An ecological footprint measures how much land and water area a population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes. Most immigrants to the United States come from less technologically advanced countries. Because of the lifestyles of those countries, their people tend to consume less and produce less waste; that is, they have a smaller ecological footprint.1
Per capita ecological footprint increases when immigrants come to the United States
When immigrants come to the United States, they do not maintain the traditional lifestyle of their home country. Rather, they quickly adapt to the American lifestyle. As they do, they become greater consumers and polluters; their individual ecological footprint increases. For example, the carbon footprint of the average immigrant is 302 percent higher than it would have been had s/he remained at home.
This does not justify the consumptive patterns of Americans; however, it does indicate that that we can reduce the immediate stress upon our environment by limiting immigration to the U.S.
Immigration → Overpopulation → Environmental Degradation
The problem is not merely that immigrant’s ecological footprint increases after they arrive in America although that fact is troubling in itself. Immigration also causes overpopulation. Environment degradation does not solely depend on per capita consumption and waste; it also matters how many people there are. Simply stated:
(Environmental Degradation) = (Per Capita Ecological Footprint) x (Population)
The more people there are in the United States, the more we as a whole degrade the environment. This is the problem of population growth, and immigration worsens it severely.
The Pew Research Center estimates that post 1970’s immigrants and their children will constitute 82 percent of population growth from 2005 to 2050.2 We can not manage our nation’s ecological footprint unless we stabilize our population. But we cannot stabilize our population without reducing annual immigration to a sustainable level. For the sake of our environment, we need a moratorium on immigration.
What the environment degradation factors mean
Methane Production. The gas methane contributes to the greenhouse effect, which is increasing the world’s temperature.
Freshwater Consumption. We are depleting or polluting freshwater much faster than it is being replaced. Mass immigration exacerbates the shortage of freshwater.
Industrial CO 2 Production. CO2 (carbon dioxide) is the primary gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect. CO2 is perhaps our worst and most immediate environmental danger, and immigrants triple their CO2 production by coming to the United States.
Energy Consumption. Ninety-three percent of U.S. energy comes from a non-renewable source, and each source degrades the environment in some way.3 The average immigrant more than triples his energy consumption.
Cattle Production. While cattle production may seem benign, it is not. Cattle emit methane, cause soil erosion, pollute streams, and require the conversion of forest into rangeland. Immigration more than quintuples the average immigrant's effect on the production of cattle.
Fertilizer Consumption. Although fertilizer increases short-term crop yields, it also salts the earth, poisoning land and water systems. The average immigrant increases his use of fertilizer by a factor of six upon arriving in America.
Fish Production. Nearly half of America’s native fish species are in danger of extinction. On average, when people immigrate to the United States, their contribution to the problem increases six fold.
* The average pre-immigration footprint was calculated using the weighted average of the 10 countries with the largest immigrant populations in America.
Note: These figures do not compare absolute increases in consumption, which would be larger - they indicate the immigrants’ current footprint in America, compared to their past footprint in their home country. They show that immigrants do 213 percent more damage to America’s environment than they once did to their home county’s environment.
Total Ecological Footprint. Total Ecological Footprint measures a population’s demand on local ecosystems. It represents the amount of land and sea area needed to regenerate the resources a population consumes and to absorb the population’s waste. The average immigrant degrades America’s environment 213 percent faster than he degraded the environment of his native country.
Cropland Footprint. Agricultural self-sufficiency is a hallmark of American national security but cropland also equates to lost habitat for native species. After coming to the U.S. the average immigrant increases his Cropland Footprint by 82 percent.
Carbon Footprint. Carbon dioxide is the primary contributor to the greenhouse effect. As world temperatures increase, the artic icecaps melt, which raises sea levels. Even a slight rise in sea levels will inundate millions of acres of valuable land and force the migration of hundred
Forest Footprint. Healthy forests provide animal habitat, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and prevent soil erosion from clogging our waterways. The average immigrant increases his forest footprint by 357 percent after moving to America
Updated June 2009
- Footprint Basics Overview, Global Footprint Network, April 27, 2009.
- Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn, U.S. Population Projections: 20052050, Pew Research Center, February 11, 2008.
- Renewable Energy Consumption and Electricity Preliminary 2007 Statistics, Table 1, United States Energy Information Administration, May 2008.