Intuitively, we might expect that the burst of the US housing bubble, and the steep recession precipitated by it, are paralleled by a recent fall-off in immigration, ending a period of steady growth (as shown in the above figure). However, I've seen no direct attention to the impacts of immigration on carbon emissions, either before or after the fall. Specifically, there's been no mention of the carbon "footprint" of foreign born growing as they achieve the "American Dream:" car ownership, commuting, lots of meat eating, big houses, big TV; the whole nine yards. Read on for a back-of-the-envelope look at recent immigration and the linked carbon emission trends associated with lifestyle change as the US' carbon bubble inflated over the last 18 years.To get a handle on this I went to the non-partisan, Migration Policy Institute page on stats and facts.. From there I downloaded the Excel-formatted spreadsheet titled Percent Change in the Foreign Born by State (1990, 2000, 2008). See a scaled down, screen shot excerpt from this spreadsheet below.
After summing the foreign born population for all US states, for the years 1990, 2000, and 2008, for which estimates were available, I created the chart shown at the top of this post.
In round numbers, over the 18-year period, 36 million "foreign-born" persons came to the USA and to varying degrees have adopted typically carbon-intensive US lifestyles. Note: the definition of foreign born (below), does include illegal immigrants, which is segment likely to be in flux, given the recent economic downturn.
From MPI:- The term foreign born refers to people residing in the United States who were not United States citizens at birth. The foreign-born population includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents (LPRs), certain legal non-immigrants (e.g., persons on student or work visas), those admitted under refugee or asylee status, and persons illegally residing in the United States. For information on sampling and nonsampling error, contact the US Census Bureau.
In 2007, it is reported by the EIA (pdf file) the US per-capita carbon emission number was roughly 19 tons/yr, based on fuel combustion estimates. For non-US nations, the per-capital carbon emissions range widely above and below this US number.
For my back of envelop calculation I'll use 11 tpy, which is characteristic of several developing and some developed nations. (Note: someone else can come up with a population weighted, country of origin specific, average increment that reflects median time of cultural transition in the USA.)
First calc of lifestyle increment.
Thus: 11 tpy X 36 million = 396 million tons of carbon emissions incrementally added to 2008 total emissions by foreign-born persons who have carbon-intensified their lifestyles since coming to the US over the 18 preceding years.
I understand that China and Mexico, for example, have been increasing their per-capita emissions over this same period, and that I have not adjusted the 'lifestyle' factor number to reflect those changes.
What does the immigration increment mean for the US and for world climate?
I have a few ideas myself, but mainly want to hear what you, the readers, have to say.
May I suggest that we stay away from the jobs and culture war and politics on this thread and please instead focus on climate policy and lifestyle...please.
Keep in mind that the 396 million 'lifestyle change' tons of GHG are already out the tailpipes and up the stacks, and can not be retrieved. They represent, metaphorically speaking, a small fragment of a very large carbon bomb already detonated by all citizens of the world.
Additional population related posts.
When Population Growth And Resource Availability Collide
World Population to Hit 7 Billion by 2011, New Stats Show