A Californian Looks at Earth Day, and Beyond

Published on April 22nd, 2015

As a native Californian, I’ve lived on both sides of population explosion. I’m on the fence about whether that’s a good or bad thing. As a kid growing up on Santa Monica’s beaches in the 1950s when the state’s population was 10.5 million, I felt like I had the sand and the sea to myself. On our many family trips to the beach, I never heard my parents talk about getting our day off to an early start to beat the traffic for the simplest reason – even in Los Angeles, there was no traffic.

Few cars on early California Freeways
Few cars in 1950’s uncrowded California.

But by 2008, as California’s population had steadily climbed toward 40 million, the state’s transformation from what locals called paradise into an urban nightmare became too sad to watch. I packed up and, with a heavy heart, left California. I had lived in California at its best, but couldn’t watch its continued decline. See CAPS’ California: Then, Now to understand the differences between California years ago and today.

When I try to explain to young Californians what the state was like back then, I realize how difficult it is for them to fathom a lifestyle they were never part of and never will experience. Young Californians do, however, grasp the importance of, as CAPS’ motto encourages, saving some of our great nation for tomorrow.

Earth Day, founded in 1970 by former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, is the perfect time to renew our collective commitment to get California back on the right environmental track. As California struggles with its historic drought, the 2015 Earth Day may be the most important ever.

Since recordkeeping began in 1895, the three-year period between 2011 and 2014 was California’s driest, and 2014, warmest ever. On April 1, California Gov. Jerry Brown issued statewide mandatory water restrictions. While nothing short of more than a couple of years of driving rain storms would alleviate the drought, easy to implement household tips could help Californians save 20 percent on water usage.

Among them: using a broom instead of a hose to wash down driveways and soaking dirty dishes instead of scrubbing them while the water runs. Installing a water-efficient clothes washer could save as much as 16 gallons of water per load; a water-efficient dishwasher, 8 gallons per load. Rebates for installing water-saving appliances are usually available. Finally, residents should check with their local municipalities to see if free water use evaluations are available.

Gaylord Nelson
Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005).

As helpful as individual actions are, though, nothing will spare California from future, more severe water shortages if the state’s population continues on its immigration-driven, unsustainable upward trajectory.

Here, from Dr. Nelson’s 2002 autobiography, Beyond Earth Day: Fulfilling the Promise, are some of his thoughts about immigration:

The U.S. birthrate is at replacement level, or about 2.1 children per woman on average. This birthrate would bring about population stabilization over a relatively short time. Yet we won’t stabilize our population as long as immigrants to the United States continue to add 1.3 million people to the population each year – 300,000 of them entering the country illegally. It is a fact that until we address this growing influx of immigrants, who account for about one third of our annual population growth, the population will continue to grow indefinitely despite the nation’s success at achieving a replacement level birthrate.

Never has an issue [immigration] with such major consequences for this country been so ignored. Never before has there been such a significant failure by the president, Congress, and the political infrastructure to address such an important problem. We are faced with the most important challenge of our time – the challenge of sustainability – and we refuse to confront it. It is the biggest default in our history.

The issue is not racism, nativism, or any other ‘ism,’ however. The real issue: numbers of people and the implications for freedom of choice and sustainability as our numbers continue to grow. Population stabilization will be a major determinant of our future, how we live and in what conditions; talk of it should not be muzzled by McCarthyism or any other demagogic contrivance. Rather, the issue must be brought forth and explored in public hearings and discussions precisely because it is a subject of great consequence.

The greatest tribute to Dr. Nelson and his Earth Day vision is to conserve, to practice prudent family planning, and to pass common sense immigration laws.

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