The Litmus Test For All Environmental Organizations

May 17, 2006: The Litmus Test For All Environmental Organizations


Making the connection between too much immigration and environmental degradation continues to be the litmus test for enviromental groups. As many critics have observed, if a group says there is no connection, it is confessing that it is really not an environmental group.

The most notorious case of an environmental group which has failed to assert the connection is the U.S. Sierra Club. For years, many people were suspicious of why the club did not speak out against record increases in U.S. population (largely due to legal and illegal immigration). In 2004, the truth surfaced in a report in the Los Angeles Times. In an interview, a major benefactor, David Gelbaum, said that he had contributed over $100 million to the club. He also confessed that he had made it clear that his generosity would end if the club took a stand against immigration.

Gelbaum told the reporter: “I did tell (Sierra Club Executive Director) Carl Pope) in 1994 or 1995 that if they ever came out anti-immigration, they would never get a dollar from me.”

In the interview, Gelbaum, who… is married to a Mexican American, said his views on immigration were shaped long ago by his grandfather, Abraham, a watchmaker who had come to America to escape persecution of Jews in the Ukraine before World War I. “I asked, 'Abe, what do you think about all of these Mexicans coming here?' Abe didn't speak English that well. He said, 'I came here. How can I tell them not to come?' ”

Gelbaum told the reporter: “I cannot support an organization that is anti-immigration. It would dishonor the memory of my grandparents.”

Since the U.S. has always restricted how many people arrive on its soil, it seems illogical, especially for a mathematician like Gelbaum, to argue that limits on total immigration (and, in this case, support for U.S. population stabilization) can be interpreted as “anti-immigration” or a stand against “all” immigration.

Moreover, it is both illogical and scandalous that the U.S. Sierra Club has ignored the impact of an increasing U.S. population on the U.S. environment as well as on that of the rest of the world. The club has never revealed any attempts it has made to persuade Gelbaum to accept some logic. Instead, it has tried to focus attention on American consumption levels, and minimize the importance of immigration. At the same time, it has concealed its motive in doing so. The U.S. Sierra Club is aware that U.S. population growth in the past 15 years is the highest in its history. The major factor in that growth is legal and illegal immigration. For an environmental organization to agree to say nothing about immigration (in effect, abandoning sustainability in order to continue receiving millions of dollars) is a complete betrayal of its supporters.

Does a similar situation exist in Canada? Although characters like David Gelbaum have not surfaced, Canadian environmental groups remain largely silent about immigration. When the immigration issue arises, these people either intimidate the persons who bring up the topic, try to minimize the impact of immigration, or run to the nearest hiding place.

The recent behaviour of a large Canadian environmental group (the David Suzuki Foundation) which warned about the loss of farmland in British Columbia is a case in point. This group should know that almost all of the pressure to take farmland out of the province's Agricultural Land Reserve has originated directly or indirectly from Canada's immigration policy. Like many Canadians, members of this group should know that Canada has the highest immigrant intake per capita in the world. These very high inflows of people have created significant pressure to convert farmland to housing or industrial use —especially in areas such as Greater Toronto/Southern Ontario, Greater Vancouver/Fraser Valley, and Greater Montreal.

Ontario's Environmental Commissioner spoke eloquently about the inability of Southern Ontario to absorb the population inflows (largely due to immigration) that it has taken. British Columbia's environmental groups have said almost nothing about immigration. The environmental group (the David Suzuki Foundation), which issued an otherwise very good report on the threat to farmland, did not even mention the word “immigration” in its report. Such an action amounts to ignoring basic cause and effect.

It is illogical for this Canadian environmental organization to behave in this way—just as it is illogical for the U.S. Sierra Club to ignore the effect of the inflow of 2 to 3 million people per year, on the U.S. environment. It is even worse for both groups to ignore the cumulative, long-term effect
of high inflows.

Like the Sierra Club, the Canadian organization has to answer one important question: Is it interested in the critical issue of environmental sustainability or is it interested primarily in sustaining itself and the comfortable incomes of its staff? In other words, is an interest in the environment really just a pretence?

Those who contribute to this organization as well as to all other environmental organizations have to ask the same question. Contributors have to look carefully at what these organizations say they are interested in and in what these organizations are actually doing. And if contributors are not satisfied, their contributions should go elsewhere.



(1) The complete Los Angeles Times article on the connection between the U.S. Sierra Club and David Gelbaum is available on the Immigration Watch Canada web site in the “News Articles—American” section. The date is October 27, 2004. The title is “The Man Behind The Land”.

(2) A previous weekly bulletin (April 27, 2006) focused on the publication “Forever Farmland” which was published by the David Suzuki Foundation.


The Man Behind the Land
David Gelbaum has shunned publicity while giving millions to preserve California wilderness and teach youths about nature.
October 27, 2004|Kenneth R. Weiss | Times Staff Writer

He has given more money to conservation causes in California than anyone else. His gifts have helped protect 1,179 square miles of mountain and desert landscapes, an area the size of Yosemite National Park.

His donations to wilderness education programs have made it possible for 437,000 inner-city schoolchildren to visit the mountains, the desert or the beach — often for the first time.

Over a decade of steadily growing contributions — including more than $100 million to the Sierra Club — this mathematician turned financial angel has taken great pains to remain anonymous.

In manner and appearance, David Gelbaum has maintained a low profile for someone who can afford to give away hundreds of millions of dollars.

At age 55, retired from the rarefied world of Wall Street hedge funds, he lives in Newport Beach with his wife and two of his five children in a large home where visitors on occasion have mistaken him for the gardener. Bespectacled, 5 feet 5 and slightly built, he speaks softly, barely above a hoarse whisper. He drives a Honda Civic hybrid, wears jeans and T-shirts to business meetings and helps the kids clean up at the wilderness camp-outs he sponsors.

Those who know him say he is never more uncomfortable than when asked to talk about his wealth or how much of it he has given away.

His donations, which according to public records and other sources total at least $250 million, have preserved hundreds of miles of wildlife corridors across mountains and deserts, tying together once-isolated national parks and wilderness areas. One conservation deal, land trust experts say, is the largest single purchase of private land ever handed over to the U.S. government for one purpose: to leave it alone.

He has given more than $20 million to schools in Orange County and handed over 108 rolling acres in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains for use as an outdoor-education camp.

He has contributed $3.5 million to Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona’s foundation to help the poorest children attend the camp’s wilderness programs. Carona is both grateful and a bit mystified by the benefactor.

“He’s one of these strange guys who doesn’t want any publicity but wants to take care of kids and the community,” Carona said. “When you look him in the eye and say, ‘You’ve made a positive change in these kids’ lives,’ he does not want to take any credit for it. He’s almost embarrassed when you say thank you to him.”

(A federal grand jury recently subpoenaed financial records of Carona’s foundation. Federal officials have not disclosed why they want the documents.)

Gelbaum, a native of Minnesota who moved to California as a teenager, was a math prodigy who parlayed his talents into a highly lucrative three-decade career using mathematical formulas to pick stocks and bonds for wealthy investors in hedge funds.

He won’t say how much he made. He started giving his money away in ever-larger amounts in 1994.

“Most wealthy people spend their lives trying to make more and more money rather than give it away,” Gelbaum said during a series of interviews that he agreed to only reluctantly. “They wait too long. They are depriving themselves of a lot of joy. I’m doing what I want to do. It’s not like it’s money that I or my family will ever need.

“It’s a joy to see this land preserved and opening these kids’ eyes to the natural world. It’s not like burning the money. It goes into the land or into the kids’ experiences. Both last forever.”

Some charitable foundations have given more money to conservation causes, but much of it is aimed at saving tropical rain forests or other overseas ventures. The only individual whose contributions to California conservation rival Gelbaum’s is Caroline Getty, granddaughter of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. She recently donated $150 million to the Preserving Wild California project of the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation.

Gelbaum said his interest in land conservation was inspired by camping trips he took with his father and brothers to lakes in northern Minnesota, as well as Yellowstone National Park and Mt. Whitney. “Those were the happiest memories of my childhood.”

It isn’t enough, he said, “to protect wilderness just for people who can afford to go to it. I think bringing kids out to the wild is unquestionably the right thing to do. These kids have pretty tough lives. It opens their eyes to the world outside of their neighborhood. Some of the kids will grow up to protect the land they learn to love. You could look at it as an investment into the environment.”

When making donations, Gelbaum usually insists that his identity not be revealed — out of concern, he says, for his family’s security.

Besides, he said, “I don’t think that if you have a lot money and you give away a lot of money, you should get a lot of recognition. You shouldn’t be able to buy that.”