Jeremy Beck's picture


  by  Jeremy Beck

The economist Kenneth Boulding, the environmental adviser to President Kennedy, once famously said, "Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad - or an economist." This is the fourth of four blogs concerning immigration-sustainability questions policymakers should address.

Part One: American Workers
Part Two: The Middle Class
Part Three: American Taxpayers

Part Four: "Are current immigration numbers sustainable for America's natural resources and the environment?"

Last month, the Associated Press ran a story with the eye-catching headline, "Mexico's newest export to US may be water," and reported that "Western states are looking south of the border for water to fill drinking glasses, flush toilets and sprinkle lawns." States are concerned that the Colorado River won't be able to supply enough water to meet the demands of the populations that depend on it in the years to come.

Like the U.S. labor market, the story of America's natural resources is one of supply and demand. Typical of the U.S. media today, the Associated Press story steered clear of the demand side of the story, which would have led to questions about U.S. population growth, and ultimately to questions about U.S. immigration policy. The Census Bureau projects "86 percent of the population growth during the year 2050 may be due to the effects of post-1992 net immigration."

Most mainstream media prefer to separate immigration from environmental issues, but that ignores the enormous role that unsustainable immigration plays in America's increasing demands on our resources. Kathleen Parker, "a former journalist and editor specializing in environmental and water issues, and a fifth-generation native of the American Southwest," took a far more comprehensive look at both the supply and demand challenges facing the Southwest in her 2010 backgrounder "Population, Immigration, and the Drying of the American Southwest" for the Center for Immigration Studies. Parker reports:

The populations of southwestern cities dependent on the Colorado River are growing beyond predicted carrying capacity, even as experts predict the river will provide an average of 3 million acre-feet less water than has been allocated for the region every year. Immigration accounts for more than half of population growth in these regions since 2000.

A 2008 Scripps Institute report concluded that "Today, we are at or beyond the sustainable limit of the Colorado system." Brad Udall, director of the University of Colorado’s Western Water Assessment told Associated Press, "We’re on a collision course between supply and demand."

The challenges facing the Colorado River and its dependents are just a few of the environmental stories in which immigration plays a key role. Do politicians consider the impact that Congressionally-forced population growth has in our natural resources? Will the press ever think to ask?

Immigration is not an isolated issue. Immigration is a jobs policy, an economic policy, an environmental policy, and more. We need to move beyond sophomoric questions and start looking at the numbers and asking whether they are sustainable. In the New York Times' "Room For Debate" series, Jan Ting, former assistant commissioner of the INS, notes that the U.S. will add nearly 130 million more people over the next forty years, and asks:

How will we provide good jobs, good educational opportunities, good health care, and good housing for 129 million additional residents given our current track record? How many more vehicles will be added to our highways? How many more millions of barrels of oil will we have to import from the Middle East, or extract from deep-water wells drilled into the ocean floor? How many more millions of tons of coal will have to be burned, or nuclear power plants built, to generate electricity for another 129 million people?

These questions are a good start. Don't wait for the media to ask them.

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA

Legal Immigration
Illegal Immigration
Environmental Impact

Updated: Mon, May 15th 2017 @ 4:16pm EDT

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