In remaining neutral on immigration, the 600,000-member Sierra Club has made a tactical decision of great significance for the global environment. While it may seem paradoxical, our membership has emphatically declared its desire to solve the worldwide population crisis.
The debate over immigration, which raged inside the club for seven months, may have looked like a family feud. But we were wrestling with a critical question not just for the Sierra Club, but for the nation and the world. Where do we draw the front line in the fight to reduce overpopulation - one of the most serious threats to our environment?
Some Sierra Club members argued that restricting immigration into the United States will ease America's environmental problems. But the majority recognized that moving people around, or keeping them from moving, will do nothing to decrease the total number of people on the planet, rein in the overall birthrate, slow the spread of pollution, or curb our consumption of the earth's resources. They said that birth control, not border patrols, is the answer to overpopulation.
Our dispute was a harbinger of a larger, inevitable national debate. Americans make up just 4 percent of the world's population, yet consume 25 percent of its resources. As Pogo once said, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
Furthermore, using abortion as an excuse, Congress has moved to end US support for family-planning programs that serve hundreds of millions of families all around the world - even though US law already prohibits funding for abortion services in other countries. This is where environmentalists - and not just population activists - need to focus our energy. Along with empowerment and education for women, these programs constitute a genuinely global approach to the population crisis - the only approach, in the view of most Sierra Club members, that can effectively and compassionately solve a global problem.
By voting for neutrality on immigration, the Sierra Club's members have reaffirmed their commitment to deal with the root causes of environmental degradation and overpopulation. And while the balloting is over - for this year, at least - the issue won't go away. Americans have some big decisions to make.
* Carl Pope is the executive director of the Sierra Club, a California-based environmental group.