More Americans = Less Wilderness


For decades, federal immigration laws have been a hot-button issue. Nearly 55 years ago, on October 3, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Although few could have imagined it at the time, the ensuing decades would be rife with contentious debates about immigration and its impact on U.S. society. Both expansionists and those who favor less immigration make compelling arguments.

But, because the agenda-less U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey provides irrefutable data, few dispute immigration’s effect on population growth. Expansionists prefer not to talk about the link between immigration and population growth, but they dare not challenge it. In February, the Census Bureau projected that within the next four decades, about 75 million more people will live in the U.S., a total population of more than 400 million, up from the nation’s current 330 million. The Bureau attributes more than 85 percent of the 75 million increase to immigration, and births to immigrants.

Yet expansionists keep proposing illogical arguments for more people. In California, the Victorville Daily Press published an op-ed written by Mario Lopez that advocated for more immigration. Keep in mind that California is besieged with affordable housing shortages, a growing homeless count, raging wildfires, water shortages, and the nation’s worst income inequality rate. In Victorville specifically, 23 percent of the city’s 122,400 predominantly Hispanic residents live in poverty, and only 55 percent are in the civilian labor force. Lopez should explain how a larger immigrant population will help his neighbors find jobs that will enable them to climb out of poverty.

Pro-growth arguments more ill-conceived than Lopez’s have recently appeared in mainstream publications. Jennifer Wright, political editor at-large for Harper’s Bazaar, inferred that the U.S. could have a more generous immigration policy because the globe’s 7.8 billion people could fit into Texas. The U.S. has plenty of room, Wright foolishly contends. Wright’s preposterous theory might be true technically, assuming that people are willing to live on top of each other, but because of insufficient water, food and inadequate sanitation, among other items, most would be dead within a short period. Ditto for plants and animals.

Environmentalists, however, hammer home the reality – the U.S. cannot have high immigration levels and, at the same time, protect its national resources or its residents’ quality of life. Author Dave Foreman, founder of Rewilding Earth, expressed the risks of high immigration to the U.S. and its environment in his concise formula:

More Immigration = More Americans = Less Wilderness.

Foreman’s message is somber, but important. Unequivocally, Foreman blames humans and their “breathtaking population boom” for the what he calls the unprecedented mass extinction of plants and animals. As one of hundreds of examples, consider North Carolina Natural Heritage Program’s Wesley Knapp, one of 16 expert botanists whose findings the international journal, “Conservation Biology,” published.

Knapp’s team found that most of the 65 documented plant extinctions occurred in the western U.S., a region that botanists rarely explore and which has been relentlessly developed over the last three decades. Because many extinctions likely occurred before scientists explored the area, it is extremely likely the 65 documented extinctions vastly underestimate the actual numbers of plant species that have been lost.

Achieving sustainability becomes more elusive daily, and the U.S. is running out of time. A study from the Center for American Progress titled “How Much Nature Should America Keep?” found that “The U.S. has lost the equivalent of nine Grand Canyon national parks, or 24 million acres (9,712,455.41 hectares) of natural area, between 2001 and 2017 due to agriculture, energy development, housing sprawl and other human factors….”

Sensible immigration totals must be all Americans’ goal, not a cause for political divide. Policies that limit immigration to sustainable levels aren’t anti-immigrant; existing lawfully present immigrants would be a primary beneficiary of less immigration.

Years ago physicist and sustainability champion Al Bartlett posed a question that today’s expansionists should answer:

“Can you think of any problem in any area of human endeavor on any scale, from
microscopic to global, whose long-term solution is in any demonstrable way aided,
assisted, or advanced by further increases in population, locally, nationally, or globally?”

Expansionists and proponents of reduced immigration should be willing to enter into a respectful dialogue that seeks the answer to Bartlett’s important query.