Environmental Impact of U.S. Immigration Policies

[I]t's phony to say 'I'm for the environment but not for limiting immigration…

-Sen Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day

Those environmentalists who think we can double or triple U.S. population without wiping out wildlife and scalping our last wildernesses, are living in a fool's paradise....

....Americans have the biggest Affluence Footprint per capita of any people in the world. Any population growth in the United States, then, is growth of these big Affluence Footprints. Population growth in the United States is thus more harmful to the world than population growth anywhere else because of our over-big Affluence."

-Dave Foreman, head of the Rewilding Institute and co-founder of Earth First! and the Wildlands Project

U.S. population growth is increasing at a rate found only in Third-World countries.

U.S. population will increase from 203 million in 1970 to 439 million in 2050, according to the Census Bureau. Eighty-two percent of all U.S. population growth today is due to arriving immigrants and their children.

The IPAT Equation

Environmental Impact = Population (P) multiplied by Affluence (A) and Technology (T) or I=PAT. For those in the social and natural science fields, IPAT has become the E=MC2 for studying the relationship between the environment, population, and technological change.

America's Impact Is Greater Than Other Nations

Watch this video from Environmental Planner Leon Kolankiewicz, who uses the IPAT equation to explain that America's environmental impact is greater than other countries because of our greater affluence and technology. According to Kolankiewicz, the average American consumes approximately 10-100 times the amount as the average person in a developing country.

Kolankiewicz points out that despite decreases in per capita consumption over the past 20-30 years, our overall impact has increased due to our increased population (the majority of which is driven by Congress' immigration policies). That is an inconvenient truth that many environmentalists must face.

In 1973 Americans chose a sustainable future by reaching replacement-level fertility rates, but Congress changed immigration law in 1965 and sent immigration numbers skyrocketing. In terms of energy independence, Americans would not be relying on oil from the Middle East today had we not added 100 million Americans since 1970 (largely due to Congress' new immigration policies).

NumbersUSA's interactive chart shows how immigration policies effect U.S. oil consumption, our carbon footprint, and our destruction of green space. The same is true for greenhouse gas emissions.

  • A 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by an international team of scientists found that U.S. population growth has an outsized influence on consumption and emissions.
  • The EPA's "Trends in Greenhouse Gad Emissions" found that total emissions increased by 17 percent from 1990 to 2007, despite no increases in per-capita emissions.
  • The book "Global Change and Local Places: Estimating, Understanding, and Reducing Greenhouse Gases"
    by Association of American Geographers GCLP Research Team found that per-capita emissions did not increase between 1970 to 1990.
  • In this EPA report on the effect an aging U.S. population would have on greenhouse gas emissions, the authors concluded that:
    "accounting for differences between immigrant and non-immigrant households is probably unnecessary when assessing aggregate emissions. This
    is not to say that the effect of immigration on future emissions is not important. In fact it is quite important in that it is a key determinant of future population growth, which has an important scale effect on future emissions.

Immigration-fueled population growth also puts pressure on our ability to provide water. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (page. 45), "Estimates of the combined domestic per capita use for both self-supplied and public-supplied populations have not changed appreciably in 20 years, ranging from 100 gallons [of water] per day in 1985 to 98 gallons per day in 2005." While per capita consumption remains steady, the number of users continues to climb, forcing new restrictions on states with high demand (see Wall Street Journal here and here).

Poll shows that self-identified liberals and progressives view current immigration numbers as a threat to the environment

An April, 2009 poll conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC found that:

  • Sixty seven percent of liberals and progressives felt the level of population growth caused by immigration negatively impacts the quality of life in the United States.
  • Fifty eight percent felt that the current levels of immigration are harmful to the environment.

Role of U.S. Population Stabilization in the Modern Environmental Movement

Click here to read NumbersUSA's full page on the subject.

In the early stages of the modern environmental movement, population stabilization was intricately linked with environmental sustainability. The organizers of the first Earth Day, including the "father of Earth Day" the late Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.) understood that population growth was "a joint partner in the degradation of our nation's environmental resources."

They were joined in this believe by people across the spectrum, including President Nixon, John D. Rockefeller III, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, and countless scientists and scholars.

In 1996, the Sierra Club dropped its long-held concern for immigration-driven, U.S. population growth when a major donor threatened to stop his donations. Other environmental groups followed the Sierra Club's lead.

Click here for more endorsements of U.S. population stabilization.

Click here for examples of population stabilization (including immigration reduction) movements in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Chesapeake Bay Example

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed is home to more than 3,000 species of plants and animals. The restoration and long-term protection of the Bay depends on halting the urban sprawl that is threatening the biodiversity and water quality of the area.

According to U.S. Bureau of the Census data, population growth is associated with about 45% of the sprawl. (Based on a NumbersUSA study, "Weighing Sprawl Factors in Large U.S. Cities.")

Most people would agree that population growth poses a significant threat to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Why would it be any different for the country as a whole?