FAIR Promotes “Green Xenophobia”


Photo by guuleed.

In a new “special report” released on July 1, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) regurgitates an old and deeply flawed argument: that immigration causes pollution. Specifically, the report claims that, because immigration increases the size of the U.S. population, it also increases U.S. energy consumption, which increases U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which contributes to global warming. If this line of reasoning seems a tad weak, that’s because it is. As Andrea Nill writes for the ThinkProgress Wonk Room, the report relies largely on “anecdotes and inferences” in an “attempt to pander to progressive soft spots” on the environment.

The FAIR report, entitled “Immigration, Energy and the Environment,” neglects to mention a seemingly obvious fact: that a few people can pollute a lot, or a lot of people can pollute a little. Even in countries with similar standards of living, there is not a direct, one-to-one relationship between population size and the production of greenhouse gases or other pollutants. For instance, according to the World Resources Institute, the United States is home to 23% fewer people than the European nations of the EU-15, yet produced 70% more greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, as of 2000. The production of greenhouse gases in the United States is a function not of population size, but of the degree to which we as a society rely upon fossil fuels, power plants, industrial processes, and automobiles that actually produce greenhouse gases.

The faux environmentalism on display in FAIR’s report is common among the other anti-immigrant groups, such as NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies, which were spawned over the years by uber-nativist John Tanton. Yet this brand of “green xenophobia” offers no useful guide for the formulation of effective policies on immigration, energy, or the environment. Blaming immigrants for greenhouse gas emissions won’t fix the dysfunctional U.S. immigration system or reduce the U.S. economy’s dependence on polluting and non-renewable fossil fuels. The most that FAIR can hope to accomplish with its report is to offer an environmental fig leaf behind which anti-immigrant policymakers and commentators can attempt to hide.

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  • http://immigration.change.org Dave Bennion

    Great post! Also, there is a moral problem with arguing that “rich people like us pollute too much, so close the door to any more poor nonpolluters.” FAIR doesn’t care about the environment–ask them how many of the restrictionist politicians they or NumbersUSA endorse voted for ACES two weeks ago. Here’s my guess: Zero. More on that soon.

  • Pingback: Restrictionist Front Group Still Pushing Green Xenophobia « Reform Immigration For America

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  • P. Fish

    The author misses the reality that immigrants who come here, will, in a generation (or less), end up living like their fat and wasteful American counterparts.

    But even if they all lived like bicycling vegans who only buy from the goodwill, they will still be an additional load on resources in our borders.

    By letting people escape their own nations and come here, we end up preventing real changes (revolution?) in their home countries. We end up acting as the pressure relief valve for polluted, corrupt nations. And then what becomes of the USA? It won’t be an improvement.

    In only 43 years I’ve seen things progressively get worse in the US, with population being a major factor.

  • Jack

    Hi, Walter.

    “The production of greenhouse gases in the United States is a function not of population size, but of the degree to which we as a society rely upon fossil fuels, power plants, industrial processes, and automobiles that actually produce greenhouse gases.”
    One factor is the degree per capita to which we as a society rely upon fossil fuels, power plants, industrial processes, and automobiles that actually produce greenhouse gases. The other factor is the number of people doing that–population IS a factor. At whatever level of impact (except zero—which doesn’t exist), fewer people will always harm the environment less than more.
    The bulk of the immigrants moving to the U.S. and Europe are from lower per capita consumption countries and thus the net worldwide result of such immigration is greater environmental impact. Is Mr. Ewing implying Europe is the model we should emulate? If you go country by country, the only two EU-15 countries with a sustainable national ecological footprint are Sweden and Finland. Does Mr. Ewing maintain that their relatively low population density has little or nothing to do with this?
    My response to those who say we should just concern ourselves with efficiency and not population is ‘Why not both?’ Why must the two be mutually exclusive? If you think the issue is important, even crucial, why exclude one of the two ways we have to make a positive difference? If we’re serious, why would we tie one hand behind our backs? If someone says ‘let’s worry about efficiency first’, it’s only fair to ask at what U.S. population should we start to pay attention? 400 million? Half a billion? A billion?
    Saying environmental harm is not a function of population is dangerous. It gives people the false impression and sense of complacency that we can grow indefinitely and with negligible ecological consequence so long as we are ‘smart’ about it—that population/immigration is unimportant or even irrelevant to environmental policy. The hard truth people don’t like to face is that a lot of people CAN’T indefinitely live at a U.S./European level. Any gain made in efficiency can be negated by proportionate population growth. Let’s say we manage somehow to double our efficiency over the next several decades—the problem is we are also on a pace to double our population in that time. The two would counteract and we’d end up right where we started at an already unsustainable level except with a much larger population to deal with going forward and with an opportunity missed. Isn’t it smarter to not get to that point in the first place rather than try to deal with it after that fact?

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