Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Closing the Borders
distributed 2/20/04 - ©2004

I live in Denver, Colorado -- a vibrant city in a beautiful region. It is also a city that struggles with air pollution, urban sprawl and water shortages -- problems that are driven by our booming population growth. (The suburban counties around Denver seem to be in a competition to see which can have the nation's fastest rate of population growth.)

When I'm talking with people about those growth-related problems, I often lament the fact that Colorado's borders were not closed to new residents . . . right after I moved here 15 years ago.

In the growth-impacted areas of the state, most of the people that I talk with share that fanciful wish that their family could have been the last one to move to Colorado. On some very selfish level, we wish that all of the open space and undeveloped mountains could be left intact for us. If only those other people would stay away, this lovely mountain region would be so much nicer for those of us who already live here.

Of course, our comments about closing down the state's borders are always made as a confessional sort of joke. We recognize that we're fairly recent arrivals, too, and that we're reaping all of the benefits of residing in this gorgeous place. We are richly blessed by the privilege of living here, and we know that our desire to keep it pretty is not, in itself, a sufficient reason to keep others from moving here.

The surging population of Colorado's Front Range is a serious concern, and a matter of innumerable public policy debates. There are many valid reasons to slow or stop the explosive growth rate -- most immediately the lack of adequate water to provide for the anticipated millions of newcomers. And there are reasons to control the way that growth happens, so that there is less sprawl, better transportation, and less fragmentation of wildlife habitats in the mountains and on the plains.

But the joke about wanting to be the last family to move to Colorado acknowledges the moral bankruptcy of wanting to close the borders simply for the sake of preserving our privileged existence in such a pretty place.

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The Sierra Club has been in the news recently. The normally boring matter of electing people to the club's Board of Directors has become a headline story.

In addition to candidates placed on the ballot through the Club's internal nominating process, several individuals have petitioned their way onto the ballot. Three of those petition candidates are running for the office with an explicit agenda of having the Sierra Club take a strong position on US population stabilization and immigration reform.

One of the anti-immigration candidates is Dick Lamm, a former governor of Colorado. As I have read through his recent writings, I have been repulsed by the way in which he is raising the issues of population and immigration.

Lamm's personal website has several position papers related to his Sierra Club candidacy. Many of them bemoan the loss of the uncrowded and unpolluted West that Lamm so enjoyed decades ago. From his writings, it is clear to me that Lamm's concern about human population has little to do with compassion for the global multitudes, and much to do with a threat to his aesthetic and privileged way of life.

In a recent syndicated column, Lamm wrote, "A pressing environmental question faces America: what is our demographic destiny? How big a country do we want to become? How many people can live satisfied lives within our borders?"

Apparently, for Mr. Lamm, it is OK if people elsewhere have to live in overcrowded cities, facing pollution and a shortage of resources. But he doesn't want our way of life in the United States to become less comfortable.

He wrote, "Population compounds every environmental issue we face. Where will we draw inspiration when America is paved, polluted and overpopulated?" Yet I don't find a single word from him expressing concern about where those who are kept out of the United States will find their inspiration, or how they are expected to cope with pollution.

A serious global problem is being addressed only in terms of the way it impacts the residents of the United States. Lamm and others are proposing immigration reform to stabilize the population of the world's richest country. The effects of such a policy are a preservation of privilege, and a continuation of environmental inequality.

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When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus answered with "Love God, and love your neighbor." When pushed about who the neighbor is, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story that stretches the demands of love far beyond our conventional boundaries of kin and nation.

Yes, Mr. Lamm, population is a pressing environmental and social problem for our country, and for the world. But excluding our neighbors -- closing down the borders of either the state or the nation -- in order to preserve our own environmental privilege? That's a joke, not an appropriate proposal for national policy.

So, Sierra Club members: when your ballot comes in a few weeks, research all of the various candidates carefully, and be sure to cast your vote!


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries


Dick Lamm's personal website, referenced in this article, is no longer on-line. The website for "Support US Population Stabilization," which deals with the Sierra Club election, is at

The website for "Groundswell Sierra," a group that is in opposition to the petition candidates, is found at

An article in the Christian Science Monitor provides more background on the election: A 'hostile' takeover bid at the Sierra Club


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