Why LA’s environmentalists are frightened of addressing overpopulation
By Mark Cromer
November 11, 2008
Environmentalists are fond of saying that the debate over global warming is over. The fundamental questions about its existence, its impacts and the human contribution to it have been settled and time is of the essence as we consider local, regional and global responses.
But when it comes to the issue of population growth, particularly in the United States and specifically in California, environmentalists are fond of saying as little as possible and, preferably, nothing at all.
It’s an understandable silence, given that it’s a matter of self-preservation. Environmentalists are increasingly silenced on the issue of population growth out of fear of being tarred as “racists.”
That rigorously enforced self-censorship was on vivid display Thursday night in Santa Monica, where some of the state’s most respected environmentalists joined several politicians to discuss the impact of the election on the environment.
Convened at the prestigious Milken Institute, environmental heavy-hitters like David Allgood from the California League of Conservation Voters, Andy Lipkis from Tree People and Jonathan Parfrey from Green Los Angeles held forth for the better part of two hours about the drubbing the ecosystem has taken under the Bush Administration and the silver lining the electoral sea shift may offer.
Allgood, Lipkis and Parfrey rightly spoke enthusiastically about promising developments in alternative energy and imaginative methods to increase fresh water supplies. And the three commendably expressed the urgency that Angelenos and Californians must demonstrate as we confront perpetual drought and our precarious environmental health.
But for all the talk about sustainability, not one sentence about California’s surging population growth was uttered among them, indeed not a single word.
Before the evening drew to a close, I decided to take their encouragements to raise our voices to heart and shouted from the back of the room “What about our population growth?”
The question produced a pregnant pause and some bemused stares from the panelists, before they slipped right back into their talking points and closed out the discussion without addressing it.
I asked Parfrey and Lipkis afterwards how they could avoid the core issue of population growth that’s so central to our carbon footprint, spiking greenhouse gases and the increasing pressures on our shrinking water supplies?
Lipkis actually looked pained for a moment as he carefully considered his answer, then acknowledged that population growth was a key issue—but said it was better addressed by someone more versed on it than he was.
Parfrey, God bless him, didn’t mince words. The issue was simply untouchable, he said, because white environmentalists “must demonstrate real racial sensitivity” to the cultural needs that are fulfilled for Latinos by having large families.
His candor was simultaneously both refreshing and stunning. Refreshing because it’s rare to hear such a succinct admission of the politically correct strictures that govern many white environmentalists. Domestic population growth in particular is a subject they dread to venture into.
It was equally stunning to hear the eloquent voice of a progressive like Parfrey so willingly submit to self-censorship even as we face looming environmental catastrophe. Ironically, his admonishment that “racial sensitivity” trumped open discussion also smacked of the suggestion that Latinos are too emotional to engage in a reasoned discussion of a culturally-loaded issue.
And it presumes that Latinos must all think alike on this issue.
But it’s past simply being intellectually dishonest by not addressing population growth when discussing the increasing pressures on the environment at this late hour—it’s downright fraudulent. And it’s dangerous.
Environmentalists like Parfrey, Lipkis and Allgood know this very well, but they’re also keenly aware of the consequences of speaking out on this issue, since to do so might mean a brief foray into the realm of population policy, which is linked inextricably to immigration policy— a definite No-Fly Zone.
The consequences of daring to broach the issue were recently highlighted when Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) launched an ad campaign across the state last month to raise awareness of the impact that population growth was having on the environment. The response from some Latino groups was fast and furious.
Zuraya Tapia-Alfaro, a lobbyist for the New Democrat Network in Washington D.C., blogged on the group’s website that CAPS was part of “the hate network,” shamelessly listing CAPS alongside the KKK, neo-Nazis and criminal skinhead street gangs that are monitored by the FBI.
In one despicably deft swoop, Tapia-Alfaro likened CAPS, with board members such Ben Zuckerman, a professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA, or Stuart Hurlbert, the Director of Center for Inland Waters at San Diego State University, to Klansmen, Nazis and hate-mongers who spread violent terror.
Working from Joe McCarthy’s playbook, Tapia-Alfaro smeared CAPS not only to punish respected academics like Zuckerman and Hurlbert, as well as Dr. Henry Mayer, a Clinical Professor of Medicine at Stanford University’s Medical School also on the board at CAPS, but to remind environmentalists everywhere the toxic wrath that awaits them if they get out of line and dare to speak up.
The resounding silence indulged by the panel on the issue of population growth at the Milken Institute last week was a powerful demonstration as to just how potent a smear campaign can be—and guys like Parfrey, Lipkis and Allgood clearly got the memo.
While they steadfastly remain silent, even as California remains on track to reach 60 million people by mid-century, let’s hope that other environmentalists will find the courage to raise this critical issue and foster a respectful dialogue—one in which no threat to the environment is held hostage by politically correct etiquette.
That discussion needs to take place now. Angelenos and Californians deserve nothing less.
Mark Cromer is a senior writing fellow at Californians for Population Stabilization, www.CAPSweb.org. He can be reached at [email protected]