STEVEN CAMAROTA: Good morning. I’m Steven Camarota. I’m director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies here in Washington, D.C., and we are the sponsors of this panel. We are here today, as the title suggests, to discuss the issue of U.S. population growth and the environment. Since its founding, the Center for Immigration Studies has been interested in this issue.
Now, there are, if you will, generally speaking, perhaps, two parts to the impact of immigration on U.S. environment or population growth. One is the more micro issue at the border of illegals crossing the border and trampling wildlife and leaving garbage, on the one hand. And then the potential impact of the border patrol, as well, of a border fence – those kinds of what might be called micro issues. That doesn’t mean to suggest they’re not important.
But that’s not what we’re really here to discuss. Instead, we are here to discuss the larger macro issue of immigration and population growth and its larger impact on the country and, potentially, the world. Now, the impact of immigration on U.S. population growth is not really in dispute. In recent years, net immigration – that’s the difference between people coming and going – has been 1.25 million a year, though that may have fallen off in the last 18 months with more people going and fewer coming. But that 1.25 figure was certainly true through 2007. And also, immigrant women give birth to about 900,000 children a year in the United States.
Now, all demographers agree that immigration is the key factor driving U.S. population growth, and that the current level of 1.25 million net a year would add about 100 million people to the U.S. population in about 50 years. But the question we’re here to discuss is not whether immigration will add 100 million because that’s generally agreed upon. You could say it might do it in 48 years versus 52 years, but the general agreement is about 100 million over 50 years. But the question we are here to discuss is whether adding all those folks to the U.S. population, creating that many Americans, does that matter for the U.S. environment or the world environment?
Now, joining me to discuss this issue and to lead it off will be Phil Cafaro. He is associate professor of philosophy at Colorado State University and author of “Thoreau’s Living Ethics: Walden and the Pursuit of Virtue.” He is coeditor of an anthology of environmental ethics, as well, and he’s a former U.S. park ranger. And he is the author of the article that we will be discussing on immigration and the environment.
Now, in effect, responding to Phil, we have two distinguished panelists. To my right is Andrew Light. He is senior fellow at the Center for American Progress where he coordinates its international climate policy. And he is director of the Center for Global Ethics at George Mason University. He is the author of a number of books dealing with environmental issues and ethics.
Also to my far left is Don Weeden. Mr. Weeden is executive director of the Weeden Foundation and a veteran of a nearly 25-year career in the international population and economic development fields, serving in various places in management positions, including for Columbia University, International Planned Parenthood and others. The format will be that Phil will go first, followed by Don, followed by Andrew, and then we’ll open it up for questions. And with that, go ahead Phil.
PHILIP CAFARO: I’d like to thank the National Press Club for hosting this event, the folks at the Center for Immigration Studies who helped set it up, particularly Cindy Owens and Bryan Griffith, and I’d like to also thank my coauthor of the original paper, wildlife biologist Winn Staples. And, by the way, Steve, if I run a little long, will you give me the hook?
MR. CAMAROTA: Of course.
MR. CAFARO: We academics tend to run a little long. The environmental argument for reducing immigration into the United States is relatively straightforward. Immigration levels are at a historic high, and immigration is now the main driver of U.S. population growth. Population growth contributes significantly to many environmental problems within our borders, and also, a growing population increases America’s large environmental footprint beyond our borders, and our disproportionate role in stressing global ecosystems.
Continued U.S. population growth doesn’t appear to be compatible with ecological sustainability either nationally or globally. So environmentalists should support reducing current high levels of immigration into the United States. This conclusions rests on a straightforward commitment to mainstream environmentalism, easily confirmed empirical premises and logic. Despite this, it’s not the consensus position among American environmentalists.
Some environmentalists support continued high levels of immigration; most of us just don’t want to talk about it. So strong is this aversion that groups such as the Sierra Club, which, during the 1970s prominently featured a commitment to stabilizing U.S. population – they’ve just dropped domestic population growth as an issue.
Several years ago, the group Zero Population Growth went so far as to change its name to Population Connection or P.C. for short. I’m curious, how many of you have heard of the phrase, “zero population growth?” Okay, that means, something, right? What does “population connection” mean? Anything? So they took this terrific – (laughter) – name – you know, you couldn’t buy such a great brand – and they just changed it to something that’s meaningless.
In 2006, the United States passed the 300 million mark in population – that’s 95 million more than were here for the first Earth Day in 1970 – with little or no comment from environmentalists. In 2007, as Congress debated the first major overhaul of immigration policy in nearly 20 years, leaders from the principle environmental organizations remained resolutely silent about proposals that would have added hundreds of millions more Americans during the 21st century.
Like immigration policy for the past 50 years, immigration policy for the next 50 looks likely to be set with no regard for its environmental consequences. And I think that’s a bad thing. As a committed environmentalist, I’d like to see my government set immigration policy and all government policy within the context of a commitment to sustainability.
I don’t think the goals I share with my fellow environmentalists and with a large majority of my fellow citizens – goals like clean air and clear water, livable, un-crowded cities, sharing the land with flourishing populations of all our native wildlife species – I don’t think these goals are compatible with continued population growth. It’s time to rein in this growth, or, honestly, renounce the hope of living sustainably here in the United States.
Now, in the paper, Winn and I lay out this argument in some detail. Here, I’d just like to hit a few main points and consider one or two of the more common objections to our argument. An obvious place to start is with the question, how much difference does immigration really make to American population growth? And the answer is, as Steve pointed out earlier, a lot.
Now, this wasn’t always necessarily the case. For much of the previous century, U.S. population growth was driven primarily by high native birth rate. So during the 1950s, for example, American women were having about three-and-a-half children per person, immigration was low and our population was rapidly increasing.
By the 1970s, however, American women were having fewer children. In 1975, our replacement rate – fertility rate – stood at a lowest-ever level: 1.7 children per person. And the United States was well-positioned to transition from growing to a stable population. Most other developed countries made that transition between 1970 and today. Countries like Germany, France, Japan – their populations have leveled off.
It didn’t happen here, however, because in 1965 and several times thereafter, Congress greatly increased immigration levels. Between 1965 and 1990, immigration averaged 1 million people annually – five times the average in the previous four decades. Since 1970, immigration has increased even more – to approximately 1.5 million annually. That’s the highest rate in American history. And our population has continued to increase rapidly. So in a sense, the American people decided to stabilize our population, but we were overruled by Congress.
Today, immigration is clearly the main driver of U.S. population growth. In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau released population projections for the year 2100 under different immigration scenarios. And just to give you three of their projections, under a zero immigration regime for the 21st century, our population does continue to grow throughout the 21st century. There’s a lot of growth built into the system. So it might add 90 to 100 million people by 2100.
But under a higher projection with immigration a little less than 1 million annually, we would instead add nearly 300 million people, according to the Census Bureau. So we would double our population in 2100. And under the high scenario with over 2 million immigrants annually, our population will nearly triple, adding almost 600 million people for around 850 to 870 million people in 2100.
So obviously, then, according to the Census Bureau, immigration makes a huge difference. It really makes the main difference in future U.S. population numbers. When Congress sets immigration policy, it’s essentially also setting a national population policy. But this begs a second question; how much difference does a rapidly increasing population make to our environmental problems? Is it really as important as I’d like to claim?
Well, yes, it is. Population growth contributes significantly to many environmental problems within our borders. So let’s just consider one here – urban sprawl. In the past two decades, “sprawl,” defined as new development on the fringes of existing urban and suburban areas, has come to be recognized as an important environmental problem. Between 1982 and 2001, the U.S. converted 34 million acres of forest, cropland and pastures to developed uses.
And the average annual rate of land conversion has increased over that time. So it’s a problem, and it’s a problem that’s increasing even as we talk about it more. Sprawl is an environmental problem for many reasons, including increased energy consumption, habitat loss for wildlife, et cetera. So what causes sprawl? Well, it turns out that’s complicated. Transportation policies make a difference, zoning laws that encourage leapfrog developments out in the country make a difference, tax policy apparently makes a difference.
So between 1970 and 1990, these and other factors caused Americans’ per capita land use to increase about 22.5 percent. So we’re using more land per person. In this same period, however, the amount of developed land in the country increased by over 50 percent. So what accounts for the discrepancy there? The number-one cause of sprawl, by far – population growth: new houses, new shopping centers, et cetera, are being built for new residents.
In recent decades, cities and states with the highest population growth rates have also shown the most sprawl. And the most comprehensive study to date, looking at this problem, found that if you group together all of the policy factors that cause sprawl and you compare those to a single factor – population growth – they found that, in America in the past three decades, about 52 percent of sprawl was attributable to population increase while about 48 percent was attributable to all the other factors.
Now, some smart growth advocates resist the conclusion that population growth is an important sprawl factor. They want us to focus on everything else. And as someone who’s worked on local development issues, I understand their concerns. The bottom line, however, is that if we really want to stop sprawl, not just slow it down, we have to change transportation, tax, zoning and population policies that encourage it. We won’t stop sprawl and habitat loss if we simply accept as inevitable that factor, population increase, which the best research shows accounts for over half the problem.
Now, if we had time, I think I could show that every major environmental problem in the U.S. is made worse by population growth. I want to emphasize, though, that population growth doesn’t just undermine environmental protection here at home; a growing population also increases America’s large environmental footprint beyond our borders. So consider in this regard global climate change. You know, nothing mortifies us environmentalists more than our collective failure in the United States to do our part, to show leadership in combating global warming.
It’s really the most important environmental challenge facing the world in the 21st century. Some of us are very excited that, maybe, we’re turning the corner on that. So what can we do to fight global climate change? Well, a good start would be working to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels, as envisioned in the Kyoto Protocol. But meeting even this modest objective will prove difficult if our population continues to grow.
So consider a few numbers. In the United States, CO2 emissions increased 20.4 percent between 1990 and 2005. That means we’d have to decrease our emissions by 20.4 percent per person to get back to 1990 levels at our current population. But if we double our population, as we’re on track to do in, perhaps, eight or nine decades, we’ll have to decrease per capita emissions almost 60 percent in order to reduce CO2 emissions to 1990 levels. That’s almost three times as great a per-capita reduction.
Such reductions will be much more expensive, they’ll demand greater sacrifice from Americans, and they’re thus less likely to happen. Steve, how am I doing on time? I don’t want to.
MR. CAMAROTA: You’ve got another five minutes.
MR. CAFARO: Another five minutes, okay. So at this point, a critic might respond, well, wait a second, we should cut our carbon emissions – we can cut them 60 percent or even more. The technologies exist; America is wealthy enough to meet our moral obligation to address climate change. The problem, above all, is America’s over-consumption.
And I agree with that. I think limiting our consumption of fossil fuels has to play an important role in addressing climate change. And we could talk about all the ways that we could do that – higher fuel economy standards, more efficient heating and cooling in our buildings, et cetera. But re-engineering the world’s largest economy and changing the consumption patterns of hundreds of millions of people are immense undertakings.
They’re going to be difficult, expensive, and we know right now they’re going to only be partially successful. If Americans are serious about doing our part to limit global climate change, the multiplier effect of population growth is too important to ignore. So again, consider the numbers. Between 1990 and 2003, U.S. per capita CO2 emissions increased 3.2 percent. Now, that’s nothing to be proud of, necessarily.
But total U.S. CO2 emissions during the same period increased 20.3 percent, so about five times as much. Why the discrepancy? Well, it’s simple: During that same period, America’s population increased 16.1 percent. More people drove more cars, built more houses, et cetera. Population growth greatly increased total emissions and it’s total emissions, not per capita emissions, that quantify our full contributions to global warming.
Now, again, I’m not claiming that just by itself halting U.S. population growth is going to solve sprawl or meet our global warming responsibilities. On the contrary, America must reduce our per capita consumption of land and energy in order to meet these challenges. On the other hand, the evidence clearly shows the recent population growth has increased Americans’ total land and energy consumption and made these problems even worse.
Americans must address both over-consumption and overpopulation if we hope to create a sustainable society and contribute to a sustainable world. Now, everything that I’ve said so far – this whole argument – presupposes a sort of moral commitment to environmentalism. If you don’t share that commitment, then nothing I say necessarily matters to you. But for those of you who are environmentalists, I think the argument is fairly strong. If you have the commitment to really dealing with these problems and solving some of them and helping create a sustainable society for our descendants, then we’re going to have to address population growth. Maybe I’ll stop there and – yeah. (Applause.)
MR. CAMAROTA: Well, Don, you take it from there.
DON WEEDEN: Okay. Thank you, Steve. And thank you, Center for Immigration Studies and Phil, for inviting me on this panel. First off, I’d like to say that I think Philip’s paper is, in my opinion, one of the most intelligent and comprehensive papers I’ve seen on the issue of U.S. population growth, immigration and the environment. I remember when I first saw it, it came in on a listserv on my computer and I immediately tracked down Phil and said, you know, where have you been, Phil? (Laughter.)
This is – it’s a terrific paper that I was particularly impressed with in the way it catalogues and effectively responds to the usual litany of arguments that one hears supporting immigration status quo. For somebody who’s been in this debate for about a decade, you know, I’m obviously very familiar with the various arguments used on both sides. And I think Phil’s paper is going to serve as a resource for those of us who are championing the cause of environmental sustainability and immigration reduction.
In the several minutes that I have, I’d like to address what I consider the most important environmental justification for discounting population growth and for maintaining the immigration status quo. And that is, it’s our excessive consumption. That’s the argument. And then that will lead me to a discussion about immigration and population growth in the context of the ecological footprint methodology. Many of you are probably familiar with the concept of the ecological footprint; it’s the amount of primary land that each of us uses to obtain the resources we need and to dispose of our waste.
But first, a little background on the Weeden Foundation’s position on population and immigration: We’re somewhat unusual in several respects. We’re a family foundation that’s about 40 years old, and from our start, we have focused on protecting biodiversity exclusively. That was the founder’s mission and we’ve stuck with that over these past many years. Also unusually, we endeavor to address the root causes of biological impoverishment – that is, overpopulation and over-consumption. And I’d say that we’re somewhat unique in the foundation community – at least the environmental foundation community – in that respect.
We do a lot of work in habitat protection; we are involved with sprawl, stopping old-growth logging and oil and gas production. But we kind of view those as hacking at the branches. Those are Thoreau’s words – and not really getting at the root causes of the real problem. And finally, we’re an outward-looking foundation. We devote one-third of our grant-making to international projects, including many in Latin America. And I personally bring that international perspective to the foundation in that I lived and worked for about 20 years abroad, mainly in South Asia.
Now, the foundation’s population program began in the early 1970s. And at that time, we were in sync with the environmental movement. The first Earth Day, which featured David Brower, who said, you don’t have a conservation policy without a population policy, made population – the idea of zero population growth – a cornerstone of the environmental movement. In those days, early on in our program, we focused on global population issues. At that time, the global population growth rate, particularly developing countries, was still very high, whereas in the United States, as Phil pointed out, we had reached replacement-level fertility.
The expectation was, we were going to top out as a country at 275 million, which was very good news for the environment. In other words, the baby boom had already tapered off. At that time, however, is when the immigration boom began to pick up. And the environmental establishment’s ensuing retreat from the U.S. population issue – it’s well-documented, particularly in a great paper by Roy Beck and Leon Kolankiewicz.
However, the environmental community stance today on immigration and population growth is hardly monolithic. I don’t want to give you the impression that there aren’t many of us out there, like Phil and myself and many others, who do feel that the population issue has to be dealt with. It just happens, though, that the large green groups continue to run scared on this issue. And most of the large environmental funder do so as well. So it’s the establishment, really – the elite – that isn’t participating in this issue, whereas the rank-and-file environmentalists, I think, are – there’s a growing number that are concerned.
And then, of course, there is the group that includes all of the above where there’s some cognitive dissonance going on. On the one hand, they’re – they don’t want to be seen as reducing immigration. They support immigration status quo for humanitarian reasons. On the other hand, they are beginning to understand that current immigration levels just aren’t sustainable. But to justify their environmental position, I think many choose to make environmental arguments on their side.
And again, one of the largest – or the most potent one that they use is that consumption is really the problem. This argument is appealing, as Phil tells us, because it places blame on the average American – and we do consume too much – and not on immigrants, many of whom are poor. The problem is SUVs, big houses and resource-heavy diets and not the number of people. But overall, consumption is really what determines our environmental impact.
Bob Engelman of the organization World Watch has said that population growth pushes the consequences of any level of individual consumption to a higher plateau and reductions of individual consumption can always be overwhelmed by increases in population. Here’s a good example of that: California’s been a success story in terms of keeping its per capita electricity use flat for the last 30 years.
And they’ve become a model internationally and domestically. At the same time, population growth has increased by 70 percent over that same time period. So as a result, aggregate consumption, which is really what we’re concerned with, has increased by 70 percent. A state electricity planner told us we did everything we could – we did all the right things – and in the end, we were defeated by population growth.
In fact, there’s a growing body of research, some of which Phil referred to, that links population growth and environmental impact, including studies on sprawl, energy use and a broad set of other natural resource issues. Now, I often frame the immigration population issue in terms of environmental sustainability. And one of the most useful tools for doing so is the concept of the ecological footprint, which calculates how much land and water area individuals require to consume and absorb waste.
The originator of this concept, the Global Footprint Network, has recently classified individual countries worldwide as either ecological creditor or debtor countries, based on their aggregate footprints and the bio-capacity in-country. Eighty percent of the world’s population lives in countries which are ecological debtors. And the world requires, in terms of resources, 1.3 planets. We’re in overshoot. This is what environmental scientists are telling us.
The U.S., as you would probably expect, is one of those debtor countries. And the world as a whole, I mentioned, is in ecological debt. But we’re consuming double the resources available within our borders. Indeed, we have a very high per capita footprint, estimated at about 25 acres, and that’s double that of the Japanese and the Europeans. And it’s 30 times that of many developing countries.
But in a world of growing resource scarcity, we’ll be less able to access bio-capacity from other nations. I mean currently, the way we maintain our lifestyle is that we import bio-capacity, mainly from the developing world, we draw down on our resource reserves, such as aquifers, forests and we also degrade the environment. As resource pressures escalate around the world, it’s ecological wealth that is likely to emerge as the critical factor in terms of a country’s competitiveness and its people’s quality of life.
In terms of ethical considerations, like what Phil said about climate change, we take a disproportionate part of the global ecological pie – now about 25 percent of the total. Does not fairness demand that the developed world, particularly the United States, create some ecological room for the 3 billion people who make less than $2 a day and aspire to gain a few rungs in the affluence ladder?
I think it’s fair to say, as a country, we’ve become bloated in our resource consumption and the last thing we need is to grow by another 135 million Americans in the next few decades. Rather, we need to stabilize and ultimately reduce our aggregate consumption while making a transition to a clean energy economy. We need to set an example for the rest of the world. And we can only do this by stabilizing our population as soon as possible. (Applause.)
MR. CAMAROTA: Thank you, Don. Andrew, go ahead.
ANDREW LIGHT: So thank you very much for inviting me today. It’s good to be on a panel with my old friend and colleague Phil Cafaro. And so – sorry, the number of people with our background who work on environmental issues is very small, so we’re a collegial bunch. I should say at the outset that I’m not an expert on immigration policy or reform. But I’m happy to say that my organization – the organization that I represent here today – the Center for American Progress – has a new team of immigration experts, led by Angela Kelly, who is our new vice president for immigration policy and advocacy.
So I’m going to defer all general questions on these issues that may arise during discussions to her and her team. You know, I handle the relatively small or minor issue of global climate policy. The – I’m sure it comes as no surprise, of course, to anyone, that our position is at odds with those views represented by the Center for Immigration Policy. In general, our view is that the need for immigration reform in the United States is beyond question; the nation’s broken immigration system undermines our core national values and disserves our economic and security interests. Reforming the system is also critical to successfully addressing other key issues such as health care and the economy, and we’re developing a full menu of policy positions that address those problems.
The focus here today, though, is the relationship between immigration and environmental problems, and in particular, the kind of issues that Phil raises in this very interesting paper from last spring, “The Environmental Argument for Reducing Immigration in the United States.” Now, before jumping into this piece, just a quick word about what happened – I mean, why did the environmental community kind of get off of population issues?
I mean, certainly, partly, it was exactly the kind of issue we heard so far. In the early ’70s, the U.S. was getting at equilibrium. But I think it sort of goes beyond that. I think one of the more important issues – and we can probably talk about the impact of this – is that a lot of the – if you look at sort of the development of the sort of Malthusian line on the train wreck that we were headed in with respect to food production and population, the real sort of height of that in the environmental movement, I think everyone would agree, was the work of Paul Ehrlich in the early ’70s – “The Population Bomb,” and then later, “The Population Explosion.”
And the problem, of course, with the importance of that part of the discussion is that the bomb didn’t go off. And so most of the dire predictions that the Ehrlich’s predicted didn’t come true and these, of course, were correlated with the ramping down – because of various demographic pressure points – on global population, so that depending on who you look at now – and certainly, there are disagreements about this – but the majority of the assessments are that global population is going to stabilize around 2050 between eight and 10 billion.
There are some really interesting things we can talk about in terms of the last human assessment on this and the changes in that. But essentially, forces like urbanization, AIDS in Africa, increases in literacy rolls and others essentially took a lot of the bite out of the worries about population and shifted them to other areas. So that’s the background, I think, into which this goes. And I think that I, of course, would never say that that alone – those demographic statistics alone or the debate over them – means that population should be taken off the agenda of environmentalists completely. But it does, in fact, put some of these worries into a different light.
Now, Phil articulates and defends what he calls the relatively straightforward argument for reducing immigration in the U.S. from an environmental perspective. And there are six parts of the argument that he articulates – six individual parts that he very carefully defends with his coauthor in the paper. I just want to highlight one of them, because it’s going to be a key focus of the premise that I’m going to use for the discussion that I have – which is going to follow.
Item number five – and he emphasized this clearly in his presentation today as one of the premises for the conclusion – we are morally obliged to address our environmental problems and become good, global environmental citizens. So I take the core value here, as represented in the paper, is that the problem of whether or not we should stop immigration in the U.S. and the figure that Phil floats – and he doesn’t defend this strongly in the paper, so I’m not going to hold his feet to the fire on this – but the figure he suggests in the paper is, we limit U.S. immigration to 200,000 people a year.
The key sort of motivation in this argument for doing that is that this is the best thing for the environment, right? So the environmental value is driving the conversation. So through the rest of my comments, I’m actually going to adopt as a guiding assumption something which I actually don’t believe, which is that environmental considerations should be the most important driver of immigration policy. But I’m going to look at Phil’s argument from the lens that he comes from. So I’m going to sort of adopt what I take to be his position and then sort of see if I get to the same conclusion.
Now, what I will wind up arguing is that I think that, from an environmental perspective alone, it’s hard to see why U.S. borders are really the appropriate focus of an inquiry on how to solve both the, what I’ll call, loosely speaking, the local environmental problems he talks about –the sprawl problems, the national problems which are worse in the U.S. than they are in other countries – and then the global problems of things like climate change.
So three issues that I’ll look at – very quickly, because I want to get this open to discussion – sprawl, climate change – and I’ll throw in a third one at the end – biodiversity policy, because that’s also included in Phil’s discussion and the whole issue of the extent to which population puts pressure on the places that we want to preserve. So sprawl – you know, I’m not going to take issue with the statistics that Phil outlined in his presentation today.
I will, however, point out something that I think is quite illuminating that wound up in the paper that gets more attention. And that’s that if you look at sprawl patterns in the U.S., they’re bad everywhere. They’re bad in places like Atlanta, where I grew up, where the population is increasing. They’re bad in places – Miami – where the population increases. They’re bad in Houston. But they’re also bad in places where population is decreasing. St. Louis, for example, is one of the places that Phil mentions in his paper.
So the conclusion that Phil comes to is that, well, you look at all these cities in the country where we have sprawl, the sprawl is worse in places where population is increasing. And my response to that is, we shouldn’t expect anything other than that – that in fact, of course, places where there are more people, there’s going to be more sprawl. But if sprawl is the common denominator between cities where the population is increasing and where the population is decreasing, then the clear common problem here is what is causing sprawl, not necessarily population as the deciding force.
It’s all those other things that Phil talked about – zoning, bad planning, bad transportation policy and all those other factors. So if I was to take a first stab at the problem into what we would do to solve sprawl in the country, focus on the common denominator between all the places we have sprawl, rather than simply the place where you have another singular factor which is forcing sprawl to be of larger proportion. So we can come back to that, obviously, in discussion.
Climate – now, Phil said a lot of things about climate in his presentation today which I completely agree with. And here, I also want to sort of bring in, as a part of discussion, a really interesting paper that Steve, I believe you coauthored, right, from the Center for Immigration Studies on climate change, which is called, “Immigration to the United States and Worldwide Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” which you can get from the Web site.
And the reason I want to focus on that is just because it provides a number which we can actually talk about – a concrete number we can actually talk about. The main thesis – and you can, of course, correct me, Steve, if I’m wrong about this – is that when, if you look at the totality of the immigrants the come to the United States – that the average is that when they come here, their carbon footprint, if you will, their sort of emissions profile increases by a factor of four.
And out of this, Steve and his associates come up with a number we can actually talk about – 637 million tons of CO2 which they say would be what we can attribute to immigration. And then they do what often happens, and I think is in some ways very helpful in discussion like this – they come with a way of describing what that effectively means. So what does 637 million – I mean, the problem with the climate change debate is that we’ve got tons of numbers thrown around all over the place and it gets horribly confusing. So we’ll just focus on this.
I think 637 million megatons (sic) is not good, right? So the comparison that they offer is that this emissions generated by immigrants is roughly equal to the annual CO2 emissions of Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela combined – and they say the stipulation that they’re the three largest emitting countries in South America. It is also equal to the CO2 emissions of Great Britain and Sweden together.
Now, the thing I want to focus on here is that that analysis, I think, can be very compelling on first gloss. But if you look at where we’re headed and where we need to go, it’s not entirely clear that eliminating that 637 million tons and all of the consequences that would result from, say, decreasing immigration in the U.S. to something like Phil’s number – 200,000 – is really the best way to get to the emissions reductions we need to get to.
What are the emissions reductions we need to get to? Essentially, the agreed-upon figure now that the Obama administration has accepted and has been articulated recently in documents from the G-8 and a meeting called the Major Economies Forum in Italy in July is that we need to, in the developing world, get to an 80-percent reduction of emissions by 2050. So the thing to sort of think about there is, what’s the context?
How do we compare – what’s the appropriate number we should look at in looking at this 637 (million tons)? And in fact, it’s actually smaller than that, because what they do – and this is very good analysis in this paper – is they subtract what would have been the emissions of these people if they had stayed home, right? And so what we actually get is a number of 482. So the real number that’s on the table in terms of emissions of U.S. immigrants is 482 as the contribution to global climate change.
Put it in this context: U.S. emissions right now are 5,902 megatons annually – or metric tons annually. That’s only 115 below China, which is the largest emitter in the world right now, but of course has a much, much higher population than ours do, and so our per capita emissions are roughly four times on top of that. The number three right below us – so you think, well, the number three should be pretty close to where the U.S. is – and in fact, it’s not. The number three biggest emitter in the world right now is Russia, which emits 1,704 metric tons.
So there’s roughly a 4,100 metric ton gap between us and Russia. Let’s say that, snap my fingers, and I can get rid of all of the impact of immigrants in the U.S. Does that get us close to where we need to be for that global goal of getting emissions down 80 percent below the current by 2050? And the answer is that it doesn’t. Now, that analysis by itself, I think, doesn’t do the job. I think we’d have to come up with other arguments to complicate the picture.
So one thing to keep in mind is that, while it’s true, for example, that when immigrants move here, their emissions profile goes up, even though if you don’t – and they’re very careful because they don’t sort of assume that their income level will be the same as people who are living here already. So it’s very good analysis in that respect. In the current international climate negotiations, the countries that they are moving from do not have any boundaries on their emissions profile; they can continue increasing their emissions profile.
So that’s number one. The Annex I countries – so-called, in the treaty – developed countries like us – we’re the only ones in the current architecture of the international climate treaty, where we actually have a motivation to put a price on carbon, to do whatever it takes to essentially start the economic machine to make it so that the emissions profile of Americans, whether they’re immigrants or not, necessarily has to go down. So in some respects, they’re moving here in the long run. If we look at the 50-year horizon here, then it might be the case that there is an argument for – that this equalizes out in the long run.
The second thing to keep in mind here is also in terms of the architecture of the treaty that we’re trying to adopt. We have a deadline right now. The deadline is December. At the Copenhagen U.N. framework convention meeting this December, we have to decide on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol or the entire U.N. architecture falls apart. So right now we’re in this incredibly interesting negotiating position with respect to the other countries.
One of the most progressive countries on climate change right now in the developing world is Mexico. Mexico has voluntarily – though they are not bound by any international convention – has volunteered to begin decreasing their emissions to approximate the reduction in emissions by developed countries by 2050. They have also offered the most progressive policy yet in terms of financing a global deal on climate change because it costs money to get everyone to decrease their emissions.
Would it really be in our best interest right now to shut off all the borders, restrict U.S. emissions to 200,000 as part of the context of the global negotiating position we are in with respect to climate change? Now, there is lots more to say and we can sort of talk about it later.
But one of the biggest hurdles right now – this is an actual policy on the table today in Washington – is what we’re going to do with border tax adjustments. Are we going to sort of raise taxes on countries like China who do not adopt some kind of emissions reductions? And this has become a huge problem with respect to how we’re going to get this bill through the Senate and then how in fact we’re going to get some kind of parity between the Congress and the administration.
What we’re effectively talking about now is using this environmental motivation to think about climate change – is another kind of border adjustment – literally a border adjustment. And if the border tax adjustment creates hellishly bad problems in terms of adopting domestic climate change, I think that, in fact, it would be even worse if we were to sort of see immigration as the solution to America’s contribution to global climate change.
In fact, from an environmental perspective, I would maintain that the rational policy is not stopping immigration, but directed migration. If we were going to use the environmental motivation to get people to the parts of the world where they are going to do less harm, we should be picking them up and moving them to places. So given that the biggest amount of biodiversity and biomass on the planet is at the equator, it’s actually in the countries that a lot of U.S. immigration is coming from, it might even be better in terms of the argument for preserving those places to direct those people to move away from, let’s say, north.
Now, that of course is an absurd position. It is not very helpful in terms of getting clarity on the discussion that we’re having on climate change or immigration. And so I’d urge the same framework for thinking about proposals like this one. Thank you. (Applause.)
MR. CAMORATO: Thank you, Andrew. Phil, would you like to respond?
MR. CAFARO: Just a very quick response. Regarding sprawl, Andrew is, of course, right that population growth is only one part of it. But in that study that I referred to, which looked at the relative impacts of different factors on the sprawl, for cities and metropolitan areas that had declining populations, they sprawled, on average, 26 percent.
Cities and metropolitan areas that had population growth of 50 percent or more sprawled on average 112 percent – so almost five times as much. So again, you can work on sprawl issues and just take over half the solution off the table. But, given that we’re not succeeding now, I think that’s probably a bad idea – if you want to address sprawl.
Similarly, you can try to address greenhouse gas emissions in the United States which, after all, I mean, that’s the country we have the most leverage in, right, as citizens of the United States. So that’s really where we need to focus. You can say, well, you could pick any number you want. You could pick President Obama’s number: We’re going to reduce emissions by 80 percent in 50 or 60 years.
I remember lobbying here almost 20 years ago when there were revisions to the Clean Air Act. And that was a great lesson to me in the difference between what wide-eyed environmentalists want to happen and what happens when it goes to Sen. Nunn’s committee or whoever is running the committee now.
So that taught me a little lesson about what to shoot for – or not so much what to shoot for but what you can expect. So sure, we can try to reduce emissions 80 percent over the next 50 years. And, what the heck, let’s just double our population. I don’t see it happening. I’m a pretty good environmentalist and I’m willing to cut back on consumption in all sorts of ways.
But, look, I flew here for this panel. I have a certain way that I want to raise my family, et cetera. So it’s going to be hard to enough to try to create a sustainable society with 300 million. I don’t see it happening with 700 million, 800 million.
MR. CAMARATO: Okay. Well, I’d love to open it up for questions. We’ll start here in the front. Go ahead.
Q: Thank you, Steve. I’m delighted that you have in panel this distinguished group because this is an issue that has concerned many of the people that I have worked with for 40 years in the field of population.
I appreciate the care with which Dr. Light has put his facts on the table. One of the facts he mentioned was the fact that it seemed like it was going to be okay if we just sort of stabilized the world at eight to 10 billion. And the chances of our stabilizing the world at eight to 10 billion, Dr. Light, I have to tell you, having travelled around the world about four times and then to a lot of countries including Zambia very recently where the AIDS rate is 20 percent – by the way, if 40 million people have AIDS, maybe 60 million, and they all died tomorrow, the 227 million people that we – the thousand that we add daily would wipe that out so fast it wouldn’t even make any difference.
So we’ve already overshot. Now the question is when we’re going to get to it. And it’s a panel like this that can bring some light to the issue. Because if we don’t solve this, the U.S. and the planet in general – we just had lunch with a Mexican family reported in the Post this last week as having been kidnapped. Things in Mexico are really out of control. The government doesn’t care about the people, and it’s doing a terrible job down there. So my question is, have we done the overshot?
MR. LIGHT: Well, you know, again, I’m not an expert on these issues so I can’t tell you whether we’ve done the overshot. I guess what I wonder, though, if what you say is true, you know, then why is this discussion not about population? If environment is the driver, why is this discussion not about population, rather than immigration? Why isn’t that the main thing?
Why aren’t we talking about – I mean, to stop immigration in the U.S. today and restrict it to 200,000 people a year would require a lot of command-and-control enforcement. I’m sure no one has any doubt of that because we know that when you decrease legal migration, then you get an increase in illegal immigration.
If we’re then willing to accept those kinds of command-and-control instruments in order to solve this environmental problem, then why don’t we sort of say, then you adopt a set of command and control instruments to decrease population? And then you don’t have to worry about people moving here and their carbon footprint going up four times; then you just don’t have people who have a carbon footprint at all.
And so, if that is the view that you have, then I think that probably gets to the core of the problem more than talking about what we could do with respect to global climate change by shutting off U.S. borders which, frankly, I don’t think is a lot.
I don’t think that a planet of 10 billion people is necessarily a sustainable planet. I don’t have a naïve view of – oh, of course, we can maintain the caring capacity for 10 billion people, if that is the upper limit – even if it goes higher. That clearly is where I think that dealing with climate change is the best shot that we have of the transformation of economy to the kinds of models of sustainability that were talking about earlier; where, in fact, we have the best shot now at creating the incentives to stop sprawl; creating the incentives to get people off of a hydrocarbon economy – all those kinds of things. And so if that’s the prize that I’m working on, and that’s the prize that I work on every day at the Center for American Progress – is getting a successful climate change treaty out of Copenhagen in December – then I don’t see this is really going to make my job much easier.
MR. CAMAROTA: I want to respond to – one thing Andrew said is that there are some people who, it seemed to me, point out that, look, you could have the current level of immigration. All you would need to do is just have Americans have many fewer children. So if we think about that, we can get some idea.
Right now, Americans have a slightly less-than-replacement-level of fertility – just slightly – the native-born population does. So without immigration over time, the population stabilizes and may actually slightly decline – without any immigration.
Now, Americans – native-born Americans – have about 3.3 million children a year. And new immigration – or net immigration, I should say – plus burst immigrants is a little over 2 million a year. So if you wanted to offset that, you’d basically have to encourage Americans to have half as many children as they have right now.
So basically, the average American would probably maybe have to drop his fertility to less than one. The average American would have to cease to have children. And the native-born population would very quickly go out of existence, and the new immigrants who would come in, and their children, would entirely replace them. And then I think, from an environmental point of view that might be an even trade.
However, I would point out that politically if you were to tell Americans that, that is – I mean, having been here in Washington, that’s absurd. Of course, no one would suggest that and no one would even probably be willing to run for office saying, we should have this current level of immigration; what we need to do is make sure Americans have very few children so that we can accommodate it. Somebody might say that, and there’d be a college professor who would say it and maybe one Hill staffer would say it, but in the real world in which we actually live, that’s not a possibility.
MR. LIGHT: Yeah, but I don’t accept the premise. The premise that you start with is that the only way to get resolution on this problem is by decreasing U.S. population. I think the thing that we do first is we try to decrease the carbon footprint of Americans that are here regardless of how they got here.
And we have a better chance, in fact, of doing that in a developed country which will be subject to mandatory emissions cut by the upcoming international climate treaty than we would be in other countries which are not bound by those kinds of restrictions. Plus, we might get this advantage of moving people away from these hot spots of biodiversity in the equatorial regions.
So I don’t accept that that’s the premise. I mean, this is the thing we have to be very careful within these discussions – is assuming that population is necessarily going to be the most effective driver to solving this problem – like climate change.
So just to go back to what Phil said, you know, the figure of how do we get 80 percent emissions – I mean, this is not an option. Phil, you’re an environmentalist like me. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – that number is sacrosanct. To save the planet to keep from going above 2 degrees C to getting to 550 parts per million – all these other bad numbers that some of you might know out there – you have to half emissions globally by 2050. The minimal contribution that developed countries can make to that is this 80-percent cut. So if we don’t hit that 80-percent cut, regardless of the population in the U.S., then we lose. We also lose if we don’t get China to accept some mandatory emissions cut caps of their own. And that’s a key part of the negotiations that are going on right now.
The current legislation that’s moved through the House, and the version that’s going to be released by Barbara Boxer on September 9th is one where I have a lot of problems with this legislation, but what I certainly agree to is that they have a pathway for reductions by the renewable electricity standard, by the cap-and-trade system, by these other instruments to hit that 80 percent number – and that’s assuming current levels of population growth. I mean, they couldn’t get there if they didn’t assume those levels and were honest about it. And believe me, the rest of the world is checking those figures because they’re not going to sign an agreement with the U.S. unless we can put something on the table that can get to those 80-percent reductions.
MR. CAMAROTA: Well, let me say this, and I’ll let the other panel – I guess we should poll the panel: Does anybody think immigration reduction is the only thing the United States should do? Or are there lots of other things that we should do?
Let me speak for myself and say that I think there are lots of other things we need to do to reduce our global footprint and greenhouse gas emissions, but I don’t want to speak for the other panel. I thought I heard everyone to say this is a big part of the story, but it’s not the only story. What would you say?
MR. WEEDEN: Yeah, I would say, I don’t know anybody who basically takes our point of view who wouldn’t first say we have to dramatically reduce our per capita consumption. That goes without saying. But in case after case, as we begin to make progress, we see that population growth is eroding that progress. And so it’s really a matter of why would we sort of handicap ourselves in all sorts of environmental concerns for the sake of population growth?
MR. CAFARO: Yeah, I think Andrew makes a good point that we need to have a good treaty coming out of Copenhagen in a few months. Certainly, we have to work on that. But really our primary responsibility as Americans is to get our own house in order. And Sen. Boxer’s bill, I guarantee you, once people get to work on it and once something actually gets passed, a lot of the things that many of us would support, quite likely, won’t be in it.
So again, I mean, let’s push for a strong treaty in Copenhagen; let’s push for the strongest climate bill coming out of the Congress. But let’s not make the problem even more difficult to handle by growing our population.
Now, as you move to the global level – and Steve’s paper on this was very good – if you look at Americans’ per capital greenhouse gas emissions and you compare it to the greenhouse gas emissions from our top-10 sender countries – when people move to the United States, over time, they and their children increase emissions 350 percent. So from the global perspective that Andrew wants to take, the last thing you want is hundreds of millions of more Americans.
MR. CAMAROTA: In the way back there. Go ahead.
Q: Can I ask the panel to come back to the question which was really about sustainability? What is a sustainable population for the United States, for the world, in your opinion?
MR. WEEDEN: You know, there are a number of environmental experts who have looked at that very issue. I mean, really, when you’re talking about sustainability, the ultimate question is, what is a sustainable U.S. population long term? The range I’ve seen is about 100 to 200 million.
I think the highest I’ve ever seen is about 250 million, but there are those that look at a post-carbon society and say, you know, if we’ve got to switch to renewables, which offer a lot less in terms of energy, as compared to very rich oil and natural gas resources, then we could see as low as a sustainable population of 75, 100 million.
But I’ve never seen anything higher. And that takes into account, of course, a number of environmental factors, including what’s often not represented: the need to protect biodiversity. You know, in this country, we don’t do nearly enough. And we’re losing the conservation battle in terms of protected lands. And so if you build in 20 percent of the country’s land mass to protect biodiversity, which is a reasonable assumption, well, then, the 100 to 200 million may even be a little bit lower. So again, there’s good work being done on this. But everyone seems to say we’ve overshot in terms of U.S. population currently.
MR. LIGHT: So I think that there’s no good answer to that question. And in the same way, there’s no good answer to that question of what it would mean to say when the U.S. is overpopulated – because overpopulation, as we all know – anyone who, you know, day 1 of looking at population in school, you know it’s not an absolute number. There’s no absolute number for overpopulation for this room. It’s a function of the number of people times the technology to mitigate the impacts of their consumption, right, on whatever environment you’re talking about.
So when it comes to sustainability, absolutely, what’s going to be sustainable, whereby if we take the classic definition of sustainability – and Phil talks about different views on sustainability in his paper that can change your answer to this question. But if it is simply leaving as enough that is good for the next generation, then that is absolutely determinate on not only moving to a low-carbon society, but how quickly we move to a low-carbon society.
And that is why I think we have to be very careful about the nuances of the absolutely critical place we are in right now. We have never seen a better chance in the U.S. to finally catch up with the rest of the world, number one, and number two, show leadership towards moving the planet towards that low-carbon society, which could see us create the possibility of sustainability.
One of the earlier comments was population growth always hampers attempts to move to greater degrees of sustainability or to decrease ecological footprint. In fact, we’ve never really tried that. The countries of the world that have moved out in front on doing something about climate change are not the countries of the world that are growing. And so we’ve never tried to experiment yet of a country like ours – where the population is going up – to try to seriously address climate change.
But there’s one shining example out there which a lot of people don’t acknowledge – and it’s China. China is far ahead of the U.S. right now in terms of adapting more ambitious renewable electricity standards, in terms of adapting better fuel efficiency standards; they will announce – probably by November when Obama goes to China – a new 10-year stimulus plan devoted exclusively to energy. They’re spending a bigger percentage of their last stimulus package on moving to alternative energy, and there are lots of reasons for it. But there, we effectively see that a country which is trying to balance the question of how you manage increased population growth – can it in fact move onto a track of greater sustainability? And I think that we should follow their example.
MR. CAMAROTA: But they don’t grow at all in population. They don’t allow many immigrants, either. But they don’t grow at all. China’s population after 2025 is due to decline. And China has no population growth now, virtually. Numerically, it’s still, like, a million a year. But some people it’s going to stabilize and begin to decline after 2017. We might be – within the next 10 years, China’s population either stabilizes or there’s a very low rate of population growth now. One wonders whether they would have been willing to do quite as many things if they were still going to grow by another 400 million people, which –
MR. LIGHT: I think their answer would be, they have absolutely no choice. And it’s partly because of the – it’s not just the CO2 they’re emitting, but of course it’s the co-contaminants that go along with the CO2, which is causing them to basically choke to death and run out of the standard resources like water. And of course, it’s now going to be a big threat on their food. So they have no choice. There is a point at which countries have to move onto this path. Otherwise, they’ll suffer huge humanitarian losses.
MR. CAFARO: But we don’t necessarily want to push it quite as far. I mean, we don’t necessarily want air quality the way it is in Beijing. Andrew, I think if I heard you correctly in your response there, you basically said, population numbers – there’s not an absolute about that.
MR. LIGHT: We’re –
MR. LIGHT: Talking about overpopulation.
MR. CAFARO: Right, and you specifically talked about this room. Now, does anyone in this room think that we couldn’t cram so many people in here that maybe we couldn’t have anymore? Does the Washington, D.C., fire department think that? I don’t think so. So it’s just incredible to me that you would use that as an example. And, furthermore –
MR. LIGHT: Well, granted, it’s a bad example. (Laughter.)
MR. CAFARO: And I have to point out, you know, Don made the point that when we talk about sustainability, really, it matters what we want to sustain. And many of us – I know Don does and I do, too – would like to sustain flourishing populations of all the other species that we currently share the planet with.
Now, we can say, well, we’re just going to drop that from our definition of sustainability. But I think that would be a tremendous mistake. So as we think about what’s sustainable, let’s also think about what we should leave in terms of habitat for other species. And that means not building houses on it; not building roads through it; not building a Wal-Mart on it.
MR. LIGHT: Or having people leave the places where most of the other species of the planet are, right? And migration is going to be a big driver behind that.
MR. CAFARO: But, wait, Andrew. Now, just so we’re clear on numbers, remember in the developing world, where something like 4 billion people live, if 1 million people come from the developing world or 3 million to the United States, that doesn’t really take any population pressure off of a part of the world which generally grows by about 60 to 80 million people a year, right?
We couldn’t even accommodate enough people to significantly impact their population growth let alone their size. It’s always a trivial fraction, right? You can’t say, well, gosh, if we took in more people it would take off a lot of pressure in the developing world where 4 billion people lived. Just mathematically what would your number be?
MR. LIGHT: I think this is where we need to get our of abstracts of moving numbers around the planet. If you’re going to look at this from an environmental perspective, the environmental facts of the case are going to have to matter, right?
So there’s ample studies that are out there about accidental causes of migrations of peoples away from critical areas and how you get affective conservation and maintenance of biodiversity because of that. Conservation International has done some amazing work about the Raja Ampat area of Indonesia, which probably has the biggest concentration of biomass and biodiversity on the planet.
And when mining operations there collapsed you actually saw the critical coral reefs come back and some species in fact come back to the area. You have to maintain it; you have to come up with a way of policing it and stuff like that.
But in fact I think that rather than just talking about abstract numbers to really look at these – to see if, say, a policy of moving people around the globe was really the best thing to do from an environmental perspective we’d have to look at those particular kinds of cases.
Well, I think as Americans we also have to focus on our nation and creating a sustainable society right here. I know I’m in Washington, the capital of our empire and we’re solving many of the world’s problems supposedly but a lot of my environmental work happens at the local level. And there when me and my friends go to try to stop the dam that’s being proposed to take water out of the river that flows through our community we have to deal with population projections.
So I think our focus really should be on creating a sustainable society here. It’s great that other countries might be preserving things but we have a special responsibility right here.
MR. CAMAROTA: Do you have any – why don’t we just take some more questions? Go ahead, in the back here.
Q: You don’t necessarily distinguish between legal and illegal immigration. Illegal immigrants tend to have higher numbers of children as they come into the country. And I’m wondering if you couldn’t combine your macro and micro problem of the border – the problems faced on the border with garbage and issues in terms of preservation of animal life by focusing very strictly on border enforcement and sort of preventing an incentive. You know, you come and you try and you get in here – (inaudible, off mike). So there is a certain distinction.
MR. CAFARO: Sure, thanks for the question. In the paper we talk a little bit about this – immigration into the United States is currently about one-and-a-half million a year – a little under 1 million per year legal immigration and approximately half-a-million illegal immigration. So both of those are contributing to U.S. population growth.
From the perspective of what we’re talking about here, environmental impacts – and not just impacts on the border but impacts of a growing U.S. population – it really doesn’t matter whether people are coming here legally or illegally; it doesn’t matter where they are coming from. It’s just a question of whether that’s generating rapid population growth.
So our proposal in the paper is to both work harder to enforce our immigration laws so that we decrease illegal immigration but also to decrease legal immigration levels because of course if you got rid of all legal immigration tomorrow, two-thirds of the immigration into the country would still be occurring.
MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah. Probably in terms of U.S population it’s a 60-40 split; 60 percent of U.S. immigration driven population growth is legal and about 40 percent is illegal. The illegals are a smaller component but as you point out they tend to have more children. So if immigration added 100 million in 50 years, 60 million of that would be legal, maybe 40 million illegal, just to give you a rough idea.
One of the really interesting things is that people come to America and have more children. So not only does their ecological footprint go, but the general evidence is that fertility rises at least in the first generation – though we’re not sure what’s going to happen in other generations. So for example, the top immigrant sending country to the United States is Mexico – fascinating, I mean that’s not so surprising, but fascinating is that in Mexico the average women has 2.4 children, in the United States it’s at least 3.4, show some it’s 3.5 children.
In other, fertility seems to go up maybe 50 percent – maybe a little less. Why would that be is an interesting question, I think people feel more optimistic, but we’re not sure why. It happens to other countries – Great Britain is an interesting example. Fertility of British immigrants to the United States may almost be double what it is for the average women in Great Britain.
So for reasons that aren’t clear but seem pretty robust statistically, not only does immigration increase the environmental footprint someone has, but it also seems to increase the number of people on the planet. Now, relative to worldwide population growth, that number is pretty modest, it’s small.
But if you have a sense that, well, I’d like to try to stabilize the world’s population, immigration to the United States would seem to be though as a very small factor. But still it does add to overall world population growth because most – not all, I have a study on this – most people seem to have more children when they come here than they would’ve had back in their home country. At least the evidence seems very strong for that.
Let’s get somebody over here – yeah, go ahead.
Q: You guys talked a lot about the environment and not so much about immigration. My question mainly is: One of you said to eliminate at 200,000 people per year – how would you go about doing that, how would you pick and choose what 200,000 people get in without seeming discriminatory towards anybody?
MR. CAFARO: Well, we have immigration levels right now so we make some decisions about that. I don’t really in the paper get into exactly which groups you would limit, et cetera, et cetera. Again, I’m more concerned with the numbers. But a common comment is well, there’s just no way to do this without draconian regulations, et cetera, et cetera.
In fact, we do have limits on immigration right now – we can raise them as Sen. Kennedy would like to, we could lower them as I would like to. Congress sets immigration levels a few decades ago – they were many times smaller than they are today. If the Bush-Kennedy bill had passed in 2007 they would have been raised.
Similarly our government can decide whether to enforce immigration laws or not and we’ve gone back and forth on that. So it is something that we can and in fact do make choices about, but I don’t have any position on exactly as you ratchet it down who would be able to comment and who wouldn’t.
MR. CAMAROTA: Well, there was one other question. Did you have a question?
Q: I did. Earlier during the discussion I think it was mentioned that you know, why are we focusing on immigration when having the population discussion? I just wanted to get an actual percentage – what is immigration’s impact on U.S. population growth? I’ve seen different numbers from the Pew Hispanic Center and also from the U.S. Census Bureau, but I’m just curious of what that impact actually is.
MR. CAMAROTA: Well, it kinds of depends slightly on how you calculate it. Everyone agrees it’s the determinate factor, everyone agrees that new immigration plus the children immigrants have once they get here is the majority of U.S. population growth. The way I would calculate it is that new immigration is net immigration – about 1.2 million a year, 1.3 million, and there are about 900,000 births to immigrants here, so you would add those two numbers together and get somewhere around 2.1, 2.2 million and if the U.S. population grows somewhat over 3 million a year or roughly 3 million a year – by that measure you’re looking at, say, three-fourths of U.S population growth would be immigration related in that way.
Moving forward, the immigrants who are already here don’t count in terms of future projections – so that’s another way to think about it. All projections – obviously the Census Bureau’s and so forth – count the arrival of the immigrant minus those who leave plus the children they and their defendants would have.
And there you’re probably looking at around two-thirds of future population growth. The figure we gave before of 100 million over the next 50 years – that’s all immigrants who haven’t yet come, but who will come if current trends continue, plus their descendents.
MR. LIGHT: To the gentlemen in the green shirt and tie over there. I think that you raise an absolutely important question, and I’m completely sympathetic to Phil’s response to it because it’s not necessarily his jobs to come up with the policies right from given sort of the background to this paper.
But we shouldn’t just move on from that because I think that it’s absolutely essential – here we are in Washington, D.C., right? And we’re at this incredibly critical moment in discussions of health care, of climate change, of immigration policy and a number of other issues. We have a mandate right from the last election to try to make some progress on this and try to find solutions that are good and where the perfect is not the enemy of the good.
And believe me, having sort of lobbied actively to try to get the House bill on climate change, I have swallowed that pill, that very large pill about the relationship between the perfect and the good. One of the things I said at the end of my remarks was I said there’s another talk about borders happening in the climate stuff right now. It’s about taxes.
And the worry is we don’t want to get a situation where we start a trade war with China in order to get them to come along with us on an international climate change bill. The terrible figure is that all of the countries, the developed countries of the world including us, turned off the tap on our admissions today – and it could be through immigration policy, it could just be through – we all voluntarily go back to the stone age – then we still get some of the worst scenarios in terms of temperature increase on the planet in the long run if China does nothing.
So we have to get China voluntarily to come into this deal and then accept mandatory reductions on their emission so we can get where we need to go in the long run.
Now, the problem of course is by threatening them, which is essentially what the House bill does with taxes is we’re threatening a war in the WTO and we’re threatening a trade war with China who we have obviously a very special financial relationship with which could be quite detrimental to the U.S. economy.
So the conventional wisdom is we start with carrots rather than sticks. What are the carrots that get China into the conversation to move forward? And I would sort of say the same thing about the relationship between this discussion about immigration and about climate – yes, it’s not Phil’s job to figure out what’s the policy that gets you down to 200,000 that’s at all affordable or doesn’t cause horrific problems with international relations or doesn’t make the problem of illegal immigration much worse than it already is.
So my cautionary note then is that because we are in D.C., let’s talk about the carrots to get America on the path of sustainability before we start talking about the sticks of any draconian policy, be it a very severe reversal in immigration policy or a very severe reversal in terms of population freedom.
MR. CAFARO: Andrew, I have to say – you’re talking about China. China has addressed its rapidly growing population – not in a way that I would advocate but as their lead climate negotiators have said, they think that’s one of the most important things they’ve done in terms of making a contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
I think the United States has to do likewise, and we should be thankful that our citizenry have decided on their own, without coercion, to stabilize our population. Let’s take that gift and run with it. It’s going to be hard enough doing what’s right on climate change, creating a sustainable society – let’s look at the one area where we seem to have made the right choice and use that as a core for reducing consumption, et cetera.
MR. LIGHT: Where is the area we’ve made the right choice?
MR. CAFARO: In having fewer children.
MR. CAMAROTA: Well, I would say this on maybe getting back to that question. If you’re asking me whether politically it’s easier to reduce immigration – which is generally supported by most of the public when asked questions on that – or whether it’s easier to cut our greenhouse gas emission by 80 percent, if you’re willing to fight the political battle of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent, which is really challenging politically –
MR. LIGHT: That’s not a negotiable number. It’s like it’s got to be 80 percent of whatever the population of the U.S is. That’s the point. It’s got to be 80 percent of whatever the population of the developed countries in the world is, it’s not relative to populations.
MR. CAMAROTA: Or we have negative consequences, right? That would be your position. But just because we’re going to have them doesn’t mean that the country is going to adopt it, where as if you’re willing to fight that political battle – which you may be very willing, may have a great idea to do – that’s a heck of a lot tougher by saying let’s bring immigration down to probably where most Americans would like to see, a couple hundred thousand a year.
Is it easy to fight that political battle? I don’t think so. It think that if you wanted to try to make the case for less immigration I think that there are a lot of interest groups in Washington that would line up. The main support you’d get again would be from the public.
MR. LIGHT: But the bill that just through the House is a bill with those targets in it, not an immigration bill that takes immigration down to 200,000 people a year.
MR. CAMAROTA: Right. And is the Senate going to pass, and we have to implement it over the next 40 years –
MR. LIGHT: We’ll talk about that in the Senate. (Chuckles.)
MR. CAMAROTA: But the question here is that is a huge political battle. The Democrats could lose control of the House because of things like this – not that I would want them to, but that’s possible. So nothing’s a done deal, and trying to reduce our greenhouse gases is a very long, difficult battle and so is an immigration policy that’s environmentally sustainable.
But if you ask me which is easier I would say obviously the immigration battle is a lot easier than the environmental.
MR. CAFARO: Steve, could I just add, if you are going to ask the American people to pay more to fill up their cars, if you’re going to ask them to pay more to insulate their houses, et cetera, I think you’d have a much stronger case if you could say to them, look – this is to create a better future for your decedents. If your answer is we’re asking you to cut back or pay more in all these ways in order to shoehorn tens of millions of more people into the country I think that’s the real non-starter.
MR. LIGHT: Phil, really, come on. That’s not the argument that’s being made. It’s got to be – the cut has got to be the same regardless of whether or not the population in the U.S. is 100 million or 400 million. We need to get absolute numbers down –
MR. LIGHT: – that’s what the science tells us and those are the scientists who I think inform your environmentalism as much as mine.
MR. WEEDEN: I’d like to add that reducing our CO2 emissions is not the only avenue to sustainability in this country. Forget before climate change even reared its ugly head we’ve got 1,000 – in terms of biodiversity crisis – we’ve got an extinction rate that’s 1,000 times the background rate.
And so there’s a number of environmental issues that need to be addressed and not just climate change. And from my perspective as conversationalists I’d say that the biodiversity crisis is the most important crisis we face. If we eliminate nature we’re eliminating the habitat in which we all survive. So, you know, there’s a fixation in the environmental community now on climate change and we forget that there’s a lot more involved in terms of environmental sustainability.
MR. LIGHT: I completely agree with you, and I just – I started out my work as an environmentalist doing biodiversity work and restoration ecology. I got into climate change because all of the places that I was trying to save around the planet are disappearing because of climate change. I’m sympathetic to the worry that we have this fixation on climate change but every study out there shows that the biggest driver – the ramping up all of the things that were driving biodiversity problems in the past is climate.
And so that’s where you – just to – I was facetiously talking about moving people forcibly from the equator to Canada.
MR. WEEDEN: I’m glad it’s facetious.
MR. LIGHT: And you know, it’s just – I certainly wouldn’t advocate a policy like that, but the problem is as we know is that where the hotspots of biodiversity are, that’s where the – the animals and plants that evolved there evolved in a very narrow range of climate variability. A small change to that means that the reproductively goes down, their ability to get prey goes down – all these sort of maximizing factors that are causing to them to go extinct much faster than we thought before.
We are in this – from the perspective of biodiversity, we’re in this sort of unfortunate position of global environmental triage. There’s only so much we’re going to be able to save right now and one of the biggest drivers to make sure that there will be more stuff to save is getting a handle on climate.
MR. CAMAROTA: Is there any more, maybe I’ll just cut it off. Oh, I’m sorry. Back there, go ahead.
Q: I have one question for Prof. Light, which is, are you also attempting to engage the cultural forces in the world? There are two very large ones which I won’t mention or I’ll be confused with being – (inaudible, off mike).
MR. CAMAROTA: But it has to be an environmental question. We’re not –
Q: Population growth. Are you engaging the cultural forces that encourage population growth in the discrete communities such as Central America in you discussions of environmental – (inaudible, cross talk).
MR. LIGHT: I don’t know enough about the discussion to know what the cultural forces are you’re referring to.
Q: Well, they’re both political and religious forces that advocate more children. Are you asking those religious leaders to engage with you in discussions of how they’re –
MR. LIGHT: I’m certainly heavily engaged with religious leaders about attending to climate change and then we follow those conversations where they’re going to go. I don’t see a way to solving this problem without a deep level of interaction with religious leaders because that is the framework which drives a lot of the values of people around the planet.
It’s not people like Phil and I who read Kant for six years and then sort of came out with – Aristotle in Phil’s case – it’s those religious frameworks and so whatever you see the solution to the problem, that’s certainly got to be part of it.
MR. CAMAROTA: Okay, well, I think on that note I want to thank you all for coming. All of our publications including a transcript of this conversation or panel discussion will be available at our Web site, https://cis.org/. Thank you. (Applause.)