Immigration agenda in conflict with environmental concerns[Editor’s note: This story originally was published by Real Clear Policy.]
By Roy Beck
Real Clear Policy
When I covered the inaugural Earth Day teach-ins as a reporter 51 years ago, one of the top concerns was the rapidly growing U.S. population — and its negative impact on America’s wildlife and ecosystems.
At the time, the United States was an affluent nation of 203 million hyper consumers and polluters — and it was adding more than 20 million each decade. Environmental leaders such as Senator Gaylord Nelson — often dubbed the Father of Earth Day — called for the United States to model population stabilization for the rest of the world, as well as modeling ways to reduce negative per capita impacts.
Over the last half-century, the United States has done well as an international model for environmental laws and institutions, cleaning the air, and a number of other accomplishments, while struggling to greatly reduce per capita resource consumption and waste.
But many of the per capita gains have been partly or totally negated by the growth of the U.S. population by 127 million since 1970, to 330 million today. The United States has abdicated its leadership role and, instead, remains a model for the never-ending population growth that most nations are rejecting.
Despite recent baseless claims by some commentators that the country is facing a population decline, the Census Bureau projects another 74 million Americans by 2060, crossing the 400 million threshold.
That doubling of the population since 1970 would have been unthinkable to many of the conservation experts and advocates involved in the first Earth Day. Sen. Nelson, who authored several federal conservation acts, warned, “With twice the population, will there be any wilderness left? Any quiet place? Any habitat for songbirds? Waterfalls? Other wild creatures? Not much.”
Vigorous habitat preservation efforts have prevented that apocalyptic scenario, thus far. But they have been no match for fully countering the relentless clearing, scraping and paving of habitat to accommodate the 127 million additional residents. Exhaustive federal surveys that began in 1982 have identified nearly 50 million acres of natural habitat and farmland destroyed through additional development.
Population growth is not the only cause of this loss. But my organization — which has conducted nearly two dozen state, regional and national sprawl studies — calculates that about two-thirds of all the habitat and farm loss since 2002 has been related to U.S. population growth.
Pew Research projects that almost 90 percent of U.S. population growth the next few decades will be the result of immigration policies. Although many foreign arrivals don’t immediately reach the average U.S. level of consumption, the goal of nearly all immigrants understandably is to increase their consumption toward the level of their fellow Americans. Each million require massive new land-consuming infrastructure just like everybody else.
Without changes, the United States will continue to lose millions of acres of open space per decade, including essential ecosystems for numerous threatened plant and animal species. Habitat loss in this country has already put over 1,000 species in jeopardy in recent years.
After the first Earth Day, Americans, for a variety of reasons, made choices about family size that put the United States on a path for a stable population around now. But that path was blocked by congressional immigration policies that increased annual authorized admissions from 373,000 in 1970 to an average of more than a million a year since 1990.
The habitat preservation benefits of Americans’ smaller families were wiped out by the population growth forced by congressional immigration policies, not by negative behavior of immigrant individuals. Today, instead of reducing annual immigration toward a level more compatible with America’s stewardship responsibility over the habitat within its borders, the most vigorous efforts in Congress are devoted to further increasing immigration and U.S. population growth — and, thus, habitat destruction. Our analysis of the president’s proposed immigration overhaul finds it would add an estimated 37 million permanent legal residents in the first 10 years alone (not counting births).
Neither the proposals nor the status quo are in keeping with the first Earth Day’s goals of sustainability. They certainly do not present a model for other nations to emulate.
Roy Beck is the founder and president of NumbersUSA Education and Research Foundation.[Editor’s note: This story originally was published by Real Clear Policy.]
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