To preserve the beauty and health of the environment for all the world’s populations, environmentalists can only educate, inspire, and lead. What little power we may wield stems from our ideas, and perhaps also from our love of nature and of humanity. Yes, the number of people on our planet, and especially in America, matters to the environment. But what really matters is not which side of the border people are on, but what those people believe, and how they behave.
Happily, demographers have already discovered the keys to lower population growth: education, human rights, and especially women’s rights and reproductive health. Let’s promote those goals worldwide; they fit very nicely with the best of environmentalism.
Restricting immigration is only a mild form of intolerance, but it does nothing to instruct, to inspire, or to lead. For environmentalists to waste their time on intolerance would be tragedy enough if it did not waste what is most precious: our credibility.
Race to the Top
Bill McKibben has missed the point of the immigration debate. He says in passing that we should try to cut American consumption, but gee, since that isn’t likely to happen, it makes sense to talk about limiting the number of new Americans we add, since Americans are environmentally destructive.
First of all, Bill, you need to get out more. The rest of the world is developing (not all at once, but more than you seem to understand). Other people want a “good life” too, and will work to have one. If the model of a good life is the American overconsumptive one (as preached by your government, your corporations and, yes, even you environmentalists who drive SUVs), then that is what the rest of the world will aspire to. Closing your borders (like putting your heads in the sand) does not stop development elsewhere.
Secondly, the basic argument you seem to be making is that we will not stop consuming so much, but we don’t want others to be able to consume as much as we do. In other words, the world should stay poor and suffer so we can stay rich and pig out all we want. Why doesn’t this immediately stand out in your mind as something that might bother some folks?
You could also, if you investigated, note that many of the anti-immigration movement folks talk not only about protecting American resources from immigrants, but American culture as well (from non-European immigrants specifically). That may be why some folks think racism is involved.
When my students in China ask me why it is hard to get into schools in America, I don’t tell them it’s because people are afraid they will want nice clothes and full bellies — they already have those. (And some of them have cars and color TVs too). I just explain about race and America.
Race to the Bottom
As Bill McKibben makes the case for taking U.S. population seriously, he portrays an environmental movement that cares only for “forest green” and “ocean blue.”
It’s impossible to take population seriously without looking at racism and power issues. This country has a long history of involuntarily sterilizing women of color and mentally handicapped women and limiting third-world women’s birth control choices. Immigration is different from involuntary sterilization, yes. However, the bond it shares is that population control is what makes it “legitimate,” and it will disproportionately and violently impact the poor and people of color.
McKibben’s belief that having one-child families is the demographic solution to our population problems is admirable, but it doesn’t mean we can ignore racism. McKibben consistently portrays Sierra Club board members — on both sides of the debate — as childish name-callers. More attention is paid to how calling someone racist can hurt their feelings than on how it actually impacts the issues at hand. Now, this isn’t an attack on McKibben, because he really isn’t different from any of the rest of the environmental movement — he just happened to be the person Grist invited to react to the Sierra Club situation.
So why is it that when Grist needs a columnist to comment on a raging debate that centers around issues of race, power, and privilege, the person who is called on to comment is an environmental giant, but has no expertise with race? Why don’t we as a movement have leadership that can handle these issues? Why is it that when the environmental movement is 80 percent women, the only people I have to look up to are men? Why is it that when I’ve spent the last six years of my life partnered to a Guatemalan immigrant, the only people I can look up to claim not to care about brown skin, but only about the colors they see in nature?
The environmental movement should be just as much about people as it is about nature. We’re estranged from the labor movement, the civil rights movement, and the environmental justice movement. The country is becoming more and more diverse. How long can we stay on this course before we organize our middle-class white selves into irrelevance? That won’t stop climate change. We need to reconcile with the movements we’ve been fighting with, diversify ourselves, and start actually winning some real campaigns.
Jamaica Plain, Mass.
Bill McKibben brings up a problem that has been neglected too long. He has excellent coverage of the problem from the point of view of overcrowding and overconsumption. But there is also an economic aspect. Our economic system needs an expanded number of the working young to finance the steadily expanding number of seniors on Social Security and Medicare. Our affluent culture has led to families of two children, so it needs immigrants and their higher family size or we will have too few workers supporting too many elderly.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Re: Letter Rip
In a letter to the editor, Barb Sachau criticized John Kerry for being a hunter. I am no fan of hunting, but it is no more (and often less) cruel than factory livestock farming. I also happen to be a vegetarian, and I would love it if everyone else was too. However, if we are to preserve our gravely endangered natural world, I am not prepared to reject meat-eaters (i.e., most Americans) as fellow environmentalists. Hunters and fishermen in particular are often especially committed advocates for preservation of wild habitat. In fact, many “rod and gun” sporting organizations are now speaking out against the Bush assault on our public lands. When so much is at stake, let us find our common ground and welcome all our allies.
Interimpatient for Abatement
Re: Enough to Make Your Lead Spin
You argue that permanent measures are the only effective solution to lead risks in older housing, because lower-cost “interim” measures will, in the long-term, “be neither safe nor cost-effective.” A study by Mary Jean Brown (a lead-poisoning expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) showed just the opposite. She calculated that even repairs that lasted only three years would pay for themselves in avoided costs of lead poisoning.
I believe in many situations, particularly low-value housing, interim controls are the only practical solution — otherwise nothing will happen, which is clearly worse for the children living there. In other situations, abatement may be unnecessary, given the low level of risk the lead paint poses. With a good monitoring and enforcement system, these “interim” controls can be effective long-term. Didn’t we learn that zero-tolerance environmental policies are ultimately self-defeating a few decades ago?
Instructor of Environmental Medicine
University of Rochester Medical Center
The Naderites Are Coming! The Naderites Are Coming!
Re: Spoilent Green
I’m sick of hearing people say that I caused Bush to get into office by voting for Nader in 2000. Bush stole it, and it wouldn’t have made any difference if Gore got 5 percent more. I’m going to vote for Nader again in 2004, and let me tell you why:
For the next eight months, we are going to be hearing all about Bush and Kerry, Bush and Kerry, Bush and Kerry, ad nauseum. Neither of these two have good stances on social and environmental issues — not even Kerry (for the Iraq war, for the Patriot Act, for military spending). It is up to Kucinich and Nader to bring up crucial environmental issues so that they will be addressed. Otherwise, Bush and Kerry will be arguing about war war war, terror terror terror, fear fear fear . Neither Bush nor Kerry have any honor, and it is up to the third party to bring some real issues back to the table, and no one better than Nader.
Sadly, mainstream media have brainwashed many people into thinking that the only person who can beat Bush is someone who kisses up to the neocons’ interests. Whoever said “things are going to get worse before they get better” was right.
Re: Spoilent Green
To say that I felt disappointed when I read your mini-article about Ralph Nader’s decision to run for president would be a massive understatement. Are you not ashamed of yourselves? Finally, a genuine progressive — one who actually cares about green issues for their own sake and not just for the votes they can attract — runs for public office, and you belittle his candidacy!?
Maybe I’ll read Grist again someday, but I’m not sure when.
Green Job Security?
Re: Spoilent Green
The big mouths at Big Green can whine and complain about Ralph Nader until they’re blue in the face, but the simple fact remains: Assaults on the environment will not abate until voters on the left are brave enough to change the corporate power structure in Washington.
The pro-enviro platitudes of the Democratic Party are simply empty rhetoric to ensure support from the left. Worried about Bush? Going back less than a decade, we can see that the Clinton-Gore administration was certainly no friend of the environment either. Don’t expect much better from a Kerry administration.
It’s truly a sad era for America’s left when the eco-establishment insists on maintaining the corporate elite’s grip on power. But should that surprise us? For Big Green, such a strategy makes for mighty effective job security.
Long Beach, Calif.
The Damage Done
Re: Spoilent Green
My heart feels for Mr. Nader. He means well. My family and I agree with what he stands for. I agree with him 100 percent about the issues he mentioned in announcing his candidacy.
However, I would feel even more for Nader if he realized he cannot win the war for our foreign policy, our environment, our economy, our troops being killed in Iraq, our lack of respect for the U.N., and the international respect we have lost.
My family and I will not vote for him again because we see the damage Nader’s candidacy caused in 2000. We still appreciate Nader’s concerns and agree with his issues but ask him to step aside for the sake of our United States.
Joe Elizondo, Jr.
Straight from the Horse’s …
Re: Spoilent Green
Nader is such a horse’s ass — not to malign the innocent horse, come to think of it.
Eat Low-Carb and Be Merry
Re: How Low-Carb Should You Go?
One major misconception I see among critics of low-carb diets is the idea that it means eating mass amounts of meat, cheese, and eggs. Done properly, this is not the case. I started this diet over two years ago, and adhered to it for one year. I dropped from 240 pounds to 190 pounds. Afterwards, I ate modestly, adhering to much of the low-carb lifestyle for one year, and didn’t gain a pound back. I am now on it again to lose another 10 pounds. My blood pressure has gone from 160 over 80, to 120 over 60. My cholesterol has gone from 160 to 142, and my doctor says my prostate is in better shape then his, and he’s five years younger than me. I am 53.
Basically, over the past two years, I have found the best way to lose weight (for me) is not necessarily to increase the amount of meat and cheese, etc., but to just increase the vegetables, and eliminate breads, rice, sugars, potatoes, and the like.
Anyone on a low-carb diet eating only increased amounts of meat is eating a boring menu, and will soon fail or gain it back. Nothing like a nice dinner of blackened tilapia, with a side of broccoli sauteed in a small amount of butter and garlic, and a nice big salad of greens, slices of fresh tomato, avocado, a small amount of bacon bits, onions, a touch of cheddar cheese, or blue cheese crumbles, and some Newman’s Own Italian dressing. Quoting my doctor, “You probably eat more vegetables than most vegetarians.” Ya gotta have variety, and eat those vegetables to remain healthy!
That’s Nuts, Dude
I have been using packing peanuts in a bean bag chair for the past 10 years. Over time the peanuts deflate and you can keep adding more … possibly forever. Anyway, I never throw them away, and every peanut I have received for the past 10 years is in my one bean bag chair. By the way, it is still very comfortable and has room for more.
That Shreds, Dude
Neither myself nor any of my family use “peanuts” for packing. Years ago, our family delighted in packing packages with freshly popped popcorn. Later, when we got a shredder, we simply shredded all junk mail and put it in a box marked packing material. We have yet to run out and the junk mail actually performs a useful purpose and is also recyclable.
Oh, Stop! (No, Don’t)
I get several daily emails summarizing environmental news and the latest crap the Bush administration is pulling, but none measures up to the Daily Grist. You give me all the info I need, and it’s presented in such a witty manner — I often forward it to like-minded friends (one of whom said today she will have to break down and subscribe to the daily service herself because it’s so full of great information).