The Sierra Club is polling its half-a-million members on whether their environmental activism should include reducing the number of immigrants allowed into the United States. In what is being called a battle for the soul of the environmentalist movement, conventional liberals who do not want to be thought racist are pitted against the ideologues who, to use a common metaphor, see human beings as nothing more than harmful parasites on the face of the earth.
Both sides agree on the dogma that population growth is something bad. "Make no mistake," says Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, "overpopulation is, without question, a fundamental cause of the world's ills." He calls it, however, a global problem and worries about charges of racism. Such arguments are "a form of denial," according to member Allan Kuper. "We can't remain silent in the face of endless rapid growth" in the U.S. population. Immigration, he maintains, is having a negative impact on the environment.
Never mind that the doomsday scenarios of the "population bomb"-which have been proposed regularly from the time of Thomas Malthus in 1798 to Paul Ehrlich in the 1960s-have never happened. Never mind economists' findings that in a free economy human beings are not a drain but a natural resource. Radical environmentalists actually do see animals as having more intrinsic value than human beings, while wealthy nature lovers in their Land Rovers and log-clad mansions in the mountains do not want teeming masses cluttering the view.
The best conservative argument against immigration is that the American republic rests on the foundations of Western culture. Large numbers of immigrants from cultures that lack a democratic tradition could conceivably, in the long run, endanger American political institutions and cultural values. Ironically, however, today it seems that ethnic cultures prize American values far more than establishment Western culture does.
Western mainline churches are finding their attempts to update their teachings thwarted by their Third World brethren. An Episcopalian spokesman complains that African churches simply do not understand the need to ordain women or to be more tolerant of homosexuality. In fact, this Western-approved vice is opposed even by Caribbean cruise ship destinations. Korean Christians coming to this country are appalled at American churches that are no longer governed by the Bible; many join conservative denominations.
Ethnic cultures tend to be conservative, with strong family values. A pastor of a Hispanic mission in California told WORLD that the major problem faced by immigrant families is the way their children often turn rebellious and immoral when exposed to American pop culture. Hmongs, Pakistanis, and Africans make the same complaint.
One group arguing for more immigration is America's high-tech industries. In an article in The Wall Street Journal, T.J. Rodgers, CEO of Cypress Semiconductors, tells about how dependent Silicon Valley has become on well-educated workers from overseas. In a statistic he says is typical of the computer industry, 37 percent of his research-and-development engineers are immigrants. His company simply cannot find enough American-educated workers to fill the number of jobs they have.
Half of the technology doctorates awarded in American universities go to foreign nationals. Products of America's feel-good educational system simply are not going into math, science, and engineering careers. They are too hard. American young people may know how to work computers, but they use them mainly to play with, as toys for entertainment and socializing. While American students generally rank near the very bottom of the world in math and science proficiency-thanks to postmodern educational theory that minimizes content and intellectual discipline-Asian children tend to work hard at learning.
Those who want to see the work ethic today must look not to Protestants but to the immigrant businesses, such as doughnut shops run by immigrant families: The father is in the kitchen, the mother is working the register, and the children are busing tables and taking orders. The American dream of hard work leading to success is seldom taught anymore in American high schools, but is an article of faith among Hispanics and Chinese. Old-fashioned patriotism and the love of freedom can hardly be found among college graduates taught that America is the most oppressive nation in the world, but it permeates the talk of the refugees of Cuban, Vietnamese, and Chinese communism.
The point is, the cultural problems currently being faced by America and the world are emanating from Western culture, with its moral collapse and its postmodern relativism. A jolt of influence from traditional cultures would do us good.
Recognizing that ethnic cultures can be a salutary influence does not justify illegal immigration or rule out the possibility that some restrictions might be necessary. Nor does it justify the multiculturalism of the postmodern relativists or the desire of some to hook immigrants on welfare. But it does imply that the demographic projections that America will become more "ethnic" in the next century may turn out to be good news for American culture as a whole.