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Unlimited people, limited land -- is there an answer?

Environmental groups and population control organizations are closer than ever before as they begin to join forces in the battle to establish a national population and immigration policy.

Many environmental organizations have paid at least lip service to a goal of zero population growth. But activists say it hasn't been until the past year -- with the release of the Global 2000 report last July -- that environmentalists have begun to make the connection between unlimited people and limited land.

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"I think environmental groups will become increasingly involved in the population issue because that is the fundamental factor in the problems we have with air, water, land, and wildlife," predicts Dr. Russell Peterson, president of the National Audubon Society.

"When people understand the interconnection between population, resources, and the environmental, they understand how vital to quality of life this interaction is," says Dr. Peterson, an expert on population issues, who has spurred his organization into the debate on immigration and population policies.

Already, environmentalists and population-control advocates have joined together in forming a 54-member coalition aimed at stimulating further debate and awareness of the issue. Called Global Tomorrow Coalition, the newly opened office in Washington, D.C., is the outcome of a series of informal meetings held by public-interest groups concerned with the Global 2000 report.

Although US fertility rates have dropped in the past 15 years to a current record-low, population growth -- and particularly the questions of immigration -- is expected to be one of the pressing issues of this decade. For even though the population growth rate is slowing, immigration levels are skyrocketing -- with over 1 million legal and illegal immigrants making their way into the country last year alone.

According to Dr. Michael Teitelbaum, former staff director of the House Select Committee on Population, immigration now accounts for 40 to 50 percent of US population growth -- and could account for even higher percentages if immigration continues to climb, and fertility rates keep dropping or stay steady. Numbers such as these -- and a growing awareness of the impact of population growth on an already strained environment -- have prompted environmental groups to take a more active interest in population issues.

Last January, at an Audubon Society-inspired conference on population, resources, and the environment, environmental groups joined with population-control advocates in issuing several resolutions, including one which called for Congress to revise existing immigration laws and to provide necessary funds for their enforcement. Environmentalist involvement, however, still is considered to be in its early phases. Although groups like the National Wildlife Federation say they plan to testify at congressional hearings on population and immigration policies, much of their time is spent educating their own members on the issues.

"I certainly haven't seen a great grass-roots interest in immigration, because it's not a grass-roots level issue. It's truly a national issue," says Judith Kunofsky, who has been a population and growth specialist with the Sierra Club for the past seven years. "I think environmental groups are going through the same education that the public is.

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Still, she agrees that "there is much more cooperation" between environmental and population-control groups. "The fact that we're all talking about less short- term and more long-term issues is very unusual," she says.

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