Image by YaleGlobal
A recent essay in YaleGlobal online by Jamie Chamie explores the controversial connection between immigration and overpopulation—a subject that is constantly framed morally or economically, but rarely environmentally. The essay states:
Chamie writes that immigrant populations have been the major driver in US population growth throughout its history, and he dispels the supposition that population is a natural occurrence. He explains:
They [the White House] concluded that there is hardly any problem confronting America whose solution would be easier with a larger population. Moving toward population stabilization would contribute significantly to America’s ability to solve its domestic problems as well as many of those abroad, especially energy and resource consumption, climate change and environmental sustainability.
Contrary to popular thought, the dominant force fueling America’s demographic growth is not natural increase, but immigration. This is because immigrants not only add their own numbers to the nation’s overall population, but also contribute a disproportionate number of births whose effects are compounded over time.
One can also infer from his essay that immigration is also a driver of global population growth. This counters the assumption that many of us have that immigration is a zero-sum proposition: if immigrants leave their native country, the numbers decrease there, increase here and we’re even Steven globally. But the reason most immigrants leave their native country is because it no longer supports their prosperity and safety and thus the formation of the families is made untenable. Meanwhile, the safety provided by developed nations like the US create hospitable environments for family formation, ipso facto population growth not possible had they stayed in their native country.
But even if increased US immigrant populations were to not affect the overall global population, given that the US is the leading consumer of energy, an increased US population alone could have severe environmental implications. An America of 600 million by 2100 (as Chamie suggests is possible with open immigration), would—barring profound reductions in per capita carbon consumption—be disastrous for the planet.
Obviously this is a touchy subject. Many immigrants are not driven by the desire to make big families that tax the environment; many are fleeing horrible living conditions, war, drought, etc. Are we to bar them refuge because of their potential blight on the environment? Furthermore, many of us can trace our heritage to US immigrants of the not-so-distant past (author included). Would this mean future me’s wouldn’t get the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of US citizenship?
Chamie doesn’t provide clear answers, but he does provide provocative questions—questions that will need to be answered as we most likely progress toward a future of unheralded environmental change.
Via NY Times