Thursday, February 4, 2010

Is Immigration Bad for the Environment?

The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated that the US population will reach 400 million by 2040. As the US increases in size, people begin to question whether we should take drastic measures as Japan has, reaching below-replacement birth levels and restricted immigration. The Pew Research Center reported that 82% of US population growth can be attributed to immigration.

Many are advocating stabilization of our population, which according to the rate of immigrants achieving permanent resident status, would mean drastically restricting our immigration policy. Will we reach our carrying capacity due to the major influx of immigrants? David Durham of Population-Environment Balance, an organization bent on slowing illegal immigration, says if we care about the environment at all, we should insist on reducing immigration, for there are “ecological realities such as limited potable water, topsoil and infrastructure”.

But this is not just an issue of environmental capacity. These policies surround an ethical battle of sorts- these immigrants have an origin, a home, and in a majority of cases have been forced to make the decision to leave.

The US did not open their borders during the Holocaust, and subsequently will have some blood on her hands for the rest of time. Can we repeat this mistake again?

Reference: West, L. (2010). Will the U.S. Be Forced to Close Its Borders to Protect the Environment?


  1. The United States cannot be a destination spot for all the disgruntled immigrants of the developing world. there would be no "blood" on our hands for limiting our immigration quota. this is the way the world works now, the U.S. needs to think about stabalizing the nation and the people we have now before we open our borders. we have enough issue with U.S citizens unable to find the necesities to live.

  2. There may be an abundance of political and economic arguments for limiting immigration, but I don't think that arguing that immigration will cause the U.S. to reach its environmental carrying capacity is a legitimate rationale. Although immigration does account for a large portion of population growth, under current policies the population growth rate in the U.S. is currently about 0.88% and is projected to continue to decrease. Under these conditions of relatively slow growth, I don't see the U.S being in any danger of reaching its carrying capacity or being in any serious danger of not having enough potable water or infrastructure to support the population any time in the foreseeable future. Population growth undoubtedly can have a negative impact on the environment. But, with the U.S. growing at a relatively slow rate I don't see any way that in the light of technological, scientific, and agricultural advancements that the U.S. is any legitimate danger of reaching its carrying capacity due to population growth if growth rates continue to slowly decrease as projected. There are plenty of reasons to argue for limiting immigration, but I don't think that saying that immigration will lead to the U.S reaching its environmental carrying capacity is a valid argument.

    Works Cited:

  3. i agree with christopher on this one. the US needs to start thinking long term. we are a young country that at one point had difficulty getting people to come here, this obviously is not the case anymore. i believe we need to be more strict about who is getting into our country if is our job to uphold the well being of our citizens. this doesn't just include environmental degredation but also social and economic issues caused by overpopulation.

  4. I found an interesting factoid on immigration and how it relates to pollution based on car ownership. This paper assumes that a family of 5-7 persons moving from an underdeveloped country without a car, would purchase cars at a rate of .76 cars per family member.

    This article also points out that Hispanic immigrants to California have an average of 3.9 kids per family, which is almost double population replacement levels.

    Personally, I'm a believer in legal immigration and don't see it to be a primary cause of pollution and environmental problems, but there is something to be said for those interesting facts.


  5. I think legal, controlled immigration (except in extreme cases, such as Haiti) should still be permitted even though population density will increase. As long as these immigrants are productive and can contribute to society in a legal way, carrying capacity can be extended. In the past we have seen technological advances, such as GMO's, allowing a greater population density which is a trend I think will continue into the future. Furthermore, as the world transitions to a greater dependency on renewable energy, the effects of an increasing population on the environment will not be as great per person because the combustion of fossil fuels will not be as prevalent in daily life.

  6. It seems unreasonable to 'close U.S. borders,' even long-term. Why should the United States decide that citizens from other countries are not 'suitable' to be entering the country? The very low growth rate of industrialized nations compared to the very high growth rate of developing nations lends to the idea that the more citizens who emigrate into the U.S. from developing nations will slow the growth of their home countries while impacting the growth of the U.S. by a much smaller margin.

  7. It is unreasonable to compare immigration decisions from the Holocaust to today. The immigration issue here is illegal immigrants and the now unbalanced ratio of people to resources in the US. Those exiled during Holocaust were looking for safety and protection, even if temporary. Illegal immigrants today see the benefits, especially economic, from living in the US. I don't think closing US borders is a solution, but minimal entry seems more reasonable for this expected population growth.

  8. I don't think its unreasonable to assume that someone from say Juarez, Mexico (midst of a drug cartel war, recently earned the distinction of murder capital of the world) is seeking safety by coming to the US. I don't understand how the asylum of a European takes priority. Not saying anyone's takes priority, but there's a big difference between crossing a river and crossing an ocean. There are countless reasons to take either side of the immigration issue, but like Austin I don't believe environmental capacity is a legitimate one. It seems holding capacity in immigrants countries of origin is a bigger issue than here in the US.


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