Climate refugees or overpopulation escapees?

In recent years, migrants fleeing overpopulation and lack of economic opportunity have been rebranded as “climate refugees” by corporate media looking to justify open borders. But expanding migration will simply fuel continued population growth, leading to greater resource consumption, higher greenhouse gas emissions and worse climate change. It’s a Ponzi scheme perpetuated by falsehoods that’s bound to end badly. Consider one recent example of this rapidly expanding genre, “The Great Climate Migration,” the cover story in last week’s New York Times Magazine, whose own author admits that climate change is a trivial factor in driving global immigration.

by Philip Cafaro

Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Photo by Gary Wockner.

Early in 2019, a year before the world shut its borders completely, Jorge A. knew he had to get out of Guatemala. The land was turning against him. For five years, it almost never rained. Then it did rain, and Jorge rushed his last seeds into the ground. The corn sprouted into healthy green stalks, and there was hope — until, without warning, the river flooded. Jorge waded chest-deep into his fields searching in vain for cobs he could still eat … The odd weather phenomenon that many blame for the suffering here — the drought and sudden storm pattern known as El Niño — is expected to become more frequent as the planet warms. Many semiarid parts of Guatemala will soon be more like a desert …

So begins “The Great Climate Migration,” the lead article in a special issue of the New York Times Magazine devoted to climate change. Its author, ProPublica’s Abrahm Lustgarden, tells compelling stories of farmers, laborers and other workers desperate to flee Central America, its poverty and its danger. It’s an old story. In recent decades, one in six adult Salvadorans have migrated to the United States in search of a better life, or at least cash to send back to their families. So have one in ten Guatemalans.

But many Americans have grown tired of accepting a seemingly endless stream of migrants. Some have begun to connect the dots between mass immigration, relentless population growth and environmental deterioration in the U.S.; and between mass immigration, flooded labor markets and stagnant working-class wages. In a time of increased concerns about economic inequality and ecological unsustainability, old neo-liberal economic arguments that “immigration increases economic growth” are no longer compelling.

Enter a new moral argument for more immigration built around the concept of “climate refugees.” A common version goes like this:

1) Excessive consumption and fossil fuel use in wealthy developed countries, particularly the U.S., has caused climate change.

2) Climate change is creating millions of climate refugees—people who through no fault of their own can no longer live in their home countries—and in the coming decades their ranks could swell into the hundreds of millions.

3) “They” are desperate because of what “we” have done.

Conclusion: Americans, western Europeans and citizens of other developed countries are morally obligated to open their borders to anyone and everyone from the developing world.

Corporations will still get cheap workers and ever more consumers—and common citizens have no moral right to stop them. If they try, that’s selfish, xenophobic, racist, or mindless opposition to benign cultural change.

There are two main problems with this argument, both well-illustrated by the recent article in the Times.

First, very little global immigration is currently driven by climate change and it isn’t clear that this will change much in the future. It might, but so far the evidence isn’t there. Lustgarden’s article is compelling because of the personal stories he tells about individual migrants, but his case for increased immigration depends on seeing them as victims of climate change, rather than just poor peasants living under corrupt governments on dwindling small farm holdings. The justification for calling them climate refugees supposedly comes from a new climate migration model commissioned by the Times to accompany the article, yet running the model actually shows the opposite. As Lustgarden writes:

We focused on changes in Central America and used climate and economic-development data to examine a range of scenarios. Our model projects that migration will rise every year regardless of climate, but that the amount of migration increases substantially as the climate changes. In the most extreme climate scenarios, more than 30 million migrants would head toward the U.S. border over the course of the next 30 years.

Migrants move for many reasons, of course. The model helps us see which migrants are driven primarily by climate, finding that they would make up as much as 5 percent of the total. If governments take modest action to reduce climate emissions, about 680,000 climate migrants might move from Central America and Mexico to the United States between now and 2050. If emissions continue unabated, leading to more extreme warming, that number jumps to more than a million people.

You read that right. According to the Times‘ own model, at most 5% of Central American migration during the next three decades might be driven primarily by climate change. In other words, at least 95% will be driven primarily by other causes.

In all the scenarios the model runs—effective action to limit climate change or lack of effective action, generous development assistance or stinginess—migrants pour out of Central America by the tens of millions. Yet the difference in the numbers of “climate refugees” between a strong climate action scenario and a weak one is only a few hundred thousand people.

The only honest conclusion is that other things besides climate change have been and for the foreseeable future will be driving Central American migration. Yet the front page of the Times Magazine bellows: “As Warming Makes Parts of the Planet Less and Less Livable, an Epic Climate Migration Has Begun.”

Guatemala total population
Guatemala Population, 1950-2100. Actual data 1950-2015, projections 2015-2100 with 95% confidence intervals. Source: United Nations, DESA, Population Division, World Population Prospects 2019.

What are the main causes of mass migration from Central America: those factors causing 95% or more of the phenomenon? That’s a complex question and it isn’t clear that the Times’ model, designed to focus on climate refugees, has anything useful to say about it. The problems experienced by the individuals profiled in Lustgarden’s article suggest that longstanding government failure is an important factor: rampant crime, corrupt governments, and elites indifferent to the suffering of their fellow citizens. Surely another important factor is rapid population growth in countries that are already overpopulated.

Guatemala, the focus of the article, had 3 million people in 1950; it numbers 18 million people today—a six-fold increase—and continues to grow rapidly as a result of a fertility rate way above replacement level. Guatemala was never going to create enough jobs and economic opportunity for that many people in so short a time. It was always going to hemorrhage young people during the past seven decades (regardless of U.S. foreign policy, regardless of whether you, your father, or your grandfather drove a gas guzzler).

Similarly, there is no reason to think that Guatemala can sustainably support 18 million people, or whatever multiple of 18 million that Guatemalans sleepwalk toward over the rest of the century. As the country’s environment degrades ever more in coming decades and millions more desperate people seek to leave, some will no doubt blame all this on climate change. But this will be only one small part of one very big screw-up: trying to shoehorn too many people into Guatemala and the rest of the world.

Guatemala population pyramid (2020)
Guatemala Population Pyramid, 2020. Source: United Nations, DESA, Population Division, World Population Prospects 2019.

So that’s the first problem with the “climate refugee” argument for open borders: very little immigration is driven by climate change. At least for now, it just isn’t accurate to call poor desperate people fleeing failed societies and overpopulated countries climate refugees. Immigration advocates will no doubt continue to do so, to try and shame developed countries into accepting more immigration. But misidentifying the real causes of all that migration pressure could get in the way of actually solving the problems leading to such desperation in the first place.

This illustrates a second problem with the “climate refugee” argument for open borders: it will make climate change worse. For a start, moving hundreds of millions of people from developing to developed countries will increase those people’s greenhouse gas emissions. The evidence for this is clear and unambiguous. People aren’t moving from Guatemala to the U.S., or from Cameroon to France, to remain poor. And as they get richer, they use more resources and create more waste, generating more greenhouse gases.

Allowing developing countries to export their surplus populations takes away important negative incentives they have to curb their population growth. It also can provide positive incentives to continue demographic irresponsibility, as parents hope to benefit from migrant children’s remittances. In addition, claims that developed countries need more immigrants to boost their ageing workforces have made some leaders of high-fertility countries fear ageing and discouraged them from providing the family planning access that women want.

Meanwhile, extra immigration into developed countries means that their populations, too, will continue to increase, in some cases rapidly. This is a tremendous missed opportunity to take advantage of current low fertility levels and painlessly decrease these countries’ exorbitant environmental demands. For both the U.S. and the European Union, increasing mass immigration could boost their populations by hundreds of millions of people over the course of this century and postpone their population stabilization indefinitely.

EU Population Projections Under Five Migration Scenarios
Status quo migration is the continuation of the past 20 years average annual net migration level for the EU as a whole. Source: P. Cafaro & P. Dérer, “Policy-based Population Projections for the European Union: A Complementary Approach,” Comparative Population Studies 44 (2019): 171-200.

The net effect of encouraging continued mass migration is to encourage continued global population growth. But the scientific consensus, as summarized in IPCC studies, is very clear: population growth is one of the two main drivers of global climate change. Modeling for the IPCC found that even drastic emissions reductions could only keep warming under 2 degrees C in scenarios with much lower population growth than the UN expects on current trends. We must end population growth if we hope to limit climate change sufficiently to preserve a habitable planet. You know, one where we aren’t generating an endless stream of climate refugees.

The bottom line is that climate change is one very important part of the global environmental degradation caused by too many people making too many demands on the Earth. In response, humanity needs to reduce our demands significantly and quickly. Limiting human numbers must be a part of that response. Doing this justly and responsibly will be challenging. The climate refugee discourse (like the geoengineering discourse) is an invitation to ignore that challenge and to continue business as usual, with a side order of virtue signaling. It’s also a reminder that conservatives don’t have a monopoly on wishful thinking or obfuscation when it comes to climate change.

 

Costa Rica is undergoing the same climate change impacts as Guatemala–without generating any “climate refugees.” Why? Partly because it has a competent government focused on improving its citizens’ lives, partly because Costa Ricans have chosen to have smaller families than Guatemalans. To learn more, read Family Planning for forests and people – the success story of Costa Rica.

 

Another recent Times opinion piece making the climate refugee argument for open borders is “Inequity at the Boiling Point: A Quarter of Bangladesh Is Flooded. Millions Have Lost Everything by Somini Sengupta and Julfikar Ali Manik (July 30, 2020). Nowhere in the piece do the authors acknowledge Bangladesh is overpopulated and that much of the country is a coastal floodplain unsuited to permanent human settlement. But many readers helpfully remind them in the comments section. Between 1950 and 2015, Bangladesh’s population increased from 46 million to 169 million people.

32 thoughts on “Climate refugees or overpopulation escapees?

  1. Many thanks, Philip Cafaro, for telling it like it is. Perpetual human population growth is a recipe for disaster!

  2. Great summary of the real forces and story behind contemporary south to north migration. Well done. The only issue for me as a self described USA citizen progressive, is how to argue for and promote closed borders or perhaps replacement level immigration without setting off xenophobic reactions among the know nothings. All ideas about this are welcomed.

    1. That’s a good question and a challenge. I try to remind people that as a US citizen, I’m for reduced immigration but not for ending immigration. Beyond a few fanatics, no one is for absolutely no immigration, on the one hand, or open borders, on the other. So the question is, what is the right number?

      For me, the right amount of immigration is a number that allows us to gradually decrease US population numbers until we get to a total population that is ecologically sustainable. So, any amount of immigration that commits the country to continued population growth is too much.

      1. Why would a “no immigration” policy be so bad? If imposed for a certain number of years, we would have a sustainable population. The rest of the world has used us for their dumping ground for eons. I’d rather see teams go to third world countries to teach economic policies that would allow their citizens to stay home and prosper. I’m not adverse to lending a helping hand at times, but we’ve become Santa Claus to too many nations.

  3. Some countries in Central and South America are moving to provide their people with childbirth choices. Others, obviously, are blocking any moves. The issues are individual: one woman, one man, one family, one community. Let’s not focus exclusively on the global numbers, let’s celebrate international, government and NGO efforts to help people make their own decisions.

    1. Absolutely! To learn more about countries that have done a good job of providing family planning services to all their citizens, bringing fertility rates way down in the process, see TOP’s series of “success stories.” These include Costa Rica, another Central American country that has followed a very different path than Guatemala.

  4. Very good points, thanks for bringing up this very important but ‘dangerous’ topic. One important argument that never gets mentioned in migration discussions are the effects of migration on ethnic diversity. We know the causes of the loss of biodiversity in wild nature (loss of habitat, climate change, etc.), but remain blind for the causes of loss of ethnic diversity within the human species. Sustained migration is the main cause of loss of cultural en ethnic diversity within the human species.

    So if we wish to save the remaining human diversity we must limit migration as soon as possible. This rich diversity is too beautiful to let dissapear. What Europeans have done with the native Americans and Australians is a crime against humanity, but we don’t have to repeat it.

  5. Very good piece, which I agree with whole-heartedly (although could have maybe benefited from a softer tone in today’s febrile climate).

    A very good book exploring this topic in general (ie forced acceptance of immigration, regardless of negative effects, usually with social punishments for non-compliance) is Douglas Murray’s ‘The Strange Death of Europe’.
    https://preview.tinyurl.com/y5zsykdr

    I was always pretty convinced that countries would be much more careful about their population growth is borders were assumed to be closed, and migration a luxury rather than a right. We seem instead to be firmly in grasshopper and ant thinking… pretend we are all in this together, until eventually the hammer will fall, and there will be a die off.

    Egypt has 2 million inhabitants most of history. It now has over 100 million, in a desert, and the water is about to be severely limited by Ethiopia (also with a population boom)… the speed of which determines how much of their limited farmland they lose, adding to their perpetual import dependence.
    So, will that be a climate related catastrophe, or simply a human reality-avoidance problem? Which countries are so guilty as to need to find homes for the excess 98 million?

    1. Yes, the Egypt / Ethiopia situation is a powder keg, and given the tone of so much writing on water issues these days, I”ll bet “climate change” gets the majority of the blame, while overpopulation is a muted them if mentioned at all.

      Murray’s book is a good one, well worth reading.

  6. A major reason that overpopulation has become an unmentionable issue is its association with xenophobic opposition to immigration. Unfortunately, this blog post perpetuates the prejudice. Moving from one place to another has no impact on world population.
    The “evidence” you cite from an anti-immigration group is hardly clear. It is based on speculation that immigrants to the USA will consume at the same rate as those who already live here. But even if this speculation were true, there are other factors to consider, e.g. access to birth control.

    1. There’s nothing xenophobic in my piece, nothing that expresses or promotes hatred of foreigners. The fact that you are so quick to label it that way, shows the weakness of the common suggestion that “xenophobes talking about immigration has made the topic taboo.”

      Your statement that “moving from one place to another has no impact on world population” is contradicted by every major series of population projections put out in recent years, whether from the UN’s Population Division, the Wittgenstein Center for Demography in Vienna, or elsewhere. They all recognize that higher or lower levels of international migration can increase or decrease the global population and build immigration’s impacts into their models.

      If “moving from one place to another” didn’t influence global populations, then the European settlement of the Americas wouldn’t have led to such huge increases in the global population.

      Population of North America in 1492: 10-20 million.

      Population of North America in 2020: approximately 580 million.

      1. Xenophobia is the least of our problems. It is all about the poor. The biggest problem I see with the article is that it is not harsh enough. I will add some criticism of current states of affairs to round it up a bit.
        1.Huge amounts of resources of major companies go into bribing officials in third world countries. Instead that could go into improving the lives of the poor in their own countries. Instead, leaders promote insider trading and nepotism in their own countries. They repeatedly have to pay fines for corruption to mostly useless places like the SEC, who do God knows what with that money. Ukraine is a prime example. A lot of the anti-corruption legalization is lip service. Rarely do whistle blowers come forward because they are so poor that they would rather keep their salaried position in a corrupt organisation than blow the whistle. Siemens paid over a billion dollars worth of fines for corruption in Greece during the olympics in Athens. SNC Lavelin was for decades bribing officials in Libya and defrauded some of the organizations there. I cannot emphasize enough how much money is made from wars, famines, weapon trafficking, inflationary pricing of food, human trafficking (now even more lucrative than drugs). Covid profiteers some are called these days.
        2. Third and First world leaders typically deposit their ill gotten gains in Swiss bank accounts, you can blame the Swiss for that. Of course there are other tax havens. Many funds find their way to said tax havens from humanitarian organizations’ coffers, charities who cannot seem to audit where their money goes.
        3. After all these shinanegans are taken care of, there is nothing left for the poor, whether they are in a first world or third world country.
        4. Yes migrants to a first world country will likely have electricity, maybe even internet.Seemingly they all have cell phones which I do not get. (many first world poor already go without water and heating, and cannot afford a cell phone) and their kids may be able to go to a reasonable school for free. However the rosy paradisical view of their aimed-for host countries are completely illusionary and often this is the result of human traffickers promoting this view. Add the xenophobia that many have. Many do not even know that the US has neither appropriate health care nor welfare.
        5.Income inequality and rising cost of living pushes a higher and higher percentage of people all over the world deeper and deeper into poverty. Covid will add a few billion. The poor, unlike the wealthy, when they resort to crime or become members of criminal organizations, often are penalized with sentences like jail that pushes them further into poverty, drug abuse etc.
        6.Statistical institutions are also not measuring the level of poverty the way they should.
        7. A lot of first world poverty has to do (as the author says), a lot of that has to do with the fact that local ppl have to compete with migrants who will work for half. The awesome part of the bubonic plague in Europe was that workers could write their own pay checks because there was no one left to work, all dead. you can say what you want about communism but in the German Democratic Republic there was full employment.
        8. If you look at the degree to which people fall into deeper and deeper poverty (so called average poverty gap),unfortunately rarely published, It is rising every single year, all over the world.
        9. Another facet that the author left out is rising food prices and a rising cost of living, that rarely factors into the assessment of poverty. https://robinwestenra.blogspot.com/2020/06/the-escalating-price-of-food-globally.html
        10. The fertility rates are staggering. Every time I read about migrant caravans or treks or camps, a staggering amount of pregnant women are part of it. Refugee women give birth in rubber boats on the mediterranean, in tents in Greece. Rohingya in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar give birth to 60 babies every day.
        11. Instead of lacing the pockets of crooked officials so they can make huge profits in third world countries, or stage ponzi schemes to defraud their own people (Mike Milken is such a prime example, btw he was pardoned earlier this year by Trump, or Epstein and the rating agencies who in my opinion triggered the depression of 2008, by giving junk investments a AAA rating and Epstein selling almost 60 mio dollars worth of Bear Stearn stock on one day) the first world would do better to look at the systemic problems (not just in the third world, abortion is under massive criticism in USA right now with Kanye West obviously having emotional issues with it and dead set to curtail it).
        12. If leaders do not want to make fertility rates their highest priority, especially among the extremely impoverished, (a baby is born into poverty every 51 sec in the USA, many first world homeless have babies) they need to commit more funding to make sure everyone has bare necessities. If ppl in the third world have bare necessities in situ, then they do not have to flee from there. Rich people laugh at those proposals and have laughed for the past 40 years, in their cynical sadistic ways. However, eventually everyone will feel the consequences, one way or another. In particular the children and grandchildren of the current rich leaders, will find that life is not so much fun when the entire world is overcrowded, poor, unliveable.
        That plus Global warming.
        13.The idea that Jonathan Swift had, https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/modestproposal/summary/ to feed the poor children to the rich, is sarcasm but it stands that poverty should have been eradicated long ago. Just under 700 million people lived on earth in 1730 when Swift was alive. Even if 99% of them were below the poverty line, the absolute numbers of the poor in 2020 are staggeringly massive by comparison. More than a billion people live with less than a dollar per day. 2.8 billion people, that is to say almost half of the global population, live with less than 2 dollars per day. 448 million children are underweight. 876 million adults are illiterate, two thirds of which are women. Every day, 30,000 children under 5 die from avoidable diseases. Conversely On the other hand, there are 470 mio ppl living with diabetes. https://www.diabetesatlas.org/data/en/region/6/saca.html. Nigeria leads in the number of incidence of and mortality rate from diabetes in Africa. One African billionaire, Aliko Dangote, has one of the largest sugar refineries in the world, in Lagos.
        Why do people like me, the author and Swift and all those that came after Swift and predated me, why do we bother I wonder to share what we think? Instead of getting better, the world is quagmired in more and more avoidable problems.

    2. Well done Marc, I completely agree. Let’s discuss the issues quite separately. If we really love our neighbours, we should enable them to access the choices we enjoy through safe and effective contraception. This will also help reduce the poverty and exploitation that is driving many desperate people to leave their own home and country.
      The issue of migration as seen in numbers is one that attracts the xenophobes, let’s not kid ourselves.

      1. They are not separate issues, they are two sides of the same coin. High, ecologically untenable birthrates in the third world drive migration patterns. The migration issue may well attract xenophobes, but so what? People can be right for the wrong reason. Do you think that social/economic projects like Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was illegitimate because Hitler launched similar programs in Germany?

  7. For refugees ‘climate change’ may not be the motive for migration. They may even not have heard of the concept at all. However, too many of them will become familiar with the consequences of climate change, such as droughts, floods, crop failure, water and food shortages. These consequences, in combination with excessive population growth, will lead to malnourishment, famine, civil wars and eventually refugee flows. Framing these migrants as ‘climate refugees’ is covering up the real problem, as you perfectly pointed out.
    There is some similarity with the framing of women reporting their wish to postpone a pregnancy or not to have another child as ‘women with unmet need for contraception’. This wording suggests that contraceptives are not available or unaffordable to them. The truth is that they are not using them mainly because of social pressure or lack of information.

    1. There are many factors making safe and effective contraception simply unavailable to millions of women. Funding is the big one, and Trump’s “global gag” has actually defunded some of the best family planning providers. Alongside this is the government prohibition of contraception or safe abortion in far too many countries. And in Africa especially, there is little or no health care and what there is may be provided solely by Catholic organisations which specifically ban family planning. It’s a mess. For details see my book “A Matter of Life and Death”.
      Can we help? Yes, the biggest help is financial contributions to UNFPA or on of the many FP providers. I support the UK-based Population and Sustainability Network, a brilliant campaigning organisation which links this issue to environmental and climate concerns.
      Barbara Rogers

  8. So you know better than they do? Safe and effective contraception, let alone safe abortion, is completely out of reach of hundreds of millions of women. If you really think that’s not the issue then make sure contraception is available (a mammoth task, with huge funding shortages and Trump’s “global gag”), then perhaps make your own judgment about why people are not using it.

    1. We agree! See TOP’s list of Solutions to overpopulation, many of which focus on getting contraception and family planning advice to people who want it.

  9. Michael Shellenberger raises a thought-provoking perspective in his new book, “Apocalypse Never.” For Shellenberger the challenge is to provide adequate electric power to the inhabitants of the developing world. Around 2 billion people have no access to electric power. Adequate power strengthens those region’s economies, leading to increased rights for women, and to smaller family sizes. People can thrive where they are born, leading to diminished drives to migrate to the developed world. Some of these themes are examined in Robert Bryce’s new movie, “Juice – How Electricity Explains the World” available in the iTunes store. I hope that Philip Cafaro discusses these ideas..

  10. Humanity’s Missed Opportunity

    It’s not as if we just discovered what is happening to our world!
    Ever since humans evolved (maybe with some Divine tweaking) to dominate this planet, we have exhibited a trait we attribute to our feline friends – curiosity. This curiosity has been a continuing process which has led to our understanding of how more and more of our universe works. Since humans have free will, whether the results of the use of that knowledge proves to be good or bad for living things depends on the exercise of that free will by the user. Regardless, the store of knowledge continues to increase, built upon previous discoveries. As Sir Isaac Newton would write, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”
    Almost two centuries ago, French mathematician Joseph Fourier pondered why the Earth did not freeze at night. He postulated that it had to do with our atmosphere, and used Newton’s law of heat transfer to mathematically convince himself that he was correct. Three decades later, John Tyndall’s simple, but sophisticated, experiment demonstrated that carbon-dioxide and water vapor were the atmospheric gases responsible for retaining much of the Earth’s sun provided warmth that would otherwise radiate back into space. A century later, Charles David Keeling established his monitoring station at the newly established weather observatory atop Mauna Loa in Hawaii to record real time data of carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere. His first readings there in 1958 were as high as any revealed by later ice core analysis covering the past 800,000 years. A glance at a graph of the continuous readings since then, known as the Keeling Curve, bears a striking resemblance to a graph of human population over the same six decades.
    The year 1958 was also the year that America launched the first satellite to be powered by solar panels, a harbinger of alternatives to the use of fossil fuels for energy. However, two years later would mark the point in human history that we would have all the knowledge and tools needed to prevent our current climate crisis.
    On May 9, 1960, the FDA approved the oral contraceptive, a means to effectively prevent unwanted pregnancies, as humans indulge in another trait we share with felines, a genetically driven desire for sexual relations. We had the means to limit the damage that further exceeding the Earth’s carrying capacity for modern, industrialized and energy intensive human civilization would cause. All we needed was a leader who could communicate to our nation, and the world, what was pending, and who could provide a plan to prevent our being in the situation we find ourselves today: 5 billion more people, loss of numerous species, floods and fires rendering many locations unsuitable for habitation, scarcity of potable water, etc. Let us consider what could have happened in 1961, by imagining what should have been heard in the new President’s inaugural address:
    “Fellow Americans, during government briefings after my election I learned about a problem that transcends petty political divisions, conflicting ideologies and past natural calamities. The amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has risen over ten percent since the industrial revolution began in the eighteenth century, and it has risen steadily since continuous measurements were established three years ago. I asked the same questions you are asking now: ‘What has caused this rise, what are the future consequences of this rise, and what must we do to stop the rise from continuing?’
    “For millions of years plants in their growing processes have removed carbon from the atmosphere, and much of that material was buried and became what we rightly call fossil fuels: coal, petroleum and natural gas. Burning those fuels has increased, and that use is continuing to raise atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels. By retaining more of the sun’s energy, we will see warming temperatures, melting ice, sea level rise, and changing weather patterns. What is needed is to stop the rise of fossil fuel consumption, and that means stabilizing human population.
    “To accomplish this goal, I will direct the Department of Commerce to develop plans for sustainable societies, where economic progress is measured in increased output per hour worked, not meaningless gross product output which rises with population increase. I will direct the Department of State to work through the United Nations to get all nations to stabilize their populations and to work with all industrial powers to assist less developed nations to modernize their countries, while accomplishing that needed goal. I will seek help from religious leaders around the world to preserve this world, emphasizing that having dominion has a stewardship component. We will never solve this problem unless acts which cause further increases in human numbers are considered cardinal sins.”
    The words were never spoken. What we got was Camelot. During the intervening years America has become a Malthusian dumping ground for the exponential population growth in third world nations, especially in Latin America. With most of America’s, as well as other industrialized western countries’, increase in carbon emissions being a result of immigration, legal or not, the Earth cannot afford any more such population growth!

  11. This is a very good column. Among other things, an increasing population of the U.S. due to immigration destroys natural habitat for wildlife in the U.S.

    1. Absolutely. > people = < wild animals. Something our big environmental groups seem to have forgotten!

      1. Yes, as well as those who say that population is a “global” problem so immigration does not matter.

  12. It’s not that it doesn’t matter, but it’s a tactical question. Immigration is a highly sensitive left/ right political issue. People’s right to decide how many children to have should be an almost universal aim. By campaigning on the two together you can attract some support you might not want, and antagonise those who are for human rights.
    So please, keep these two issues separate.
    You may know that in the UK there is a group, “Population Matters”, which combines the two and has some ultra-right supporters. Many of the people dealing with contraception and family planning generally won’t have anything to do with them. It is extremely divisive.

    1. The problem is that they are not separate issues. Numbers matter on a local and global scale, and these are the sources of those numbers. Both have to be dealt with in the context of stabilizing population. Our future as a species depends on it.

      1. They are not separate issues, but i suggest they be dealt with separately. I am not entering the debate about immigration into the US (or other rich countries). My concern is about helping women in poverty who have no access to the choices that would make the real difference to family size and therefore population growth. Numbers are important, but individual welfare is critical.

      2. The problem with dealing with them separately is that there are very real ecological consequences to mass immigration. Whatever is happening in the countries that are sending these immigration, the urban sprawl, habitat destruction, increased depletion of natural resources, water shortages, etc. in the receiving countries are worsening realities in the receiving nations. This problem must be dealt with comprehensively. It is far too important to leave the immigration aspect completely in the hands of xenophobic extremists.

    2. TOP supports human rights-based approaches to ending population growth. But with rights come responsibilities. Do people have a right to have as many children as they want? If so, that might place unacceptable demands on other people who have to live with their decisions.

      I’m not stating a conclusion here, I’m pointing out a problem. And with 7.8 billion human beings on Earth and the planet’s ecosystems in steep decline, I would argue it’s an urgent problem.

  13. James, we can agree to disagree. I’m not sure bringing Hitler into it is helpful though! The fact is that many of our potential allies, who want all people to thrive, will be wary of supporting family planning if they think there is any connection at all with xenopphobia.

    1. My point is that have a bad person or group support a good or necessary measure does not de-legitimize that measure. Family planning and migration are both intimately related to the need to halt population growth. An effective course of action to stabilize population cannot separate them.

  14. A laudable piece, which I will share. The only point missing imo is the role played by the USA in politically destabilizing Central American countries, which I believe has contributed to their corrupt and incompetent government. Costa Rica being the exception, for some reason (my homework!). Thank you again for telling how it is in every other respect.

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