I'll be in Dallas at the Texas State Fairgrounds the next few days at the largest Earth Day exposition in the country, presenting our massive new study, VANISHING OPEN SPACES.
I got one view of the Texas environmental ethos when I first arrived for my six years of living in the state back in the 1980s. I was riding in a car driven by a government official and was surprised to see him pull a beer out from a cooler, open it and begin drinking as he drove in the middle of a city. It was the first time of many more that I heard that being a real Texan meant being able to drink and drive and toss the empty can out the window when you are through. I never actually saw a can go out a window, so I guess it was just the thought of being free to throw it that was important to the frontier-independence mindset.
But if that mindset was more than a self-aware-satire meant to confuse and play on outsiders' prejudices, Texans should be overjoyed that sprawl in their state has been destroying more woodlands, prairies and farmland than in any other state -- 1,572 square miles eliminated in the previous decade. That was almost double what happened in Florida, the state with the second highest level of destruction.
Sprawl in this state is Texas Big.
In fact, Texas had 4 of the worst 10 sprawling cities out of 497 Urbanized Areas. In order from worst to 10th worst: Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Chicago, Charlotte, Austin, Raleigh, San Antonio, Philadelphia.
BUT TEXANS ARE NOT AT ALL HAPPY ABOUT BEING THE 'BIGGEST LOSER' OF OPEN SPACE
A poll this month of all likely voters in Texas found that Texans aren't much different from Americans in general in that they value spending time in natural areas, they worry about the vanishing of woodlands for wildlife and think it is unethical to build on good cropland.
Conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, the poll found that most Texas voters are well ahead of government officials in their concern about vanishing open spaces and their interest in reducing the national population growth that drives most of the loss. While most elected Texas officials are doing very little to stop federally-forced population growth -- and many are trying to force even higher rates -- most Texans whether conservative or liberal would prefer a Texas much different from the one being created.
Our study concluded that all of the state's sprawl in the 2002-2010 period was related to population growth.
The average Texan was using less land in 2010 than in 2002 to meet residential, commercial, occupational, transportation, educational, recreational and cultural needs. But there were 3.4 million more people in Texas in 2010 that had to be accommodated for all those things.
While the Texas population growth came from other countries and the higher fertility rate of its immigrant population, it also came from a lot of U.S.-born resident moving in from other states. In the country as a whole, our study found that new immigrants and births to immigrants were the equivalent of about 70% of total population growth. (Since 1972, Americans have fertility rates that are just below replacement level.)
Among the poll results:
- 90% of Texans say it is important (70% "very important") to protect farmland from development to ensure the ability to feed the U.S. population in the future.
- 71% say this loss of farmland and natural habitat is a problem.
- 68% say it is important for the United States "to have enough farmland to be able to feed people in other countries as well as its own."
- By a 5-1 margin, Texans think it is unethical to pave over good cropland rather than being legitimate to provide housing for a growing population.
- Most Texans (73%) feel a spiritual or emotional uplift from time spent in natural areas.
- 79% say it is important (42% say "very important") to be able to get to natural areas fairly quickly from where they live.
- 80% say the loss of 17 million acres of woodlands cut down nationally in the last three decades is a significant problem for wildlife.
- Most Texans (59%) say current population growth will make their local area worse, while only 8% say it will make Texas better.
- If the population in Texas doubles this century -- like the national population is projected to do under current immigration policies -- only 16% of Texans believe "the government will be able to build enough extra transportation capacity to accommodate the extra people;" 74% say the traffic "would become much worse."
Told that the U.S. Census Bureau projects the U.S. population to nearly double this century if present growth rates continue, Texans were asked their preference:
- Only 13% of Texans prefer that U.S. population growth continue at its present rate.
- 31% of Texans prefer that the rate of growth be cut in half
- 35% say they prefer there be no more population growth
- 14% say they would like to see the population "slowly become smaller"
Informed that government data show that "nearly all long-term population growth" is from federal immigration policy (new immigrants and the children of immigrants), Texans were asked what they prefer:
- 71% of Texans say the "government needs to reduce immigration to slow down population growth"
- 19% favor keeping "immigration the same and allow population to double this century"
- Only 5% want what Pres. Obama and the majority of the Senate want, which is to increase immigration to more than double the population this century.
Told that the government currently allows one million legal immigrants each year, Texans were asked how many immigrants a year they prefer.
- 9% chose TWO million
- 16% chose ONE million (current rate)
- 21% chose HALF a million (half the current rate)
- 22% chose 100,000 (one-tenth the current rate)
- 22% chose ZERO
- 10% chose "not sure"
That suggests that only 25% of Texas voters support continuing current high levels of annual legal immigration.
Before Texas destroys any more of the natural heritage and agricultural lands of the state, Texas politicians ought to start looking at immigration issues on the basis of how they affect the voters' ethical, quality-of-life and emotional desires for the land that feeds and nurtures them.
ROY BECK is Founder & President of NumbersUSA