Immigrants come to the U.S. determined to make a new life. So often they're more open to the kind of changes we'll need to deal with climate change.
By Bill McKibben
For environmentalists, population has long been a problem. Many of the things we do wouldn't cause so much trouble if there weren't so many of us. It's why I wrote a book some years ago called "Maybe One: An Argument for Smaller Families." Heck, it's why I had only one child.
And many of us, I think, long viewed immigration through the lens of population; it was another part of the math problem. I've always thought we could afford historical levels of immigration, but I understood why some other environmentalists wanted tougher restrictions. More Americans would mean more people making use of the same piece of land, a piece that was already pretty hard-used.
In recent years, though, the math problem has come to look very different to me. It's one reason I feel it's urgent that we get real immigration reform, allowing millions to step out of the shadows and on to a broad path toward citizenship. It will help, not hurt, our environmental efforts, and potentially in deep and powerful ways.
One thing that's changed is the nature of the ecological problem. Now that global warming is arguably the greatest danger we face, it matters a lot less where people live. Carbon dioxide mixes easily in the atmosphere. It makes no difference whether it comes from Puerto Vallarta or Portland.
It's true that the typical person from a developing nation would produce more carbon once she adopted an American lifestyle,
The average Mexican in Mexico emits 22% as much carbon per capita as the average resident of America, and Mexico is, by Third World standards, a fairly affluent, car-crazy country that subsidizes gasoline prices. People in Central American countries emit substantially less carbon per capita than Mexicans.
Either illegal aliens and their descendants, are going to fail to assimilate economically to America, which means they and their's will be a net tax burden, or they will assimilate economically and emit vastly more carbon than if they had stayed in their own country. Which is it?
but she also probably would have fewer children.
That's 180 degrees backwards. The total fertility rate for Mexicans-born women in America has been higher than for Mexican women in Mexico for several decades now. The birthrate is extremely high for new immigrant women in the years right after they arrive in America. Thus, during the big Housing Bubble influx of immigrants, the TFR of foreign-born Hispanic women in California was 3.7 in 2005. The TFR in Mexico is 2.32. One reason Mexicans move to the United States, besides their hopes of buying V8 vehicles and big houses with airconditioning, is to have the extra babies they can't afford to have in their own country.
A December report from the Pew Research Center report showed that birthrates in the U.S. were dropping faster among Mexican American women and women who immigrated from Mexico than among any other group.
That's because immigration has been way down because of the lack of jobs in America for the last half decade (although I see a lot of construction projects underway, again). The 1986 amnesty caused a huge Hispanic baby boom from 1988-1994.
This is a trend reflected among all Latinas in the U.S. As an immigrant mother of two from the Dominican Republic told the New York Times: "Before, I probably would have been pressured to have more, [but] living in the United States, I don't have family members close by to help me, and it takes a village to raise a child. So the feeling is, keep what you have right now." Her two grandmothers had had a total of 27 children. The carbon math, in other words, may well be a wash.
The total fertility rate in the Dominican Republic is down to 2.58, which is no higher than the immigrant Hispanic TFR in the U.S., even during this lull. And Dominicans in the DR only emit 11% as much carbon per capita as the average inhabitant of this country.
... And that's precisely where white America has fallen short. Election after election, native-born and long-standing citizens pull the lever for climate deniers, for people who want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, for the politicians who take huge quantities of cash from the Koch brothers and other oil barons.
For white liberals, immigration is all about electing a new people to defeat white conservatives. They don't actually believe the immigrants are real human being with real behaviors that will make a difference for the environment. They're just notional tokens to be used to defeat the Real Enemy.
By contrast, a 2012 report by the Sierra Club and the National Council of La Raza found that Latinos were eager for environmental progress. Seventy-seven percent of Latino voters think climate change is already happening, compared with just 52% of the general population; 92% of Latinos think we have "a moral responsibility to take care of God's creation here on Earth."
Oh, boy ...
Even though McKibben lives in Vermont, he has no excuse to be this disingenuous about the environmental behavior of Latinos, especially illegal aliens. See this Los Angeles Times article about how they treat a mountain stream in Southern California.
Further, former Mexican foreign secretary Jorge Castaneda's most recent book pointed out that his countrymen in Mexico have zero interest in environmentalist lifestyles. They hate taking public transportation, they hate living in apartment buildings, their strongest desires are to get a single family house out in the sprawl with a bunch of big cars.
... But immigrants, by definition, are full of hope. They've come to a new place determined to make a new life, risking much for opportunity. They're confident that new kinds of prosperity are possible. The future beckons them, and so changes of the kind we'll need to deal with climate change are easier to conceive.
Republicans think immigrants are a natural fit for their party, and I hope they're at least partly right — some force needs to help ease the Republicans out of their love affair with ideology and back into a relationship with reality. As commentator Bill O'Reilly put it as he watched Mitt Romney lose despite gaining a huge majority of white votes, "it's not a traditional America anymore."
He's right. And for the environment, that's good news. We need immigrants to this nation engaged in public life, as soon and as fully as possible. It's not just the moral thing to do, it's a key to our future.
Bill McKibben is the founder of 350.org and a professor at Middlebury College.
From the Wikipedia article on Middlebury, Vermont:
The racial makeup of the town was 94.27% White, 1.09% Black or African American, 0.28% Native American, 1.87% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.66% from other races, and 1.81% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.13% of the population.
Moreover, there's the Central Paradox of American Politics: Mexicans do better under a Texas-style pro-development state than under a California-style anti-development state.
Environmentalism is expensive. Generally, expensive things are nicer than cheap things, so what's super-nice is being able to afford nice things. Having a highly skilled population of limited size helps afford nice things like environmentalism. Having a giant population of lower average skills makes it harder to afford environmentalism. This is all really obvious if you think about it from a non-Who? Whom? perspective.