The Sierra Club's Immigration Obsession

By Matthew Sussis on January 16, 2019

The United States faces a wide range of challenges with regard to the environment. The expansion of urban areas (urban sprawl) disrupts the natural water cycle, exacerbating flooding in areas such as Houston. Overpopulation — which is almost entirely driven by federal immigration policies — leads to rising levels of carbon dioxide emissions. Millions of tons of plastic enter the Atlantic and Pacific oceans each year, devastating ocean life as well as the people who depend on it for food.

And yet you would learn very little about these challenges if you were to read the website and social media content produced by the Sierra Club, one of America's oldest and most respected environmental protection groups. Rather, the organization is almost singularly focused on attacking President Trump and his immigration policies, especially the proposed border wall. In fact, the Washington Post recently noted that the Sierra Club, under the leadership of Executive Director Michael Brune, "has emerged as one of the Trump administration's fiercest critics." Oddly, there is perhaps no area where the organization's criticisms of Trump are as harsh as when it comes to immigration policy.

Of course, the club is well within its rights to attack the Trump administration when it perceives that the administration's policies are detrimental to the environment. At some point, however, the attacks shift from reasonable criticism to blatant attempts to score partisan points on hot-button issues.

To quantify just how singularly obsessed the Sierra Club is with immigration and Donald Trump, I analyzed their latest 100 tweets (as of the morning of January 9) and counted how many mention the border wall, how many are about immigration broadly, and how many include Trump's name.

The Results. Of the 100 tweets, 27 are specifically about the wall, 33 are about immigration broadly, and 49 mention Trump. Only 48 make no mention of either Trump or immigration. Even among those 48, approximately half are about the partial government shutdown, which itself is over border security.

One caveat is that the Sierra Club was tweeting particularly heavily about the wall during President Trump's speech to the nation on immigration last Tuesday night. Nonetheless, even before the tweets, the topic featured prominently in their feed.

Certainly, there are serious environmental concerns about a border wall's impact on the migratory patterns of endangered species that are worth discussing. One possible solution would be openings in the wall known as "cat holes" that would allow small animals to pass through. On the other hand, as I've written, illegal border crossings lead to massive amounts of trash being deposited on our southern border, something a wall would almost certainly help counter. Further, smugglers often take illegal border crossers through paths in national monuments and parks, trampling and destroying the flora along the way. Often, the Border Patrol is prevented from entering these areas (such as Arizona's Sonoran Desert National Monument or the Ironwood Forest National Monument), giving smugglers free rein to enter them, degrade the soil, kill the plants, and leave behind trash. Physical barriers, including a wall, would certainly mitigate this by pushing foot and vehicle traffic toward the ports of entry.

Regardless, one would imagine the Sierra Club has bigger fish to fry when it comes to the environment than the relatively limited impact of a wall.

For comparison, the Twitter feed of the Environmental Defense Fund, another conservation group, covers a far wider range of topics than simply Trump-bashing. In just its latest 10 tweets (as of January 8), the organization discussed climate change, methylene chloride bans, water resources, Republican support for certain climate bills, corporate environmental policies, and sustainably managed seafood choices. Certainly the EDF attacks Trump when he backs a policy they perceive to be anti-environment (such as his support for fracking), but the organization appears to be more focused on conservation itself rather than scoring partisan political points. On its website are articles about stabilizing the climate, feeding the world, and keeping mercury out of the air.

The Nature Conservancy is similar: Its twitter feed features articles on climate change, sustainability, prairies, cleaning coastlines, and Mexican coral reefs. In fact, the Nature Conservancy goes even further than the EDF in that it doesn't mention Trump by name at all (at least not in its last several hundred tweets). Its website is equally non-partisan.

Contrast that with what is currently on the Sierra Club's website homepage:

It features three fundraising campaigns, all of which are about Trump. In fact, two of them — one about protecting Robert Mueller and one about conflict-of-interest campaign finance laws — have absolutely nothing to do with the environment at all! Even the border wall campaign only tangentially mentions the environmental angle, after first calling the wall "xenophobic".

The Sierra Club used to talk about immigration in the context of the massive impact that overpopulation has on environmental resources. After all, the U.S. population is set to increase from 326 million today to 404 million by 2060 — 96 percent of which is due to historically high levels of immigration. Yet currently, the Sierra Club's commentary on immigration is nearly exclusively limited to criticisms of the border wall and advocacy for looser enforcement against illegal immigration generally. How did that happen? In part, it is the result of big-money donors exerting their influence over the organization, as I've chronicled, as well as the club's capitulation to the "intersectional left" in order to remain in good graces with fellow progressives. Indeed, in recent years the Sierra Club has seemingly joined the open borders lobby, with rhetoric that has become nearly indistinguishable from UnidosUS (formerly La Raza).

There are major debates occurring in this country on environmental policies — from fracking to coal to carbon taxes to oil pipelines to waste management procedures. These debates would benefit from the participation of a once well-respected conservation group like the Sierra Club and its deep bench of experts. But perhaps the club has determined there's simply more money in Bob Mueller and border walls than in biofuels and burning coal.