There's some good news about conservationists who are trying to conserve our nation's natural heritage by fighting for an immigration cutback.
Prominent environmental activist and immigration restriction-supporter Ben Zuckerman, a UCLA astrophysicist and a leader of Californians for Population Stabilization, was recently elected to the Sierra Club's Board of Directors. In fact, despite running as an outsider against candidates anointed by the famed environmental organization's nominating committee, he was the leading vote-getter among the five successful candidates. As I pointed out here two years ago in "Green Gag," in 1996 the Sierra Club cravenly abandoned taking any position on immigration, even though that is becoming the main engine of American population growth, something the Sierra Club abhors. Zuckerman's election shows the strength of immigration realism among the Sierra Club's rank and file. (Here's a fine article about Zuckerman by a courageous L.A. Times writer named James Ricci.)
In other news from the conservation front, the immigration realist organization Population-Environment Balance proudly announced that Edward O. Wilson was joining their Board of Advisers. Wilson is one of the greatest living Americans. Lauded by Tom Wolfe as "the new Darwin," he's the world's leading expert on ants; the founder of the biodiversity preservation movement; and the dean of sociobiology (here's my review of the 25th anniversary edition of his landmark book Sociobiology). After his vastly controversial book was published in 1975, Wilson realized that the only way to counter among the literati Stephen Jay Gould's scurrilous but sonorously written attacks on sociobiology for its political incorrectness was to learn how to write with the same humanist hauteur as Gould was famous for. So, at the age of 45, after four decades spent mostly on his hands and knees in the dirt looking at creepy-crawly things, Wilson resolved to learn to write like a literary intellectual. Within four years, Wilson had out-prose styled Gould at his own game, winning the Pulitzer Prize for On Human Nature.
In his letter accepting the organization's nomination to its Board of Advisors, Wilson said,
"I have read the materials you sent and found them based on data, reason and generally good will toward all Americans—including legal newcomers, whose reduced numbers we both envision as necessary for a high quality of life for generations to come.... I believe our country badly needs an open discussion of population, engaging as much science and good will as can be mustered. It is time to break the taboo."
Just as some environmentalists are breaking free from the taboos of multiculturalist dogma, conservatives need to free themselves from unthinking devotion to libertarian anti-environmentalism. It's time to build bridges to the increasing number of rational and realistic environmentalists who comprehend the threat to the American landscape posed by mass immigration.
Wilson recently asked, "What is the heart of conservatism if it does not include leadership in conservation? And why have conservative thinkers needlessly, and against all logic and their own self-interest, surrendered the moral high ground on this issue to the liberals?" Although conservatives were long the leaders in the struggle to conserve America's magnificent natural patrimony, in recent decades right-wing ideologues have taken to automatically assuming that just because some environmentalists are doomsayers and economic illiterates, all environmentalist issues must be 100% junk. This has contributed to the Republican Party's mediocre electoral performance in recent years. After all, the natural demographic base of any conservative party - affluent homeowners - often back environmental laws as means to protect their property values from pollution and crowding.
Further, many environmentalists understand market economics much better today than in the past. (For example, Wilson's new book The Future of Life is reasonably hardheaded about need to enlist the mighty engine of capitalism in the preservation of biodiversity.) In fact, the greens sometimes grasp economics better than the libertarians, who often fail to comprehend the crucial role of government in establishing and maintaining property rights. For instance, the oceans are being badly overfished today precisely because nobody owns a fish until they've caught it. That's why professional fishermen support stringent government controls on their right to make a living, including even the recent two year shut down of the entire New England deep sea fishing industry. Left to the free market, the fishermen know they'd put themselves permanently out of business.
Everybody has heard of the famous winning bet that the late economist (and immigration enthusiast) Julian Simon made with environmentalist Paul Ehrlich in 1980. Simon bet that the prices of five commodity metals would be lower in 1990 and won $576. Now, in the minds of anti-conservation "conservatives," this wager has taken on mythic proportions as proof of their rightness in some sort of intellectual winner take all war to the death. Because Ehrlich was proven to be a bigger Chicken Little than Simon was a Pollyanna in a bet over the prices of some metals, then Simon, they reason, must have been right about everything and all environmentalists wrong about everything.
Obviously, however, those of us who don't suffer from an a priori ideological commitment to total victory for one true believer or the other simply want to cherry-pick the most useful perspectives of both sides.
Interestingly, almost no one on the right has heard of Ehrlich's rematch proposal. He made a list of 15 benchmarks that he was willing to bet would worsen from 1994 to 2004. The environmentalist had learned a lot about how the world works since 1980, so he carefully picked 15 propositions on which he was highly likely to win. For instance, his #11 wager was: "The oceanic fisheries harvest per person will continue its downward trend and thus in 2004 will be smaller than in 1994."
Not surprisingly, Simon refused the bet.
June 26, 2002