About 6 months ago or more, I received a series of images from what was then an upcoming conservative campaign marketing anti-immigration to progressives. I saved all of the ads in a file on my home computer for a post I kept meaning to write. But as time went by, I just did not get to it and as I began to see other posts about it around the internet, I figured it was probably ok to delete the images off the hard drive and move on.
Imagine my surprise then, when I sat down to coffee with the latest issue of Mother Jones magazine this am with a fellow activist. Those same conservatives had bought a full page ad from Mother Jones to display one of the images I had since moved to my zip drive:
I don’t know what is more disturbing to me, the ad itself or the fact that Mother Jones was willing to run it.
The message of the advertisements is the same for the entire series: immigrants and immigration are to blame for environmental degredation. Underlining this thesis is a long history of environmentalism, eugenicism, and anti-immigration that runs counter to the progressive environmental movement. In fact, money from prominent foundations and families such as the Rockefellers can be traced to nazi research, eugenicism archives, and environmental causes. The Sierra Club has long been undersiege by anti-immigration groups who believe that environmental issues are tied to curbing the reproductive rights of poor women and women of color as well as immigration flows. The anti-immigration factions within the Sierra club are funded by the same group who funded the Bell Curve, which argues racial pseudo science as proof of black people’s inherent intellectual inferiority, as well as other eugenicist studies designed to curb the reproductive capacity of indigenous women and women of color. And the leaders of the deep ecology movement, which has come under criticism for statements about controlled reproduction of immigrants and control over immigration in general, continue to draw erroneous distinctions between the intentional racism of the anti-immigration right and their own assertions that their version of population control is not racist even though it is often specifically targeting immigrants and immigration, and poor women of color around the world. And as Smith points out in her book Conquest, The CCN, which funds several environmental campaigns, has also proposed denying funding to women in developing nations because of the assumption that poor women have more babies and more babies means a drain on resources. They have also argued that “anglo-saxon civil culture. . . must continue to reign supreme . . .” (also quoted in Conquest) because they have erroneously linked race to reproductive and environmental choices.
The most vocal racism within the environmental movement however has never come from the left. In fact, as Andy Smith Points out in that same section of Conquest, the Aryan Women’s League saw the envirnomental movement as an opportunity to transform their image and get publicity. The idea was that there were clear overlapping concerns between keeping the earth pristine and keeping the race so. The same can be said for the neo-nazi attempts to take over environmentalism in Britain with the slogan “racial preservation is green.” It is not that the National Front suddenly became environmentalists but rather that they were trying to reach out to a particular constituency whose concerns encompassed a number of social issues that they felt could be bent toward the white supremacist cause. Many militia groups also articulate a racial version of environmentalistism in which the way to keep the land safe is to protect it from “mud people” defined as people of color who are dirty, destroy things, and use things up by overconsumption and reproduction. While these supremacist groups make the connections between racism, population control, and the environment clear, rhetoric such as that in the ad, is much less overt but predicated on the same principles.
Thus the ad argues that immigration is the cause of deforestation and housing related consumption. This requires yu to believe that immigrants are a major portion of the population. That they reproduce as higher levels than other portions of the population, requiring more housing options. And that their consumption is counter to environmental sustainability, or, put another way, while white middle class citizens are actively trying to reduce their carbon footprint because they inherently understand the problem, brown people are waste machines.
The reality is that most black and brown homeowners own older homes in existing neighborhoods while white homeowners are more likely to live in new developments and sprawling suburban planned communities. Middle class homes tend to be larger and include renovation projects even when those homes are pre-existing, representing a larger drain on wood, stone, and other natural building resources, electricity (for heating and lighting in particular), and water. Suburban communities have a higher drain on environmental resources because water, electricity, and roads have to be created and/or produced at farther and farther distances. Roads to planned communities have been blamed for landslides and flooding as well as the loss of habitat for indigenous animals and potential extinction of others. The travel time between suburban communities and urban jobs also results in increased pollution as most of these areas are not served by major transit and so most families are 2 to 4 car families with drivers clocking in steady hours to and from work, school, and the grocery store, not to mention the mall, entertainment, and recreation. A recent documentary also pointed out that suburban communities and upper class neighborhoods use more water than working class and urban communities because they are also more likely to maintain green lawns and community green spaces all year round, which can include pollution from fertilizer run off, “grass paint,” and/or minor exhaust from motorized mowers.
In fact, the first world not the third world consumes the most. Depending on which nation we are talking about their consumption differentials can be as high as 10 to 1. And the first world produces the most waste on our planet not the other way around.
On a global scale multi-nationals, which are mostly owned by rich white men not poor brown immigrants, are responsible for the worst environmental disasters our planet has seen including the Exxon Valdez spill, poisoning of Latin American and South American land for the flower and garment industries, clear cutting sections of the amazon, and depletion of water for mining on indigenous land, in the rainforest, and for production of soda products (Coke) in India. These disasters not only impact the environment but they also propel the very out-migration that these ads are rallying against.
Some questions have even been raised about the environmental impact of eco-tourism which requires trails be cut through wildlife and wetlands, constant human presence in otherwise undisturbed ocean and rainforest habitats, and potential pollution from granola bar rappers, human waste, etc. Studies on the impact are in their infancy and have very little support from the tourist industry or the environmentalist tourists who support these programs. What is clear is that resort purchase of beaches and forrests has helped increase the outmigration of indigenous populations targeted by this ad as the problem.
While it is true that families in the developing world are often larger than those in the developed world, research also shows that access to resources, education, family planning, and equality between women and men are much higher indicators of reproductive choice than race and location. Put another way, race is being used to mask global inequalities that are far more prevalent in reproductive decisions. When those inequalities are exposed we are forced to return to a discussion of racism, classism, and sexism rather than one which villifies poor women of color.
Clearly the problem is not one of backward black and brown people, nor can it be reduced to any racial narrative of any kind. Instead racialized arguments are clouding the real issues facing all of us. The reality is that we have to deal with basic structural inequalities under global capitalism like, sexism, racism, classism, city planning, and free trade agreements, in order to positively impact the environment and decrease our collective consumption and carbon footprints. Playing a game of blame the victim, be it women, people of color, immigrants, or “the third world,” is simply making it that much easier for the inequality that is really at the heart of the problem to worsen and continue unchecked.
For me, this post is motivated less by an issue of blame than it is by one of failure on the part of progressive media to walk the walk. When Mother Jones prints these ads they are admitting to their own anti-racist failings as well as encouraging their readers to think about the environment along erroneous racial lines. In so doing, they make it that much harder for anti-racist progressive environmentalists to reach out to a wide array of communities and attract the support of people most impacted by environmental degredation. For a magazine that regularly reports on the kinds of enivironmental issues that are mentioned in this post, it also shows a profound ignorance of the very issues they claim to champion.
As I sat there this morning staring in stunned silence at my Mother Jones magazine, I also had to bear the weight of knowing I knew this ad campaign was coming and I said nothing. I am saying it here and now and I am also saying it to Mother Jones by sending my copy of the magazine back with a note about racism, anti-immigration, and their advertising decisions. You can do the same by contacting their advertising department here and their editors here. By alerting them to the problem, we can ensure that they do not help spread hatred in the name of environmentalism which I am sure they would never intentionally do.
You can also follow the URLs in the ad itself to let the people responsible for the advertising campaign know that you are not fooled by their racism and anti-immigration hysteria. Because I am unwilling to encourage their supporters to follow back links back to this blog, I am unwilling to link to them so you will have to cut and paste: aicfoundation.com, capsweb.org, fairus.org, numbersusa.org, thesocialcontract.com A quick survey of these sites shows clearly that they are less concerned with the enivornment than they are the color and country of origin of the people living in it.