NumbersUSA again this year is at one of the nation's three largest Earth Day Festivals, at the Texas State Fairgrounds. We are displaying our giant red and green U.S. population chart, as usual. And, as usual, lots of people do some double takes at seeing the population issue raised in the midst of scores of booths about green products, recycling, lower-consumption living, etc. Melanie Oubre and I will be posting a few observations during this 43rd Earth Day weekend.
Melanie's comments are below mine.
We are experimenting this year to see what happens if we don't put the word "immigration" in public and start only with U.S. population issues. We introduce immigration only when people read it in the survey they are taking or in the handouts -- or, as often happens, they say, "so how do you exactly propose that we keep that (meaning the red on the chart) from happening.."
Last year, we had the big lettering on the red part of the chart that said "Growth from Immigrants and Descendants." That brought lots of people to the booth to yell at Anne and me. We had some major debates as a result. But I'm not sure how much we accomplish getting into debates with people who are dead set against limiting immigration -- unless they are the actual policymakers.
One of the problems for us with a public that hasn't thought much about our issues is that they at first have never thought that problems from population growth are related to immigration. Secondly, they often don't even know problems from population growth are related to population growth!!!
This year, I thought I wanted to get people to first think about the population growth, so we changed the wording on the red part of the chart to "ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE???" This way, we could start with just talking about the reality of population growth before getting into the causes.
- "I'm sorry I won't finish this survey because it brings up immigration," a woman just said as she got up from the chair in front of our booth where we are having people take our population survey. "I happen to believe illegal immigrants ought to be allowed to stay."
This was after showing a great deal of interest in the U.S. population growth we display on our wall. Her first reaction was that the "Catholics and evangelicals" just keep having too many babies. But when she got to the question that noted that American fertility is not causing any long-term growth and that immigration has tripled is causing it, she felt we had tricked her.
- Uh, oh. Another offended person. A husband and wife each took our foldover population cards and started walking off. But she apparently was shocked to see immigration show up on the card, turned, gave it back to Melanie and said, "We want immigrants to come here."
But her husband kept the card. Maybe we have a chance of batting 50/50 in that household.
- "Hmmm, I was just walking through the booths and was kind of surprised to see something on population," one middle-aged man said. "I remember having a class on population in college. Bad professor. Too bad."
We have laptops set up at the front of our booth table with a big sign inviting folks to take the on-line population survey. People are wary. They tend to stand several feet in front of the booth and read the big charts from afar, to protect themselves from being pulled in, I guess.
- A woman was ready to argue with me about the population wall, seeming to want to know how we proposed forcing people to have fewer kids. I told her we don't as an organization deal with those issues, in part because Americans having 2, 3, 1, 4, 0 and 5 and more kids are averaging just two kids per woman since 1972.
Once she found out we work to reduce immigration, she was all for the idea and indicated a lot of concern about Texas growing so fast from immigration. It is interesting how there are so many ways to come to this issue -- and to be turned off.
- Just like last year, the people who are the most thoughtful in their questions and seem genuinely interested in the nuances of the issues are people who are immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants.
When a young businessman asked how we can stop all that U.S. population growth and I said it had to be through immigration reductions, he said, "But my parents are immigrants from Japan. If they hadn't been allowed to come in, I wouldn't be here."
I often respond to that kind of comment by saying that a person who is a fourth child could say the same thing as a reason why everybody should have four children, but that wouldn't mean it would be good public policy. The Japanese-American saw some validity in that and in my comments that we aren't advocating an end to immigration but just a return to the traditional 250,000 a year level before 1965. He wanted to know why the numbers had gone over a million. He was quite impressed with how only about 3% of immigrants come in because of extraordinary skills and how most are low-educated and low-skilled. In the end, he agreed that it is difficult to imagine how America will be what we want it to be environmentally if we grow from 300 million to 625 million by the end of the century.
Another man from Argentina engaged in a long discussion, talking about how he left Argentina after the president there suddenly gave citizenship to huge numbers of Bolivians and almost immediately gave them the ability to vote. "I have nothing against the Bolivians and understand why they would want the opportunity, but it destroyed my country's economy."
Day Two of Earth Day has started out very well. We have had many people take our poll within the first couple of hours. Roy and I hoped that official Earth Day would bring a larger crowd and it certainly has.
My favorite thing to see is while people are walking by our booth, their eyes travel upward to the top of our red and green chart, then their jaws drop. Many people I talk to do not realize the rapid population growth that has happened since the first Earth Day nor the projected growth that should have all of us weary.
My favorite analogy to use when talking about the growth is "look at Dallas, now double that." This is something that really scares people, and it should. They tell me that they already think Dallas has grown too large and sprawled out way too much.
One man made a comment, "well, I won't be here in 2100 (when the population of the US will reach 625 million." I said that I won't be here either but it is still somehting I worry about. To have that view is quite selfish. He was blessed with a livable Earth and we should do all we can to preserve it for our descendants.
An 8 year old boy came up to the table, and started asking questions. He did not know our current population, but when I told him that we add about 3 million people per year, he looked at me in disbelief. "That's too much" he said. I told him what a visa was, and that we would like to limit the number that the government gives out each year. He said "that would be great because it would bring that red down" talking about our chart. He was very smart, and was determined to figure out how many immigrants come here every day. On paper, he divided 365 by 1,500,000 in front of me. This boy has a bright future! The answer was 4,109.
A lady told me how she has purposely limited the number of children she and her husband have had. They have 2 children, and are not having anymore because of population concerns. She was very disheartened when her immigrant neighbors on either side of her house moved in and had five children each. She would like to have another child, but is thinking about more than herself. She thought that every family should do the same.
A lady told me the sad story of how her husband got laid off from his road building job. He was working for a state and federal contractor who replaced him with people that were being paid $12/hr. He had all the certifications for operating heavy machinery, once his certifications were finalized, he got fired. They suspect that the company used him to get the proof of certifications and now hired uncertified and unqualified workers. This is a very dangerous job, and there was news last week that a worker lost a leg because of clumsiness. This is irresponsible and unfair. He is out of work still, and lives are being put in danger every day because of this company. They are looking into whether the company broke the law and will do all that is needed to get justice.
I am really enjoying talking to everyone here.
Updated: Mon, Apr 23rd 2012 @ 7:35am EDT