1. A growing debate
2. Population growth:
3. Contrarians speak
of the Latin American community in Los Angeles raise their hands
to bless fruit baskets, as a
sign of immigrants daily work
in California's fields. Sign reads: "This fruit is the product
of Immigrant's labor." AP Photo by Damian Dovarganes
This satellite image shows city lights beaming from
urban centers in the Eastern United States, Europe and Japan. Parts
of Africa, Asia, Australia and South America remain largely rural.
Photo: Mayhew and Simmon 2000, United
Nations Environment Program
World population could reach nearly 10 billion
by the year 2050. And that's the mid-range estimate.Graph: U.S.
Global Change Research Program
Greenhouse gasses are produced by industry,
farming, and many other human activities. The Kyoto Protocol for
reducing greenhouses gases was supposed to have cut U.S. emissions
by now. Instead, output has soared; the United States produces
25 percent of all greenhouse gases, which, many scientists conclude, are causing a noticeable uptick in global
temperatures. Graph: United
Nations Environment Program
The Sierra club, one of oldest U.S. conservation
organizations, has just finished a contentious election for board
of directors. At issue: Should the organization, which long espoused
population stabilization, take a stand on U.S. immigration policy?
After all, immigration and population are intimitaly related. In
2002, "middle-range" Census Bureau projection foresaw that the U.S. population would reach 404
million in 2050, based on current levels of immigration. With no
further immigration, population would reach 327 million.
Some people feel that a club devoted to wildness,
conservation and biodiversity cannot ignore immigration. For example,
Richard Lamm, a former governor of Colorado who ran for the board,
wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, " Every organization must
make sure that its solutions are equal to the magnitude of the problems
it seeks to solve. The Sierra Club now has a Grand Canyon gap between
its goals and its action plan. It cannot get to an environmentally
sound America without considering population and immigration" (see
"Lack of Border..." in the bibliography).
Others say that amounts to blaming immigrants
for problems they didn't necessarily cause. "The evidence we
have on the effect of increasing population on environmental
is pretty flimmsy," says Alberto Palloni, who studies population
and environment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. From data
on the relationship between population growth and environmental
problems like pollution, deforestation or water deficiencies,
adds, "It's hard to conclculde that population has anything to
do with it. It's more the institions within which populations
that causes the damage."
Many years ago, Paul Ehrlich, an author of The
Population Bomb, the book that put the relationship between population
and environment on the political map, wrote an equation to explain
the complicated relationship between population and environment:
Impact = Population * Affluence * Technology
As we'll see, the factors in this equation
factor into today's discussion of immigration, population and environment.
The Sierra Club vote may be the nastiest in
memory, with charges of an "outsider takeover," racism, and "demonizing
immigrants" coming from the one side, and charges of "corruption
and environmental McCarthyism" on the other.
Those details are important to some, but so
is the larger question. We want to take this opportunity to talk
about population and environment. After all, the opportunity does
not arise every day: Population growth is so constant that it's
Earth's population growing.
Well, you might as well try to sell newspapers
with this one;
"Sun Rises in East"
There is a legend about lobsters: Throw them
in a pot of tepid water and crank up the heat. The poor arthropods,
none the wiser, will be cooked to death. But throw them in boiling
water, and they'll look for the escape hatch.
We don't know if it's true, but the proverb
still makes a point: Quick changes are much more obvious than slow
trends, even if they both are heading toward the same end point.
Whether it's sprawl, the accumulation of greenhouse gases, the depletion
of fish in the oceans, or even the steady rise of population itself,
slow, inexorable trends can hide in the background.
Why wonder about a relationship between population,
immigration and environment? Greenhouse gases are up, and so is
global warming. Ocean fish are declining, soils are eroding, cities are swelling, fresh water is fading, and air polltution has reached choking levels in many
of the new "megacities," like Shanghai and Sao Paolo.
At the same time, look at population:
World population is growing by 75
million per year. It's projected to almost double, from 6.3
billion to about 10 billion, before it stabilizes.
Almost all of the rapid growth will occur
in developing countires.
The United States is the only developing
country with fast population growth -- about 3 million per year.
In 2000, 31 million Americans were foreign
Legal immigration rates in the United States are almost as high
as ever -- about 1 million per year (illegal immigration is roughly
The most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimate anticipates a 49 percent population increase
-- to 419 million -- by 2050.
These numbers are just numbers -- until you
do the math and try to assess their environmental implicatinos.
Each additional American needs one acre just for new highways and
other infrastructure, says David Pimentel, an environmental scientist
at Cornell University. Pimentel, who ran for the Sierra Club board,
says he has a "neutral position" on immigration. " I feel that there
are far more important and pressing environmental problems than
immigration, including pesticides, soil erosion, water pollution,
air pollution, energy conservation, and protecting forests."
The United States is already the third-most-populous
country in the world, and its population is rising faster than any
other developed nation. No matter what the source of U.S. population
growth, we wonder how it affects the environment. And if immigration
plays such a major role in the increase, should we think about that,
U.S. Global Change Research Program
Even before you put immigration into the mix,
the relationship between population and environment is murky. You'd
expect that more people would need more resources, but more Salvadorans
would not place quite as much strain on resources as Americans.
And after immigration gets into the picture,
well, it's a chance to be slammed, slurred and slandered as a racist,
a xenophobe, or a hypocrite.
We're going to go out on a limb, and assume
we can have a rational discussion, without name-calling or slander.
Does population growth cause environmental destruction?