have to do with a global climate crisis? If one really cares about solving environmental problems why focus on undocumented immigrants to the U.S. who make up less than .02% of the world’s population? It doesn’t make sense.

Additional red flags go up when I listen to groups who myopically focus on “stabilizing” population. Scientific data shows that when quality of life improves, population rates stabilize as a result. If the main goal of an environmental group was to bring population growth under control, wouldn’t it be working overtime to conquer systemic oppression, poverty, and resource disparity? More intuitively, I’ve always been suspicious of organizations that talk about masses of poor people as if they’re an obstacle to their vision of an environmentally-sound future. It’s just dehumanizing.

When so-called progressive groups argue in favor of controlling global population with national borders, it doesn’t ring true. I see instead groups that are more interested in controlling national identity and resources. If the environmental movement as a whole can’t identify and confront those forces that are hiding decidedly non-progressive agendas, then it makes it impossible for many of us to occupy its ranks.

There is a place for civil and human rights in the environmental movement, even when it comes to discussing population growth. More than that, tackling racism and oppression are key to solving many environmental problems. Those who argue otherwise likely have a different future in mind for our nation and our planet. A future perhaps where some of us aren’t welcome.

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