The 50th anniversary of Earth Day was yesterday and like everything else not related to the coronavirus, it received underwhelming attention. That’s understandable. What’s also not surprising is that celebrations commemorating Earth Day, and commentary in the media, neglected to mention a main motivation behind the very first one in 1970.
That would be the rapidly growing U.S. population.
The reason the U.S. population continues to grow is due to immigration. That’s why those who pretend that Earth Day is about the "fight for a better tomorrow" and a "zero-carbon" future are ineffectual. And that's being generous.
We’ve heard all the arguments before:
“It’s a global problem.”
“Density is the cure-all"
Those arguments are worth hearing and debated, and they are. The thing is, no one is in charge of "the globe," density cannot outrun population growth in the long run, and is increasingly used as a euphemism for overcrowding, and the climate change debate, sadly, has become a way to direct any conversation away from an actual conversation about real change.
Gaylord Nelson, "Father of Earth Day" never shied away from straight talk about what true commitment to protecting the U.S. environment really meant.
Lost in the endless arguments over how many people can be sustained on the planet is another question of far greater import--What is the optimum population of the world or the United States? Have we not already exceeded it? What will the world or the United States look like with twice as many people? Let's take a look close to home.
The bigger the population gets, the more serious the problems become... We have to address the population issue. The United Nations, with the U.S. supporting it, took the position in Cairo in 1994 that every country was responsible for stabilizing its own population. It can be done. But in this country, it's phony to say 'I'm for the environment but not for limiting immigration.'
There are those who disagree with these assertions. That's fine. Honest, vigorous debate is what's needed. What we have is silence. And that is deadly.
We have said it before, no one is suggesting immigrants are the cause of ecological degradation in the United States. On the other hand, it's outrageous to pretend that immigration-driven population growth in the U.S. isn't contributing to ecological degradation. Some, led by well-known environmental activist BIll McKibben, argue the only way to save the planet is more immigration into the United States. It is precisely those kind of arguments that undermine genuine efforts to protect the U.S. environment, and to set a good example for the rest of the world.
Naturalist Karen Shragg made a great point about Earth Day:
Companies which wanted to sell “green” products co-opted the holiday as a marketing tool. It became all about the 50 thingsyou could buy — fluorescent light bulbs, organic food, and cloth bags — to save the planet. Just like President’s Day it is now an excuseto sell mattresses
That's fine if you're trying to sell stuff and need a hook, or if you run a slick non-profit and want to guilt wealthy donors into opening their wallets. It's not okay if you think Earth Day should be about the Earth. We can take one day at least to appreciate the ineffable paradise that is our planet, right?
Always remember, the Earth will do fine without US. But WE don’t want that.
Whether you believe the Earth was created for us to enjoy, or we happen to be here by happy accident, it is our job to be stewards of the Earth. Not to use it as a marketing tool.
Let us take this opportunity to remember the great Gaylord Nelson and recognize the true spirit of Earth Day.
ERIC RUARK is the Director of Research for NumbersUSA
Updated: Thu, May 7th 2020 @ 3:00pm EDT