Our VoiceImmigration

Environmental population arguments take a new twist


Rebecca Poswolsky • Jan 07, 2011

Theories linking climate change to immigration are becoming increasingly popular.  Anti-immigrant groups aren’t the only ones discussing this intersection. A recent article in Time Magazine also proposes a strong correlation between immigration, population and environmental impact.  Even though the article in Time attempts to make a positive connection between migration and the environment, the premise is still deeply flawed.

A separate article by Robert Kunzig in the January issue of National Geographic magazine addresses population and competing philosophies around the number of people the planet can accommodate.  The cover story is titled, “7 Billion: By 2045 global population is projected to reach nine billion. Can the planet take the strain?”   The article takes on notions of the population control movement and the phobia around the population, “explosion.”

“The goal in India should not be reducing fertility or population, Almas Ali of the Population Foundation told me when I spoke to him a few days later. ‘The goal should be to make the villages livable,’ he said. ‘Whenever we talk of population in India, even today, what comes to our mind is the increasing numbers. And the numbers are looked at with fright. This phobia has penetrated the mind-set so much that all the focus is on reducing the number. The focus on people has been pushed to the background.’”

Kunzig takes a very different approach to population than the anti-immigrant movement and the Tanton network.  The Tanton Network, a constellation of organizations, all founded, supported or funded by white nationalist John Tanton, has persistently attempted to prove a correlation between environmental degradation, population and immigration.

In fact, Tanton group Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR) recently sponsored an all day panel discussion and conference called, “The 1st National Conference on Immigration, Conservation and the Environment.”

Bryan Walsh recently wrote a Time article, “Population: Is the World Ready for 7 Billion People?” addressing the National Geographic cover story. Walsh’s position, though not anti-immigrant, is still operating on a shaky premise.

“So here’s the planet we could have in 2050: an overpopulated, overstressed developing world and an aging, economically stagnant developed world, with inequality even larger than it is today. Is there any way to escape that fate? While development and education will be incredibly important (especially for women—literacy is one of the best ways to reduce fertility), the answer may end up being immigration.”

Walsh makes the argument that increased immigration to the “developed” world will decrease population.  While in some ways this position is valid, Walsh overemphasizes the importance of immigration and allows other culprits of climate change off the hook.   Focusing on the number of people and where they live without discussing rates of production and consumption de-legitimizes real solutions to real problems.

In order to find inclusive solutions to environmental degradation we cannot look to reports that restrict our discussions on climate change to immigration.  Whether it is the anti-immigrant movement, Progressives for Immigration Reform, or someone in favor of immigration, we should remain critical of arguments that rely on migration as a solution.

Displacement due to migration or deportation has severe consequences for the humans who experience them. If we are to address climate change, we must do it humanely and inclusively.

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