SANTA BARBARA (April 21, 2014) – A devastating oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara inspired Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson to create the first Earth Day in 1970. Twenty million Americans participated as Nelson and conservationists across the country noted that “every environmental problem is a population problem.”
Since that first Earth Day, the U.S. population has soared from 203 million to 318 million, due mostly to immigration. Today, a Santa Barbara-based environmental group, Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), reminds us that continuing population growth is the fundamental environmental problem.
“Overpopulation is the root cause of so much environmental destruction. Human activity devours open space, destroys wildlife habitat, and drives species extinct,” said Jo Wideman, executive director of CAPS.
California is blessed with some of the most varied wildlife habitat on earth, boasting more endemic species than any other state, but rapid population growth imperils this extraordinary biodiversity. Over one-fourth of California’s plants are extinct, rare, endangered, or threatened, and over 150 animals are listed as threatened or endangered.
Since 1970, the population has doubled to 38 million and the state’s population density already exceeds that of Europe. CAPS is currently running TV ads to point out that the state’s present population growth results almost entirely from foreign immigration.
Earth Day founder Sen. Nelson often drew the links among population, immigration, and the environment. He stated, “The bigger the population gets, the more serious the problems become…. In this country, it’s phony to say ‘I’m for the environment but not for limiting immigration.’”
Nelson’s name lives on in the 35,000-acre Gaylord Nelson Wilderness in northern Wisconsin. His legacy lives on among those who work to preserve wild lands and prevent the population growth that imperils them.