We are told that reforming immigration policy and combating climate change are two key policy goals of President Obama as he begins his second term. But there is no evidence that the Obama administration sees any connection between them. This despite the fact that the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has identified population growth as one of the two key drivers of climate change; and that most of the increase in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in the past two decades has occurred due to population growth, while per capita emissions have remained relatively flat.
While they have so far neglected to provide hard numbers, both the Obama administration and the Senate “Gang of 8” have proposed two changes that would greatly increase the U.S. population. First, an immense amnesty covering 10 to 12 million illegal immigrants, who would then be able to bring in tens of millions of relatives under “family reunification” rules. Second, a huge increase in legal immigration, among both unskilled and skilled workers.
Together, these changes could increase immigration into the U.S. by 1 million annually, from a current 1.25 million to 2.25 million annually. Using Census Bureau forecasting methods gives the following projections for U.S. population growth during this century:
As can readily be seen, even at present immigration rates, the U.S. is on track for huge population increases during the 21st century: from a current population of 315 million to 524 million people by 2100. It is not clear how such increases can be accommodated in an ecologically sustainable manner.
Further increasing America’s already generous immigration rates, as proposed by the Obama administration, could add another 145 million people to our population. That increase itself is equal to almost half our current population. It would ensure that the U.S. more than doubles its total population by 2100.
And make no mistake: immigrants are not coming to the U.S. to remain poor. Those hundreds of millions of new citizens will want to live as well and consume energy at the same rates as other Americans.
All this suggests some obvious questions: What climate change mitigation measures does the Obama administration plan to put forward, that could possibly equal the increased greenhouse gas emissions we would lock in by adding 145 million more new citizens to our population?
Has anyone at the Department of Energy or the Environmental Protection Agency “run the numbers” on what these immigration proposals would mean for U.S. climate change mitigation efforts (or their impact on other environmental problems, such as urban sprawl or water conflicts in the Southwest)? If not, how serious is the Obama administration about addressing global climate change?
Finally, why should U.S. citizens put solar panels on our houses, purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles, tax ourselves to support mass transit, or do any of the 1001 things environmentalists typically advocate to deal with climate change, if our government is just going to negate those efforts by importing hundreds of millions more people into our country?
Answering these questions should be part of the national conversation on comprehensive immigration reform. That conversation can hardly be “comprehensive” if it fails to address them.
PHILIP CAFARO is an Associate Professor of philosophy at Colorado State University