U.S. Immigration and the Environment
REPORT | SEPTEMBER 2016
Exploding U.S. population levels were a primary concern among enivronmentalists at the birth of the movement in the 1970s, but those roots have all but withered. Unfortunately, the national environmental movement will no longer talk about U.S. population, let alone immigration’s role. Many staff and volunteers for environmental organizations know little of the history and are reluctant to acknowledge the impact of immigration on the nation’s carrying capacity.
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Reducing immigration is essential to achieving environmental sustainability in the United States. Even effective environmental sustainability policies will ultimately fail if U.S. immigration and population continue to grow as projected.
Demographic Science and Immigration | Immigration is the jet engine that drives U.S. population growth. About one in five of all immigrants on planet Earth live in the United States. The current 14 percent share of foreign-born in the U.S. is just shy of the record 15 percent set just after the turn of the 20th Century. Immigration generated a little more than half of U.S. population growth in the last 50 years, and will generate three-quarters of it in the next 50 years.
Accepting all who want to move to the U.S. would immediately raise our population to almost a half-billion people, and perhaps one billion by the end of the century.
Increasing U.S. Population Harms the Environment | The U.S. has the largest Ecological Footprint in the world. A growing number of feet and efforts to manage our footprint have been nullified by immigration-fueled population growth. The Ecological Footprint, invented by William Rees, measures the importance of America’s growing population. Past gains in efficiency and protection have been largely canceled out by population growth. Why has the government avoided producing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on immigration?
Achieving Environmental Sustainability | Reduced immigration offers the best chance for achieving environmental sustainability long term. For environmentalists, the goal of U.S. population policy should be the optimal level, not the highest possible level. Stabilizing U.S. population promptly would help Americans achieve high standards of living and widespread sharing of amenities. Stabilizing the population would also help ensure that the biodiversity that is essential to support human populations can continue to flourish. If saving the environment is really a race against time, let’s play to win.
Managing Climate Change | In the recent past, immigration-driven U.S. population growth has offset much of per capita CO2 efficiency gains, and it will likely happen again in the future. Even without reducing immigration, the U.S. may be unable to meet its greenhouse gas reduction pledge to the COP21 climate conference in Paris in December 2015. But achieving further reductions needed to avert climate crisis, will require reducing immigration to the U.S. This is because the average immigrant, in coming to the U.S., quadruples their greenhouse gas emissions compared to their impacts in their sending country.
Managing Urban Sprawl | Population pressures increase economic and political pressure for sprawl, defined as “unlimited and non-continuous outward expansion.” Implementing smart growth strategies is necessary but insufficient to prevent sprawl development fueled mostly by immigration. From 70 to 90 percent of sprawl nationally during 2000-2010 was caused by immigration-driven population growth. Keep in mind that even internal migration is also increased in part by secondary migration away from high-immigration areas.