An Environmental Impact Statement on US Immigration Policy

What impact does US immigration policy have on greenhouse gas emissions, habitat preservation, or water and air pollution? Episode six of The Population Factor on Earthx TV addresses these questions, while episode seven, the final episode of season one, discusses how declining human populations open up new opportunities for ecological restoration.

by The Overpopulation Project

The US National Environmental Protection Act of 1969 requires that any federal program, policy, or project that might entail significant environmental impacts undergo an Environmental Impact Statement. Almost since NEPA’s enactment, some environmentalists have argued that this requirement should be applied to U.S. immigration policy. NEPA itself acknowledges the importance of population growth, stating at the outset that Congress recognizes “the profound influences of population growth” on the natural environment.

In Episode 6 of The Population Factor, host Phil Cafaro interviews Leon Kolankiewicz, the primary author of a recent Environmental Impact Statement on US Immigration Policy. They discuss the impact immigration policy will have on future US population numbers, raising or lowering them by tens of millions of people, and the role human numbers play in a wide variety of environmental challenges, from air and water pollution to sprawl and biodiversity loss.


When human populations decrease, more land can be restored to benefit wildlife. TOP has documented this effect for a number of rewilding projects in Europe, but the biodiversity benefits of smaller human populations have proven themselves around the world. In the final episode of season one of The Population Factor, long-time wildlands activist Tom Butler discusses how fewer people can lead to more wild nature.

After many years as Vice President for Conservation Advocacy at the Foundation for Deep Ecology and Tompkins Conservation, Tom Butler currently works at the Northeast Wilderness Trust. Among other topics, Phil and Tom discuss how taking land out of production agriculture at Argentina’s Iberá National Park facilitated the return of anteaters, giant river otters, scarlet macaws and jaguars to the region.


Enjoy the shows and stay tuned for season two of The Population Factor!

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12 thoughts on “An Environmental Impact Statement on US Immigration Policy

  1. leaving a life with a small footprint for a life with a bigger footprint is not a sustainable environmentable issue

  2. There’s a very strong colonial undertone to many rewilding projects, even in Europe. I cannot go into detail about it here, but I’d like to see some issues addressed. While I agree with leaving a larger portion of the Earth and the oceans to wildlife, in practice this always seems to penalize the most vulnerable ethnic groups or populations. In the Italian Alps, the overprotection of bears and especially wolves is destroying the livelihoods of shepherds and small-scale farmers (and no, preventative measures don’t really work; when they do, they clash with the presence of tourists or with other parameters for sustainability – you end up destroying the environment to protect the wolf). In some places, it’s getting dangerous even for people – but since there’s few of those up in the mountains, and many people living elsewhere who are in favor of policies they are misinformed about, the former end up losing. At the same time, rich urban dwellers remain unaffected and can fantasize about a wild nature they can maybe visit, but do not have to deal with on a daily basis.
    It seems that the people who have no political influence or are easier to dispose with are being asked to make room for wildlife, while many environmentally destructive practices of all sorts continue or become worse. In Italy, almost no one is doing anything about the obscene impact of industries, suburbs, infrastructure, industrial agriculture and farming, but we are “rewilding” the mountains, yay!
    From what I read, the WWF is doing even worse in Africa and Asia (very serious human rights abuses have been documented).
    Declining human populations are a good thing in this day and age, but they shouldn’t be an excuse to destroy traditional and sustainable lifestyles in sparsely populated areas.

    1. Gaiabaracetti, it sounds like we are in agreement. You agree humans should leave more habitat for other species, I agree that shouldn’t be done on the backs of poor people. The devil is in the details.

      When you read about the work or talk to people involved in these rewilding projects, they often mention that the decline of agriculture, either traditional or industrial, opens up opportunities for ecological restoration. Many of them make a point of working with local people either to preserve traditional agriculture that can coexist with biodiversity, or to find new jobs in tourism, or both.

      1. I’m sure that’s true in many cases; I also know of many cases in which this should happen in theory, but doesn’t in practice (as is the case with everything when you have a country that has a corruption problem). I know that a lot of coexistence measures with wolves, for example, don’t actually work. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t learn to coexist with wolves, just that you have to be practical about it and look for compromises and not absolutes (eg. different goals for different areas based on local circumstances, be prepared to cut subsidies for agriculture in truly remote areas, but cull wolves that are too aggressive near villages and towns, etc). We should also go beyond just focusing on big, “charismatic” animals that we associate with extreme wilderness (which is great, but not universally applicable), and value biodiversity of different kinds everywhere (eg rewilding rivers, cities…)

        I disagree about tourism, though. Again, probably too big an issue to discuss here in detail (I’m trying to write a book about it, not that anyone should care 🙂 ), but replacing food production with tourism is a very risky strategy, mainly, but not exclusively, because it means intensifying food production somewhere else, it leaves you dependent as opposed to relatively independent, and, when something like Covid or another crisis suddenly happens, you lose your tourism income and have nothing to fall back on (and maybe then start eating the wildlife again). Also, from what I’ve read and seen, there’s something sad and even undignified for a community in having to move from producing your own food and stuff, proudly, to showing tourists around, pretending you’re something you can’t be anymore and catering to their desires.

        Unfortunately, Europe is still too densely populated to have rewilding on a large scale. Every time I read about these projects, I think: great, but if it means importing more soy from the Amazon or oil from Asia, not so great. I think that a lot of people don’t realise how much we import.

  3. But Europe has already begun significant rewilding projects in many places, Portugal to Ukraine and apparently including Italy. Fertility rates are low enough that Europe could decrease its population significantly over the rest of this century, opening up even more space for other creatures.

    I agree with you that tourism economies can be degrading, but they don’t have to be, and they don’t have to be any less real than agricultural economies. Man does not live by bread alone, as it says in a good book. I know wildlife guides who make a good living showing nature to people.

    1. Unfortunately, all politicians talk about over here is how to convince people to have more babies! Very few voices are saying the opposite; the mainstream is still dominated by the collective freakout about low birth rates. Interestingly, ordinary people seem more aware of the fact that their country is overpopulated than their “leaders”.

      As for how rewilding is going in Italy, if you’re interested and can read Italian, I recommend the website Ruralpini. I don’t entirely agree with their worldview, which is way to anthropocentric and one-sided, but much of what they say about big carnivores aligns with what I hear from the farmers and shepherds I know and shows a very different picture from what is shown in the media.

      Some people believe that rewilding projects are being used to force people out of the Alps so that “their” water can be exploited. Although it sounds a bit paranoid, it is true that hydro projects are very destructive, that they are multiplying and drying up the Alps, and that they are not compatible with healthy ecosystems nor with traditional lifestyles and human presence.

      I think that the discourse about rewilding falls into the trap of an oversimplification, in which “no humans” always equals “good”, and “humans” always equals “bad”. Sometimes people who have an interest in having abundant wildlife (such as hunters or fishers) are better at preserving it than developers of “green” or “wilding” projects. At the same time, the introduction of charismatic species can backfire and be actually detrimental to the ecosystem as a whole (for example, when they become overabundant, or need to be fenced it). Of course this doesn’t matter if you have very large areas with no humans in them at all, but as far as I know the only place in Europe where this has happened without conflict with the inhabitants is… Chernobyl.

      Sorry to keep going about this but it’s something I care about a lot and I hope I’ve said something of interest.

      1. Thanks for the tip about Ruralpini, definitely a different perspective on wolves than the one I get talking to ecological restorationists.

        I’m hoping to do an episode of the TV show on rewilding in Italy and population issues. So Gaiabaracetti, if you don’t mind my asking you some background questions, please send me an email at philip.cafaro@ and I’ll ask them “offline.”

  4. Interesting comments about rewilding – but the topic of using NEPA 1969 to combat mass immigration is put first in this article for a reason – there is no point in attempting rewilidng until human populations have been severely reduced. Otherwise you are just going to run into the problems ably outlined in the comments. The video with Numbers USA drives home this point.
    In the First World, nearly all population increase is immigration-driven, either directly or by births to immigrants. The link to the article in The Hill is most welcome, because The Hill is reporting a current lawsuit by the Attorney-General of Arizona against the Biden Government, alleging that the latter has broken NEPA 1969 by reversing Trump’s curbs on mass immigration. This kind of lawsuit is long overdue – and the outcome ought to be a win for Arizona – BUT there is considerable antipathy to environmental issues amongst Republicans, even when the issues are being used to defeat pro-immigration lobbies, so it is not cut and dried.
    I followed up the article in The Hill, and found other reports on Fox News about a raft of similar cases brought by 11 Republican States recently against the Biden Government and its relaxation of the borders, on a number of counts not just the environmental one. The wall of silence in the mass media (apart from Fox) about these epic lawsuits is sinister – but not unexpected. Luckily, once lawyers get on their high horse they do not stop, and though the process is often painfully slow Law is the only thing (apart from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) that can have some effect on the shifting tectonic plates of human settlement, landgrabs, and general colonization of the natural world.
    The video with Leon Kolankiewicz of Nuimbers USA is excellent too.
    I do think, after decades of listening to big names discussing overpopulation and overdevelopment and the general “Limits To Growth”, that Law is the ONLY possible way out of this impasse, where the Biocapacity of nearly every Nation on Earth falls far short of its actual Global Footprint and we need 2 planet Earths at least, more if Economic Growth is to continue to rise. Law – or the Four Horsemen. That is the stark choice – and who is going to actually choose the Four Horsemen?.

    1. Good points. Many people in the developed world think of population as solely a developing world problem. But as our colleague Karin Kuhlemann often says, just stabilizing a nation’s population does not mean it is a sustainable population. It may be sustainable, or it may be far too large.

      Countries like France, Germany, the UK and the US need to reduce our populations, as part of comprehensive efforts to create sustainable societies. To do this, we will have to address immigration levels. There is no avoiding this difficult topic, if we are serious about sustainability.

      See our policy-based EU population projections, for a sense of how consequential immigration levels are to future populations of EU countries:

      1. So true. Unfortunately, the public debate is kind of the opposite. It’s either: the population has gone down, we need to have more babies, or, especially on the left: the population has gone down, we NEED more immigrants!
        In remote areas, such as the abandoned pastures of our mountains, these (human) “repopulation” projects have some racists overtones. For example, according to some, we should import “shepherds” – i.e. people from the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, or Asia, who are “naturally” inclined to take care of goats or cows, because that’s what they do. Philip, you see something like that in the video in the email I sent you (not the protagonist, but her assistant). Never mind that one might not wish to undertake a dangerous journey all the way to Italy to be forced to do a job he might have done at home…
        It seems like people always think they know best what to do with the land, whether it’s something like what I mentioned above, or sophisticated rewilding projects, as if we could never trust nature to do her own thing just fine once we withdraw..

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