In a new report, Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR)—a front group for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)—regurgitates an argument as tired as it is flawed: that immigration hastens the destruction of the environment in the United States. Specifically, the report claims that immigration-driven population growth is increasing the nation’s “ecological footprint” and exceeding the country’s “carrying capacity.” This is a faulty line of reasoning that overlooks the degree to which destruction of the environment is a function not of population size, but of how a society utilizes its resources, produces its goods and services, and deals with its waste.
In other words, the PFIR report fails to mention 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 no direct, one-to-one relationship between population size and environmental degradation. For instance, according to the World Resources Institute, the United States is home to 30% fewer people than the European nations of the EU-15, yet produces 40% more greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as carbon dioxide and methane. In fact, U.S. emissions of GHGs on a per capita basis are more than double those of the EU-15. The production of GHGs in the United States is not the result 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 GHGs.
The pseudo-environmentalism of the PFIR report is actually a variety of “green xenophobia” which offers no useful guide for the formulation of effective policies on immigration or the environment. The PFIR report represents the latest attempt by a web of anti-immigrant groups allied with FAIR, and its founder John Tanton, to co-op progressive rhetoric in a dubious attempt to persuade political progressives that immigrants are to blame for environmental destruction, African American unemployment, and a host of other socioeconomic problems.
However, blaming immigrants for pollution won’t fix the dysfunctional U.S. immigration system, reduce the U.S. economy’s dependence on fossil fuels, or improve the emissions systems on automobiles. The PFIR report itself casually mentions at the end that its rather limited approach “does not explicitly address any number of critical issues” such as the environmental impact of pollution, the over-exploitation of resources, “the human assault on biodiversity, or environmental justice.” The PFIR report is little more than environmental window dressing for the anti-immigrant movement.
Photo by ashley.adcox.