The last issue of OnEarth hit a sore spot with some of our readers. We published an article called "When Hate Goes Green," by Michael A. Rivlin, which exposed the fact that environmental issues are being misused by some immigration reform advocates with questionable motives. In response, we got quite a few letters. Many of them asked how a magazine like OnEarth could possibly ignore the potential environmental damage from rapid population growth in the United States.
In fact, U.S. population growth was discussed in the article -- though briefly, because it wasn't the main focus of the piece. And, far from being oblivious to the problems, OnEarth too has a sore spot where population growth is concerned. So, no doubt, do most environmentalists. We're all afraid of what could happen to the environment and to people when the earth is weighted with enormous numbers of human beings.
The human population hit 6 billion in 1999; 7 billion is projected for 2012, 9 billion for 2043. Can we feed so many? Good farmland is already being degraded around the world, pushed too hard with poor irrigation and too many chemicals. Can we keep 9 billion from deadly thirst? Drinking water sources are increasingly overtaxed. And where will our growing population live? In the United States, what happens to the open land and the seashores we all love when, in less than a hundred years, our population is twice the size it is today?
As for U.S. immigration, this is a subject on which American environmentalists disagree. Some think the United States should protect its borders in order to protect its natural resources. Some think the nation would do more environmental good by helping to stabilize population growth worldwide. At OnEarth, one of our jobs is to explore difficult issues. (Our articles don't necessarily reflect NRDC's opinions; OnEarth is a forum for many and varying voices.) We published "When Hate Goes Green" because we believe all U.S. environmentalists, whatever they think about current immigration rates, need to know when environmental issues are misused and have a responsibility to distance themselves from the kind of prejudice the article reported on. But it wasn't our only, or our last, word on population concerns in the United States or the world.
In retrospect, devoting more space in the article to the facts and figures of population growth would have helped more readers, even those who disagreed with the piece, recognize that this magazine does indeed take population issues seriously. But the great thing about the response we got was that it showed how deeply readers of OnEarth care about the environment. If they think we're not doing right by the planet, they'll let us know -- loudly. We couldn't ask for anything better.
Kathrin Day Lassila