Dave Foreman’s Man Swarm: Defending wildlife by attacking immigrants

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Ian Angus reviews Dave Foreman’s new book, Man Swarm and the Killing of Wildlife. It’s a compendium of every anti-human (and especially anti-immigrant) argument you’ll ever hear from a self-proclaimed conservationist.

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Man Swarm and the Killing of Wildlife
by Dave Foreman
Raven’s Eye Press, 2011

reviewed by Ian Angus

Dave Foreman is no radical, not even a liberal. He admired Barry Goldwater, thinks Richard Nixon was “a great farsighted statesman, brimming with wisdom,” and blames “the politically correct leftist-Gestapo” for diverting public attention from overpopulation, which has been his principal concern since he read The Population Bomb in 1968.

Two ideas have been central to Dave Foreman’s activity for more than four decades: there is nothing he values more than wilderness, and people are the enemy of wilderness.

In his view, environmentalism is about “the prevention and control of pollution for human health” – so he wants no part of it. Given that he once said that outsiders should stop shipping food to famine-stricken Ethiopia and “just let nature seek its own balance,” it’s not surprising that he doesn’t consider human health a priority.

Rather, he is for conservationism, which he defines as “the protection of wildlands and wildlife.” He wants to reduce the number of people on earth by 70% or more, not to stop global warming or eliminate famine, but so that large parts of the Earth can be “rewilded” – converted into large, people-free reserves for large wild mammals.[1]

Foreman left the organization EarthFirst! at the end of the 1980s, complaining that the group which once shared his people-are-the-enemy philosophy had been infiltrated by “the class struggle/social-justice left.” He hasn’t moderated his views: anyone with a shred of commitment to social justice will find it hard to read his latest book without gagging.

Man Swarm and the Killing of Wildlife is a compendium of every anti-human (and especially anti-immigrant) argument you’ll ever hear from a self-proclaimed conservationist. In Foreman’s view, the loss of wilderness and wildlife is caused by people as such. We are “a plague species,” and we always have been.

“No bunch of us from band to empire for 50,000 years has fettered its population growth, and … this rising tide of mouths has always led to hunger, overshooting carrying capacity, and endless bloodletting.”

He says this was also true of our more distant ancestors:

“this cycle has been going on for longer than there have been Homo sapiens, at least back to Homo heidelbergensis, the forebear for both Neandertals and us… It may go back to H. erectus or ergaster.”[2]

Foreman once said that he wouldn’t mind if the human race died out, an opinion that meshes very well with his view that our species is and always has been made up of incorrigible overbreeders and nature-destroyers. But in Man Swarm he just says that “for the sake of the wild things we must bring our population down to no more than two billion.”

He doesn’t say how we can to get rid of five billion people, or who will decide which women can still have babies – or how he will ensure that the 2 billion remaining plague people won’t repeat the cycle of population growth and destruction he says has been going on since before we left Africa.

In fact, for all his rants about global population, the only practical measure he devotes much space to in Man Swarm is stopping immigration to the United States. Anyone who disagrees is an enemy of wildlife.

“If you don’t believe in capping immigration to the United States, then you are for the United States growing from 307 million to over 700 million by 2100. If the U.S. population grows to over 700 million in only ninety years, we will make it nigh on hopeless to keep wildlands and wild things on the landscape.”

He argues that immigration to the U.S.harms the global environment, because immigrants adopt “the American standard of living [which] is built on the highest squandering of energy and other raw goods in the world.” He never mentions the possibility of building a mass anti-squandering movement.

As Carl Pope wrote, following the unsuccessful campaign by Foreman and others to impose an anti-immigration policy on the Sierra Club, that argument amounts to telling the world: “We know that our way of life is fatal to the biosphere, but we don’t plan to change it, and we can’t afford to have you join us.”

Foreman calls for a general cap on immigration to the U.S., but it’s clear that he is most concerned about immigrants from the third world, particularly Central America.

“What we in sooth are doing is being an overflow pond for reckless overbreeding in Central America and Mexico (and for the Philippines and Africa and … ). So long as we offer that overflow pond, there is less need to lower birth rates in those countries …”

He is outraged that people who oppose immigration are sometimes accused of racism by the “mostly leftwing gang of the uber-politically correct.” In  multiple passages that could pass for parody, he insists that he cannot possibly be a racist because many of his relatives have Hispanic surnames – and besides, some Mexicans are “as true as any friends I’ve had.”

No, he just wants to stabilize and reduce U.S.population – and it just happens that immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere in the Global South are taking up space that could be set aside for large carnivores.

Foreman repeatedly insists that he has nothing in common with “the right-wing nativist, anti-immigrant crowd,” but his footnotes tell a different story. He has drawn most of his anti-immigrant arguments, and the anti-immigration measures he proposes, from organizations and individuals connected with John Tanton, who has been described as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”[3]

If Foreman’s views are truly motivated only by conservation, he should consider the old adage that we are known by the company we keep.

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Early in Man Swarm, Foreman explains how he researched the book:

“Think of me as a French pig snuffling for truffles. My woods for this week have been a stash of books and anthologies dealing in some way or other with overpopulation. The truffles for which I snuffle are words about the harm too many people do to wild things.”

That’s a less than elegant metaphor, but it seems to be accurate. In other circles, it is called “quote mining” – looking for words that support the author’s pre-formed prejudices. So chapter after chapter of Man Swarm strings together quotes from authors whose ideas he finds congenial. LeBlanc and Register (Constant Battles) on human prehistory. Catton (Overshoot) on carrying capacity. Cafaro and Staples (Center for Immigration Studies) on how immigrants harm the U.S. environment. Beck and Kolankiewicz (NumbersUSA and Center for Immigration Studies) on the apostasy of environmental groups that don’t oppose immigration. And more, all of them authors who share Foreman’s Malthusian biases.

There is no indication that Foreman has read anything that challenges his views, or that he realizes that his favored sources are (let’s be charitable) less than reliable.

Although he frequently lambastes “lefty cornucopians,” the only actual socialist he quotes is Barry Commoner – and a footnote shows that he found the brief quote in an article by yet another of Foreman’s co-thinkers. If he must snuffle, he should at least do so his own snuffling! [4]

What’s more, despite the book’s title, he snuffled very few truffles about “the killing of wildlife.” A popular account of what’s been done to wildlife habitats in North America would be valuable, but this isn’t it.

There is no question that the environmental crisis poses the threat of imminent extinction for many wild animals – but the immigrants Foreman complains about aren’t the source of that threat. They almost all settle in inner cities, not in areas suitable for rewilding. They don’t clearcut forests, or remove the tops of mountains to dig coal, or spill oil into rivers, lakes and oceans.

Dave Foreman’s passionate commitment to wildlife is laudable, but nothing can excuse his efforts to make the world’s most vulnerable people pay the cost for a crisis that affects them severely, and for which they bear no responsibility at all.



[1] Foreman wrote this book to promote his Rewilding Institute, whose goal is to set aside large areas of the U.S. for “wolves, cougars, lynx, wolverines, grizzly and black bears, jaguars, sea otters, and other top carnivores.”

[2] Foreman, who is no anthropologist or archaeologist, bases his sweeping condemnation of humanity’s prehistory on just one book, Constant Battles, by Stephen LeBlanc and Katherine Register. He calls it “essential for knowing who we are,” but gives no indication that he has read or even considered other views.

[3] Foreman repeatedly quotes representatives and publications of the Center for Immigration Studies, Progressives for Information Reform, Californians for Population Stabilization, and NumbersUSA – four of the 13 most prominent groups in the Tanton network. See Southern Poverty Law Center, here and here.

[4] What’s more, the co-thinker didn’t choose a representative quote from any of the books, speeches or articles in which Commoner has critiqued the population argument in depth. Instead he selected less than half a sentence from a short comment that Commoner submitted to a round-up of opinions in Utne Reader in 1988. So Foreman has snuffled a quote from a writer who snuffled it himself.

1 Comment

  • I was gonna say that I thought he was dead, but that’s David Brower I’m thinking of. What a big dumb jerk, I am glad Sierra Club and Earth First!, whatever their current flaws, kicked him out.
     Another member of the anti immigration group within Sierra Club was Paul Watson, who’s ironically worshiped by the people who want to protect indigenous people from REDD although they were also in favor of Evo Morale’s highway, so I dunno how their brains work. there’s mpre about Foreman’s views here although I do not intend to imply that RAN sharing a funder of Sea Shepherds means they share the same anti immigration view. Sorry for Rambling.  Cheers.