Treehugger.com recently posted a piece positing that immigration is “at odds” with sustainability. The post is about an essay by Joseph Chamie which recently appeared in YaleGlobal and was largely discredited by the Economist shortly thereafter.
Treehugger.com blogger David Friedlander recaps Chamie’s argument that the US should rethink its “pro-growth immigration policies” and consider the “demographic realities, future population projections and likely environmental costs” of immigration. Friedlander cites US energy consumption and suggests that immigration-fueled population growth could “be disastrous for the planet.” According to Chamie, reducing immigration would magically solve “domestic problems as well as many of those abroad, especially energy and resource consumption, climate change and environmental sustainability.” Chamie also randomly injects race and ethnicity into his assessment — a point that has little bearing on his overall argument other than to severely weaken it:
“Immigration is also altering America’s ethnic composition and culture, i.e., less European and more Latin American, Asian and African. Throughout the 19th century and most of the 20th, the US foreign born population was predominately from European countries, e.g., Germany, Ireland, Italy and the United Kingdom. Today the top five countries are no longer of European origin but are Mexico, China, Philippines, India and Vietnam, with Mexico accounting for a third of the foreign born. As a result, America will increasingly look, sound and act differently over the coming decades – which is neither good nor bad but different.“
Essentially, Chamie’s whole argument is based on the ill-conceived notion that we live in a “lifeboat with limited resources” and that immigration will sink the boat. However, immigration isn’t really the problem — American consumption patterns and energy use are. According to the World Resources Institute, the U.S. is home to 23% fewer people than the European nations of the EU-15, yet still produces 70% more greenhouse gases. Along those lines, the McKinsey Global Institute offers an alternative solution to Chamie’s immigration policy prescriptions: promoting policies that boost energy productivity — the level of output achieved from the energy consumed — such as building shells, compact fluorescent lighting, and high-efficiency water heating. A recent study meanwhile suggests that immigrants are actually “greening our cities” due to the widespread use of sustainable public transportation by the immigrant population.
After anti-immigrant nativists attempted to take over the Sierra Club in 2004, environmental groups have been careful not to conflate immigration levels with environmental woes — but that didn’t stop Chamie or Friedlander from what Imagine2050 blogger Katie Bezrouch describes as falling “right into the well-laid plans of anti-immigrant groups trying to create fear around immigration in the minds of environmentalists.” Well-known anti-immigrant groups like the Center for Immigration Studies and NumbersUSA, along with hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform, have long been using flawed logic to invoke green-friendly arguments that scapegoat immigrants and ignore the complex problems at hand. The Economist explains:
“America’s domestic problems aren’t going to go away if immigration is restricted, but millions of people will lose the opportunity to better their lives and the lives of their family members. And the earth’s environmental challenges won’t go away if would-be immigrants are prevented from migrating. And the world will be utterly unable to solve its significant challenges so longer as problems of global import are viewed through a narrowly nationalistic lens. There is no such thing as ‘American Warming’.”