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Answer: Blame it on immigrants.
The anti-immigrant lobby, led by the Center for Immigration Studies, has long accused immigrants for global warming and climate change, targeting organizations such as Sierra Club to adopt anti-immigrant goals. ‘Environativists’ even attacked the progressive principles for immigration reform recently, arguing that environmental sustainability and immigration are at odds with one another.
The issue cuts through the heart of migrant rights and environmental justice. Why is it alright for the United States to export its pollution to poorer countries but not import people from the countries it is polluting? What about travel and tourism, including the exportation of food and privatized water. Does that not contribute to global warming? Trade liberalization under GATT, NAFTA and CAFTA keeps chipping away at environmental protections while displacing people from their countries and yet, environativists still point the finger towards immigrants who are simply trying to look for a better way of life.
Immigration and global warming are not zero-sum games. As a Pacific Islander, I can say for a fact that global warming is directly leading to immigration from the “Third World” (South) to the “First World” (North). Islands like Kiribati and Tuvalu are going under water as a result of emissions by countries such as Australia and the United States. Developing and underdeveloped countries are facing more climatic variations leading to increased agriculture and crop loss, not to mention devastation from higher magnitude hurricanes that does encourage migration to countries in the North. So instead of a definite immigration leads to global warming equation, we can also say that global warming leads to migration in greater numbers than we would like.
Bur climate change is not merely about numbers. The ecological footprint of the United States is three times bigger than that of India—the United States contains only 4 percent of total global population, yet it contributes 15.7 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere while India contributes a mere 4.9 million tons with approximately 20% of the world’s population. The average North American consumes five times as much as an average Mexican, 10 times as much as an average Chinese and 30 times as much as the average person in India. Through this lens, it is not India or China with close to half of the world’s population that poses a threat to the environment, but a rather small number of Americans that overpopulate the earth. Putting a numerical cap on that small number would do little to alleviate environmental stress. We must change our lifestyles.
We live in an economic system that encourages consumption and ‘keeping up with the Jonesses’ has certainly been a way of life promoted in American society. If new and future immigrants adopt these models, the blame lies squarely not only with high consumption lifestyle in the North but also with the unequal distribution of rights among different nations and peoples who are pushed out of their lands directly due to this lifestyle. We need not look further than Iraq to see how our desire to control lucrative oil reserves to sustain our consumption patterns led to the displacement of thousands of Iraqis who needed resettlement in various parts of the world, including the United States.
If we rein in our consumption patterns, our ecological footprint decreases and hence population growth–from immigrants or otherwise–becomes a less important issue.
(Photo courtesy Global Warming Awareness)