Shortly before his death last November, Sierra Club pioneer David Brower said, "The [U.S.] population explosion is our worst problem...We have to address [it]."1 Several months earlier, frustrated by the Club's refusal to acknowledge population's impact on our nation's environment, Brower had resigned from the Board of Directors.
Sprawl and population growth are inextricably connected. If a region's population keeps growing, then open space, farmland, and wildlife habitat will eventually become urban. This basic reality must become widely recognized if we are to take sensible action to rescue our environment from further destruction.
The message that should be communicated by the Club's Sprawl Campaign is that smart growth while highly desirable, is just not enough.
A "YES" vote enables members to respectfully request that the Club's campaign target both population growth and better land use in fighting sprawl's destructive impacts on our lives and on nature.
Recent studies2 reveal that most sprawl is tightly linked to rising population. Further, the Nature Conservancy's comprehensive book "Precious Heritage" shows high correlation between "hotspots" for endangered species and regions with population-driven sprawl, including California, the Southwest, and Florida.
U.S. population has mushroomed from 150 million in 1950 to 275 million today. Based on current trends, the Census Bureau projects that our 275 million Americans will double within the lifetimes of children born today.
Yet in its five sprawl reports totaling 150 pages, the Club acknowledges that population needs to be stabilized in only two short paragraphs, and through omission implies that as long as development is "smart", destruction of open-spaces, farmland, and wildlife habitat isn't sprawl! Common sense tells us that hundreds of millions of additional Americans will overwhelm "smartgrowth" and produce massive sprawl, since most of us won't tolerate Manhattan-like crowding where we live.
Portland, Oregon, the premier example of "smartgrowth", has done sophisticated regional planning for decades. Nonetheless, while smartgrowth techniques can slow sprawl, in the face of massive population increase, they can't stop sprawl. Thus, surrounding farmland and open space are disappearing as Portland's population grows, already breaching urban boundaries that were "never" to be breached.
In regions like Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas-Ft. Worth, San Francisco Bay, Ft. Lauderdale, Phoenix, Denver, San Diego, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Sacramento, sprawl is overwhelmingly due to population increase, not poor planning.2 In regions with little population growth (e.g., Detroit), there's much less sprawl.2
Many consider Los Angeles to be "Sprawl City, USA". But its orange groves and open spaces have succumbed to population growth, not low density development. As recently as the late 1940s L.A. was the leading agricultural county in the entire U.S.A. By 1990, L.A. had become the nation's most gridlocked and densely populated urban region - that is, had the most people per square mile - according to Census Bureau figures2. One does not evolve from leading agricultural county to most densely populated region without a gigantic population increase (of more than 11 million from 1900 to 1990 and continuing to this day).
This initiative's purpose is not to micromanage the sprawl campaign nor to wastefully reprint existing materials - its sole intent is to reintroduce population into Club discussions. Eager to educate both Club members and the general public, in November 2000 we petitioners accepted compromise wording proposed by Board member Anne Ehrlich that substituted "educational components in Club sprawl campaigns" for the stronger "essential components in all Club sprawl materials and programs". The Board of Directors rejected the compromise, compelling us to bring the question before the membership. (See the full story).
John Muir must be turning in his grave knowing that the Club he founded to protect nature combats sprawl ineffectually for fear of confronting overpopulation. Our leaders need a wake up call!
Seventeen Club chapters nationwide* (including Loma Prieta, Los Padres, Maryland, Ohio, Oregon, Rocky Mountain, San Francisco, San Diego, Tennessee, Ventana, Vermont), have passed resolutions asking the Club to incorporate U.S. population stabilization as a component of the Sprawl Campaign. Please join them and endorsers
Lester Brown, President, Worldwatch Institute3; coauthor "State
of the World"
Jean-Michel Cousteau, President, Ocean Futures Society3
Dave Foreman, former Club Director, cofounder Earth First!
Martin Litton, former Club Director, John Muir Award
Professor Frank Morris, former Executive Director,
Congressional Black Caucus Foundation
Dr. Norman Myers, Senior Fellow, World Wildlife Fund3
Gaylord Nelson, founder EarthDay, U.S. Senator 1963-1981,
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Alexandra Paul, actress, population/environmental activist
Galen Rowell, nature photojournalist
Claudine Schneider, leader, biodiversity preservation, U.S.
Stewart Udall, U.S. Interior Secretary, 1961-1969; author
Captain Paul Watson, cofounder Greenpeace, founder Sea
Professor E.O. Wilson, conservation biologist, Harvard;
author "The Diversity of Life"
1In August 2000, at a population/environment conference held at the
University of Southern California and organized by Californians for
Population Stabilization, Sierra Club pioneer David Brower
said, "The [U.S.] population explosion is our worst problem...We have to
2For more information and research on the population-sprawl connection, see