BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH
Just released Center for New Community report charges "Apply the Brakes" and The Weeden Foundation with supporting hard-core anti-immigration agenda
If over the years you haven’t paid all that much attention to some of the internal struggles within the mainstream environmental movement, you’ve missed a whole bunch of interesting battles, and, to be honest, you’ve saved yourself a whole lotta unnecessary grief. However, one of the most important – and divisive -- battles that has taken place is over the issue of population, immigration and the environment. Perhaps the most vicious fight took place in 2004, when a slate of anti-immigrant forces tried –and failed – in their effort to take over the Board of the Sierra Club.
On Wednesday, July 21, The Center for New Community (CNC), a Chicago-Illinois-based civil rights organization, published a new report titled Apply the Brakes: Anti-immigrant Co-optation of the Environmental Movement (http://www.newcomm.org/content/view/2138/117/), which according to a CNC press release “reveals how anti-immigrant forces have corrupted the dialogue on population and the environment.”
The report focuses on an organization called Apply the Brakes (http://www.applythebrakes.org/), whose website leads with the headline “Help Us Stop Unsustainable U.S. Population Growth.” The organization points out that “This web site is the result of a meeting of long-time conservationists held in Western Oregon in the spring of 2006. The purpose was to discuss the decade-long retreat of U.S. environmental organizations from addressing domestic population growth as a key issue in both domestic and global sustainability.”
Last year, in the Population Special Issue of the Earth Island Journal, a quarterly publication of the well-respected Earth Island Institute, a mention was made of Apply the Brakes (ATB). According to CNC, “A few months later, the Center for Immigration Studies — an anti-immigrant organization group founded by white nationalist John Tanton — cited ATB in a memorandum denouncing Sierra Club leadership for not addressing the issue of immigration.”
“ATB and Center for Immigration Studies, along with other organizations such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), NumbersUSA, Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), Carrying Capacity Network, and Negative Population Growth (NPG), are scapegoating immigrants for rising pollution and urban sprawl as a way to build support for repressive anti-immigrant legislation,” the CNC report charges.
In a post at the Center for New Community’s Imagine 2050 website, the Reverend David Ostendorf, Executive Director of the Center for New Community led his commentary about the report with: “Who would have thought that the renowned Lester Brown of Worldwatch Institute or Roderick Nash of the classic Wilderness and the American Mind would involve themselves in a portion of the environmental movement that dallies with nativists and white nationalists? Or that the Weeden Foundation, a mainstay funder of numerous environmental groups, might ‘steer the environmental movement toward a course fueled by bigotry and racism?’”
Ostendorf also pointed out that Bill Elder, who was a player in the Sierra Club takeover attempt, “is in the thick of Apply the Brakes, serving as its website coordinator.” Apparently Elder has ties to white nationalist’s “via Brenda Walker, a regular contributor to the white nationalist website V-DARE, and Virginia Abernathy, an avowed white separatist.” Ostendorf noted that “Newer anti-immigrant players like Philip Cafaro — who has ludicrously tied the Gulf oil spill to immigrants — help flesh out Tanton Network tentacles into ATB.”
In addition, The Weeden Foundation – which provides grants “used to address the adverse impact of growing human populations and overuse of natural resources on the biological fabric of the planet” -- itself shares its address and phone with ATB, and provided it with “modest seed money” according to Earth Island Journal. “Foundation director Alan Weeden also services as a Board member of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), at the heart of the anti-immigrant, John TantonNetwork,” Ostendorf noted.
According to the report, “The objective of the Weeden Foundation in funding these organizations is to create enough anti-immigrant leadership overlap to steer the environmental movement towards a course fueled by bigotry and racism.”
(BuzzFlash sent an email to Apply The Brakes requesting a comment regarding the CNC report’s charges but the organization has not responded.)
In the CNC press release he pointed out that “Population is a topic clearly tied to concerns about the environment, and cannot be underplayed. However, racism and nativist arguments that blame immigrants for population problems have absolutely no place in this discussion, and should be rejected without hesitation by environmental activists.”
Apply the Brakes, authored by Jenny Levison, Stephen Piggott, Rebecca Poswolsky, and Eric Ward with research assistance from Nina Masters, MJ Olahafa, and Brian Schultz, maintains that “ATB has kept a very low public presence outside of environmental circles, but its mission is clear: … [it] concerns itself with ‘domestic population growth’ and has a pronounced anti-immigration focus.”
“The discussion that ATB seeks to broadcast is essentially neo-Malthusian. The theory was born when Thomas Malthus published ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798’ in which he stated that the discrepancy between the rate of population and the rate of food growth would lead to a permanent food shortage for humans. Malthus’ works gained influence in rapidly-transforming 19th Century England and, combined with later Social Darwinism, were used to justify ideologies that essentially blamed the victims of early industrial development — a development that swallowed up, displaced and destroyed populations, and which was itself highly artificial and environmentally destructive — for their own misfortune.
“Specifically, anti-immigrant activists belonging to the neo-Malthusian tradition claim that populations are constrained by the carrying capacity of the environment, and that population growth causes environmental degradation. They argue that immigrants contribute to the degradation of the environment by urban sprawl, congestion, pollution, waste generation, water consumption, land conversion, depletion of natural resources, and biodiversity loss, and have gone so far as to create a formula (change in pollution multiplied by change in population) to demonstrate these relationships. Neo-Malthusian doctrine has been invoked over the years by these individuals and organizations to argue that compassion for those starving and destroyed eventually backfires, leading to greater future catastrophe.
“ATB arguments on immigrants and population pull directly from the neo-Malthusian stance — displacing blame from the negative influence of economic globalization onto populations that are the worst impacted. This push by ATB to distort “cause and effect” serves to intentionally transform a holistic environmental philosophy based on greater care towards the world and each other, into misanthropy. Ecological thinking based on dynamic and interconnected natural systems turns into a philosophy that treats national and state borders as unchallengeable nature. People become pollutants, with all the racial overtones of such a social construction.”
The report concludes by declaring that “There should be no taboo on discussing population — a topic clearly tied to environmental concerns, as in fact is every human interaction within ecological systems. What should be rejected are racism and simplistic arguments that over-emphasize the ‘numbers game’ at the expense ofother factors — interlocking issues of production and consumption, patterns of land use, technology and planning, globalization and poverty, the status of women in society, as well as wasteful cycles of boom and bust. This remains true no matter how much ecological damage we believe societies may have produced. Such a social and ecological outlook is vitally important in overcoming ‘man versus nature’ thinking.”
At the same time environmentalists should be aware of how “Groups with misleading or seemingly transparent names like Progressives for Immigration Reform, Negative Population Growth, and NumbersUSA — as well as others in [John] Tanton’s network of anti-immigrant organizations — all seek to inject bigotry into environmental and population issues.”