The Chesapeake Bay has been the center of Tom Horton's long and remarkable career as a journalist and author. Last week he wrote a compelling essay for the Baltimore Sun on the relationship between the health of the bay and the immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in June. He criticized environmentalists who, for reasons of political correctness, have turned away from the discussion that they used to lead about the environmental consequences of population growth.
Horton noted that most of the journalistic discussion of the reform bill has concerned what it would do for the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants. Then he added, "Far too little has aired about the drastic population increases the same reform measure would promote through changes to legal immigration."
Horton went on to cite the Congressional Budget Office estimate that the bill would increase legal immigration to between 1.5 million and two million per year. "That puts the nation on track to go from 315 million Americans to around 445 million by 2050, an increase of more than 40 percent," he noted.
Then Horton brought the numbers home. "For the Chesapeake Bay, with a watershed population that has roughly tracked or exceeded the national growth rate, this translates to more than 24 million, up from 17 million."
Mindful as always of the sensitivities of the issue, but insisting that the numbers are too important for environmentalists to ignore, Horton continued:
My point here is not that immigration is a bad thing, or that we blame our environmental woes on immigrants; and it's not that environmental groups should give up working on the issues they're working on now.
But we've also learned that like the essential plant nutrients such as nitrogen, which are degrading the bay, too much of a good thing — including humans with aspirations for a better life — can overwhelm the rest of nature.
Does anyone really think that we can grow so smartly, or cook up such technologies that we can offset tripling the bay area's population from the eight million or so who lived here when the Chesapeake was last healthy?
The immigration reform bill is rich in irony. It represents some of the best that is in us — diversity, freedom, a better life — with its path to citizenship for millions now here and disenfranchised. But it also represents a colossal failure of our environmental leadership to even acknowledge the full scope of the problems they take your money to fix.