On Earth Day, Don't Forget How Federal Immigration Policies Undermine Eco-Friendly Goals

Environmental Activists Demonstrate On Earth Day In Zuccotti Park
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Roy Beck is president of NumbersUSA, an immigration reduction organization in Arlington, VA.

As on every Earth Day since the first one in 1970, there will be widespread calls this weekend for the government to adopt more restrictions and regulations to reduce the harm of the American people on America’s eco-systems, wildlife and natural habitats.

But the federal government continues to undermine its half-century of environmental efforts with immigration policies that are forcing a massive expansion of the sheer number of American people — from 203 million on the first Earth Day to 325 million today.

Pew Research Center projects that the United States is on pace to add another 117 million people by 2060, and 88% of it would be the result of federal immigration policies.

Nowhere are the environmental consequences of this federal program seen more vividly than in the elimination of natural habitat and farmland in the regions around the nation’s urban areas. All additional residents require extra land for housing, schooling, health care, governmental services, streets, parking, waste handling, and places of work, shopping, arts, recreation and worship.

Since the 2000 Census, my research organization has tracked how America’s expanding population is sprawling over the open spaces on which the country’s human residents depend for food, fiber and the nourishment of their spirits, and to which the non-human inhabitants often tenuously cling for life itself.

In just the first decade of this century, government data show around 10 million acres of natural habitat and farmland cleared, scraped, filled, paved and built over to accommodate the additional Americans.

Some of the loss of open spaces was due to development and consumption practices, and to changes in family arrangements, that resulted in the average amount of urban land per resident growing larger. But data from the exhaustive federal Natural Resource Inventory and the U.S. Bureau of the Census suggested that around 70% of the open spaces loss around the nation’s urban areas was related to population growth.

The negative environmental consequences of immigration-driven population growth are not due to immigrants themselves being more harmful than native-born Americans. Immigrants appear to require somewhat less land because of their lower average income, although they use all the same kinds of development as other Americans. The majority of immigrants do live in suburbs and at the edges of cities where most sprawl occurs. The adult children of immigrants are just as likely to shun living in core cities as the adult children of natives. The bottom line seems to be that immigrants and their children are Americans who eventually consume land like Americans.

The United States is a vast country and not threatened with running out of land. But a lot of that vast land is either desert, mountains or already needed to produce food. In 1982, the contiguous 48 states had 1.9 acres of cropland for every American. By 2010, that had shrunk to 1.2 acres. If current immigration-driven population growth and per capita land use continue, government projections indicate that cropland would be reduced to just 0.7 acre per American by 2050.

Cropland and natural habitat are especially under threat near where most Americans live. Consider the exploding populations in the Piedmont region that runs from Raleigh, North Carolina through northwest South Carolina and on through Atlanta, Georgia.

A U.S. Geological Survey computer model projected that if recent development trends continue, Raleigh and Atlanta will run into each other by 2060.

That would be some 400 miles of continuous urban and suburban development, eliminating the farmland, woodlands and other ecosystems that currently separate all the cities and towns along Interstate 85 today.

Our study of government data showed that 86% of the loss of the Piedmont’s natural habitat and farmland from 2002-2010 was related to population growth.

None of this is a future that the people living in the Piedmont today want to see. A Pulse Opinion Research poll found that 61% said it is very important – and 27% said it is somewhat important — to save natural habitat between the towns and cities of the Piedmont, which has one of the most diverse eco-systems in the country. Only 7% said it is not very important or important at all.

As for saving farmland between the cities, 64% of Piedmont residents said it is unethical to build on that farmland. Only 19% said the demand for more housing is a legitimate reason to do so.

And 76% said it is important for the cities not to grow together in order to keep towns and small cities separate with their own identities. Only 17% said becoming part of a larger metropolitan area was just fine.

The polling results are similar in all regions of the country where population growth is quickly eliminating the natural habitat, farms and local identities on long stretches of interstate corridors.

At the Earth Day Texas exposition in Dallas this weekend, we will release results of our study of the disappearance of the state’s open spaces, particularly on the “Texas Urban Triangle” of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio/Austin. Government data suggests that 64% of the open-space loss in Texas in recent years is related to population growth, and that new immigrants and births to immigrants equal 57% of the state’s population growth.

Back in 1970, the man known as the “Father of Earth Day,” Sen. Gaylord Nelson, warned that government efforts would not be able to achieve environmental goals if the U.S. population continued to grow rapidly. A presidential commission in the 1990s concluded the same. Sen. Nelson joined the commission in calling for reduction in federal immigration flows.

The severe environmental and quality-of-life consequences of population growth driven by an immigration flow of around one million a year should be reason enough for Congress to consider legislation to reduce the annual flow toward at least the 370,000 level in the year of the first Earth Day.