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Sustainable Society:  A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.







[MFS note: Kirstin Dohrer, was the Sierra Club's "Environmental Justice" committee chair; M. Boyd Wilcox is the founder of NOPC.]

Date: Wed, Feb 12, 1997
RE: NOPC reply

This message is in reply to one received yesterday by Kirstin Dohrer, the Sierra Club's EJ committee chair, regarding concerns expressed about NOPC and US3P.

To Kirstin Dohrer:

Your posting provides the opportunity to correct some inaccuracies and misconceptions which I will do my best to carry out. In good faith, I will assume that many of your comments and observations are primarily the result of a lack of accurate information regarding efforts to establish a NPP in general, and NOPC in particular. As Lois Snedden so well articulated, "How can we move the discussion past the lobbing-bricks stage?" We have, I believe, much more common ground than your posting implies; we share the same goals; and we need each other desperately if we are to successfully prevent and reverse the Gaiacide that is upon us.

I will go through your piece placing your comments in "quotes"; my reply will follow.

  1. "NOPC is limited in scope; fails to promote global sustainability. "
  2. This initial comment suggests you have not read the working document of NOPC, which is a letter/petition to VP Al Gore.

    It makes very clear that NOPC is a model offered for any/all nations that care to emulate the extensive research/analysis and public educational thrust of NOPC. It is nationalistic only because we must start somewhere, and because population policy is the purview of national sovereignty. It would be ideal if all nations, or at least an initial core group representing the major continents and bioregions, would embark upon the NOPC process. This way we could learn from one another, share mistakes and successes, and help all to achieve a sustainable population at levels or ranges deemed sustainable for the long term. But there must be a nation (why not the US, especially because of its horrendous consumption/lifestyle problems?) that will step forward and be the "first one on the block" to engage NOPC.

    Australia may actually be closest to doing such, but I will confine my remarks to the US, as it is the only government I have any official right to petition. (personal note: As a former PCV, I considered living outside the country after my service from 1966-68, because I was extremely upset with many of our cultural and lifestyle mythologies...but I decided to remain in the "belly of the monster", where I thought I could be most effective.)

  3. "Population is a dependent variable."

It is not that simple, and I think this point is perhaps the crux of your argument against doing NOPC and a NPP (US3P). If one considers fertility and the mix of influences that bear upon reproductive decisions then, yes, population pressure is integral to many others including health, education, economic and social status, empowerment, religious and cultural norms, etc. However, it must be understood that there are ramifications to population pressure that make it also an independent variable in overall quality of life assessment. It is not just the familiar I = PAT equation either. We must delve into the political, social, psychological glue that holds a society together and helps it to cope. This requires a longer explanation, so please bear with me.

A.) Consider the representational ratio changes that have occurred the past 200 years. (I refer to you the NOPC position papers for a fuller explanation). This 20-fold increase in the ratio translates to a 20-fold decrease in each constituent's affective relationship with his or her Federal Rep. Another way to express the same numbers would be to know it would take 8,700 members of the US House to regain that original ratio, instead of our current 435.

Now think about this, and how it relates to the growing alienation with government, the fact that only 50% vote in national elections, that civic/community involvement is declining {"Bowling Alone"} and that most citizens have given up trying to obtain a fair and direct hearing. We could have successes in fine-tuning the system, by enacting effective campaign finance reform, outlawing lobbyists, and all the rest, but the essential DILUTION of democracy remains. There is no way to fix a system this large, with this many people expecting access (isn't that what democracy promises?). We have simply gone beyond our political carrying capacity, and few people realize or are willing to admit this fundamental flaw. It usually takes a million dollars or a million advocates to even have a new idea considered by existing power structures, and individual power is left out of the equation. Certainly the Sierra Club realizes this, having struggled over the ears with new ideas from "grass roots members" who felt their input was not appreciated.

When it comes to democracy, population pressure is an independent variable, all other things considered. There is absolutely no good argument that more people in the US, or anywhere in the world, serves to promote democracy.

B.) Consider a US where all the social-equity problems are solved or greatly reduced from present levels. IE, there is no discrimination, all citizens are equally empowered and financially sufficient so there or no barriers to living a reasonable life. Imagine then, that all US citizens are equally empowered to enjoy Yosemite, Yellowstone and other National Parks and outdoor recreational resources held in common. Yosemite and Yellowstone are already overcrowded and overused. What might be the impact on these resources with a much higher "potential user" base?

Now, this is not an argument for halting progress towards social and economic equity. But it does point out how pop pressure is an independent variable under these circumstances, and that numbers DO matter...a fact that has been ignored recently in the usual pop/env debates.

There are numerous additional examples I could give on this point, but I hope these two cases will suffice for an explanation.

  1. "...the well-financed campaign to promote NOPC."

I wish! Without going into the history of NOPC (an interesting personal story in its own right) you should at least know the following facts:

NOPC is not an organization, it has no members, no BOD, no dues, no meetings, etc. It is simply a proposal slowly, steadily making its way across the political landscape as a method for ensuring a more sustainable future, for all of Planet Earth. It has cost me about $1400 out-of pocket expenses these past 4+ years; never has there been a solicitation although a few kind folks have given small amounts totaling about $250. If NOPC were financed at even 10% of the Sierra Club budget, I would be most grateful (hint, hint).

I cannot speak for the finances of other organizations that advocate a NPP, but I think all of us in the pop/env movement are relatively poor.

4. "...multiple comments regarding US overconsumption, blaming poor people, importation of resources, corporate power, etc..."

I am in total agreement that each of these is of crucial importance, and efforts to address these concerns should go forward with great urgency.. Again, if you read the NOPC letter/petition you will note this awareness is abundantly clear, and that great emphasis is placed upon changing the way we do business with planetary and other resources.

Here is my main point: Doing NOPC does NOT preclude doing these other things. In fact, establishing NOPC will provide the national forum for exploring those issues the Sierra Club holds most dear to its heart. It will finally give you a place at the big table, as this nation matures and confronts issues so long ignored.

Because population pressure is a direct or indirect cause, a corollary, or magnifier of most of our most serious problems, it deserves special attention. Hence the name, National Optimum Population Commission, although it could just have well been termed the National Optimum Quality of Life Commission...it is still the same search for the criteria for judging sustainability that has the greatest chance of long-term success, and integrating these criteria into national policy.

I am sure the Sierra Club appreciates and supports the work done by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, by David Korten and the PCD-Forum (work to reverse corporate power), by religious leaders who bring compassion and spirituality to the movement for a NPP, by James Lovelock and his work with the Gaia Theory, by Debra Trione who edited your Sierra Club Population Report, by Herman Daly, Denis Hayes (Ex Dir of the first Earth Day), by many great scientists like Gretchen Daily, Garrett Hardin, and E.O. Wilson; by local Audubon, LWV and Sierra Chapters; and by numerous groups outside the US. I could go on and on, but you know what these all have in common?

They have all endorsed NOPC

They almost all support what the Sierra Club does, too. (my personal assessment, not a researched fact...but a reasonable assumption??) I will say it again, Kirstin, we really need each other. Those who believe that population pressure is of no consequence whatsoever would be elated to learn of the internal conflicts within and among pop/env groups. It is the "divide and conquer" scenario which prevents real progress from being made on all the issues we care so deeply about.

So please, join others in support of NOPC and this thorough and compassionate search for a NPP. Give me your mailing address and I will be happy to send you a complete packet of NOPC information, so that you can operate from the basis of accurate information. It will include the letter/petition, an updated endorsement list, the wonderful statement by E.O. Wilson (which all in the Sierra Club should see), position papers, copies of jurisdictional resolutions already passed, and other materials for your deliberation.

You would be invited to share these materials with your membership (perhaps you could publish some of them in your journal) so that individual Sierra members can choose to participate, along with the national office.

I will send you a cover letter with those materials, along with asking for Sierra's support. In the meantime, I look forward to your reply, to any comments or questions you may have, and hopefully to your support for NOPC.

M. Boyd Wilcox/ founder, NOPC


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