This post is a brief history of one of the most clever and cynical rhetorical weapons ever deployed in the national immigration debate. Today we tell the story of "the greening of hate," a phenomenon that is both a work of fiction and a catchy phrase that has been used since 1997 to smear environmentalists who advocate limits on immigration in order to control the growth of the U.S. population. The phrase was featured again recently, in a blatantly slanted piece of reporting published in both the Guardian and Mother Jones.
Historically, the principal promoter of the phrase has been Cathi Tactaquin, an immigrant rights advocate in California and the daughter of an immigrant farmworker from the Philippines. In 1997, she was a social justice activist on many fronts. She was director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. She was also a leader of the far-left Political Ecology Group (PEG), whose declared purpose was to build "alliances to confront environmental destruction, racism, sexism, homophobia, and corporate power." PEG condemned environmentalists who were also restrictionists for attempting to "foment a hateful anti-immigrant atmosphere." To press her case, Tactaquin joined the Sierra Club, which was actively seeking new members in minority communities as it wanted to change its image as a bastion of affluent and elitist whites.
Tactaquin was named to the Sierra Club’s National Population Committee. There she sought to have the club disavow a concern that had gained urgency from a study by the National Academy of Sciences. The study concluded that immigration would play "the dominant role" in the growth of the U.S, population. The research panel projected that between 1995 and 2050, the population would jump from 263 million to 387 million. Those numbers represented both immigrants and their offspring. Of the 124 million additional people in 2050, "80 million will be the direct or indirect consequence of immigration."
As the Sierra Club prepared to vote on whether it should support reduced immigration, Tactaquin warned that "if groups like the Sierra Club want to broaden their appeal to the diverse communities that make up the human element of the environment," they needed to demonstrate a commitment to immigrant rights. She repeatedly condemned "the greening of hate", a catchy term that reporters and headline writers found irresistible even though even though its attack was directed against a cohort who repeatedly denounced racism and who believed they were simply advocating the greening of immigration policy.
One of the Sierrans most active in the restrictionist effort was Ben Zuckerman, a professor of astronomy at UCLA who saw the issue as a straightforward matter of American population numbers and American consumption patterns. "Because the average American consumes so much, we 270 million Americans have as much environmental impact as the more than 4 billion people who live in all the developing countries of the world," Zuckerman wrote.
Zuckerman, a civil rights advocate since his youth, presented his case in calm, analytical terms. But a rambunctious ally named Dave Foreman fired back at the Political Ecology Group with the fiery intensity that led him to found the radical environmental group Earth First. A member of the Sierra Club board, Foreman ripped PEG as "race-baiting hooligans of the left" who had made it impossible to have an "honorable, decent, and fair" discussion. He warned that "white middle-class guilt" could paralyze the club.
On the Tactaquin side of the debate, San Francisco Examiner columnist William Wong found good reason for the club to feel guilty, "Why should an illustrious environmental organization join immigrant-bashing ideologues like Pat Buchanan!" he wrote. Calling attention to wasteful American consumption patterns, he proposed an alternative set of priorities for the club: "Go after monster sport-utility vehicles. ... Go after monster single-family homes. ... Go after monster food packaging," he demanded.
The recent article in the Guardian, which presents itself as a public-interest watchdog and fearless practitioner of investigative reporting, illustrates the descent of immigrant-rights activism into the netherworld of character assassination, guilt-by-association, and hysteria. Citing the El Paso mass murderer's environmentalist manifesto that vilified Mexicans, the article smeared environmentally based restrictionists not only as the architects of "the greening of hate" but as "eco-nativists" tarred by "eco-xenophobia", and "eco-minded white supremacy".
Reporter Susie Cagle made no mention of the origins of "the greening of hate" in the late 1990s. Instead, she traced the term to the "researchers" she interviewed for the piece. She chose not to interview Ben Zuckerman, whom she identified in a sidebar as one of the key figures in the history of the greening of hate.
Nor did Cagle interview the two other living figures she identifies as historically important. One of them is Don Weeden, executive director of the Weeden Foundation. The New York-based foundation's environmental bona fides include financial support for conservation projects in a host of countries, including the United States, Mexico, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Namibia. It also has supported the Center for Immigration Studies and NumbersUSA.
In a letter to the Guardian protesting the Cagle hit piece, Don Weeden observed that "it is simply journalistic malpractice to print a smear about someone and not include the target's response. ... The article's contention that there is no correlation between immigration-driven population growth and significant environmental impacts is akin to climate change denial. We have added 125 million Americans since the first Earth Day in 1970. Are there any serious environmentalists who would deny that this has had a serious impact on our natural resources and biodiversity?"
Cagle's third living target was Colorado State philosophy professor Philip Cafaro. Strangely, although Cagle noted that Cafaro is the author of How Many is Too Many: The Progressive Case for Reducing Immigration Into the United States, she failed to interview him. As Cafaro said in a letter to the Guardian, "Ms. Cagle sent me an email vaguely asking for information for her article, the day before it was published. But she did not follow up when I indicated I would be happy to discuss it with her. Besides being unfair to me (I'm labeled a purveyor of 'hate,' with no evidence given and no opportunity to respond) this shows a lack of interest in understanding the issue itself."
As a former reporter, I have a hunch about Cagle's failure to speak with Zuckerman, Weeden, and Cafaro: She had her story and she wasn't about to let their inconvenient rationality and decency get in her way. She wasn't looking to inform her readers. She was out to indoctrinate. She needed villains to support the verdict of the kangaroo court she convened in the pages of the Guardian – which headlined the story as a tale of "the environmentalist roots of anti-immigrant bigotry" – and of Mother Jones, whose headline proclaimed, "Anti-Immigration White Supremacy Has Deep Roots in the Environmental Movement".
One of the researchers whom Cagle did deem fit to interview was Bennington College environmental politics professor John Hultgren, who offered a peculiar assessment of those whose environmental concerns led them to concerns about immigration: "You can be a genuine environmentalist and a genuine xenophobe" at the same time, Hultgren said. What Cagle doesn’t understand is that you can’t be an environmental reporter and a social justice warrior at the same time.
In publishing Cagle’s dirty work, the Guardian and Mother Jones made themselves purveyors of ridiculous and malicious social justice propaganda that can only further inflame the national immigration debate. But at least Mother Jones didn’t include her sidebar, which was the journalistic version of a drive-by shooting.