A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) thoroughly debunks the simplistic claims of nativist groups that immigration to the United States fuels the destruction of the U.S. environment by contributing to “over-population” of the country. The report, entitled From a “Green Farce” to a Green Future: Refuting False Claims About Immigrants and the Environment, points out that the “over-population” argument of the nativists is based on the false premise that more people automatically produce more pollution. However, the truth of the matter is that “more people do not necessarily equal more stress on the planet, and stopping the flow of immigrants to this country will not solve our environmental challenges.” In fact, the report finds that “immigrants actually live greener than most Americans and they can play a critical role in solving our environmental challenges.”

In contrast to the “over-population” arithmetic of nativists, the CAP report notes that the United States produces 70 percent more greenhouse gases than the nations of the European Union (EU)-15, even though it is home to 23 percent fewer people. In other words, the EU-15 countries manage to produce less pollution with more people while maintaining a standard of living comparable to that of the United States. Moreover, within the United States, immigrants are more likely than the native-born to live in “high-density” metropolitan areas where recycling, conservation, and use of public transportation are the norm. That is why the U.S. cities with the largest immigrant populations—such as Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, and El Paso—are characterized by relatively low per capita carbon emissions; while the cities with the highest per capita “carbon footprints”—such as Knoxville, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, and Cincinnati—are home to relatively few immigrants.

The CAP report also points out that “immigrants are integral to driving clean energy innovation” given that so many scientists and engineers in the United States are foreign-born. This conclusion echoes the findings of a June 2010 report from the Immigration Policy Center (IPC), which notes that “America’s young scientists and engineers, especially the ones drawn to emerging industries like alternative energy, tend to speak with an accent.” In fact, according to the IPC report, “nearly 70 percent of the men and women who entered the fields of science and engineering from 1995 to 2006 were immigrants.” Not surprisingly, nativists conveniently fail to mention the pivotal role which immigrants play in developing high-tech solutions to our environmental problems.

As the CAP report correctly concludes, nativists are attempting to “present Americans with a false choice between achieving fair and humane immigration reform and climate legislation that will respect the environment and lead our country to a clean and prosperous energy future.” The report calls upon environmentalists to resist this siren call and to “reject false choices and distractions from…the true causes of pollution and climate change: our dependence on fossil fuels and our unsustainable systems of energy consumption.” The “over-population” argument being advanced by nativists with dismal environmental records is simply a fig leaf behind which they attempt to conceal their anti-immigrant political agenda.

Photo by Tsja!.