The birthrate in many European countries, plus the US, is below the sustainable level. Without immigration, their population would decline steadily. From an environmental standpoint, this is a good thing. Scientists tell us that the world population is in “overshoot,” far above a level that can be sustained indefinitely. The limit is probably around two billion people, and we are now approaching four times that many.
The reason that world population is still increasing while some nations are below Zero Population Growth (ZPG) is that many nations, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, are still growing rapidly due to their high birth rates. The governments in many of those countries are happy to export their excess population. Those who are willing to leave are probably the people who would be most likely to oppose the tyrants who run many of those countries.
Historically, the wealthy countries have been happy to take in the people trying to escape from those countries. They provide cheap labor and do many of the jobs that citizens don’t want to do, like crop harvesting. As long as the flow of immigrants was tolerable, everything was fine.
But conditions in many of those countries have worsened for a number of reasons. Climate change has desertified food-producing areas, political unrest has resulted in oppression of minorities, and the general poverty level has increased due to the pressure of the increasing population. As a result, the flow of immigrants to western nations has increased to a torrent. Immigration facilities are swamped, and many immigrants are so desperate that they break the law and enter countries illegally, or they enter legally on a temporary visa, and then overstay their visas. It is estimated that we have over ten million immigrants living here illegally. That number has dropped about 20% since its peak in 2006. Most of the “illegals” have lived here for more than ten years, and the majority of them are working, raising their families and obeying the laws. They are not murderers, rapists or gang members, and they are not on welfare, as some, including our President, have claimed.
This is not a crisis, certainly not a “national emergency,” but there is a limit to the number of immigrants the wealthy nations can take in. It is clear that it is up to the developed nations to lead the rest of the world to a sustainable population. All nations need to limit population growth. But when they do not, what can be done? How can we limit the number of babies being born in Somalia or Afghanistan or Niger, a West African country where the average number of births for a woman is over seven? The problem is exacerbated by the two major world religions that are adamantly opposed to any efforts to limit births. The recent re-imposition of the Global Gag Rule by the Trump Administration is an example of shooting yourself in the foot. It is in our national interest to help other nations limit their population growth, but religious interests in this country are preventing us from doing that.Even immigration defeats environmental efforts. When immigrants come here from Third World countries, they adopt western lifestyles. Their environmental impact increases by a factor ranging from four to sixteen!
We are faced with a dilemma, and some nasty choices: If we stop, or greatly limit, immigration, we condemn many desperate people to misery…oppression, starvation and death. But if we let them in, we jeopardize the long-term sustainability of mankind. We cannot take them in indefinitely. Eventually, there has to be a limit to how much we can allow our population to increase. We will have to put a stop to most immigration at some point.
As the flow of immigrants slows to a trickle, more problems will arise. Our aging population will not provide enough workers, although the increasingly sophisticated automation of many jobs will lessen the number of workers needed. Still, many of the social programs, like Social Security, are dependent on the continuing contributions from workers. Already, the need for shoring up these programs is looming.
The combination of the three problems…population, environment and immigration…presents a dauntingly complex dilemma for us in the wealthy nations: How can we balance our humanitarian instincts with environmental concerns, so that the results will best serve our own own interests as well as the future of humanity?
AFTERWORD – I did not address the anti-immigrant issues raised by racists, xenophobes and white supremacists, nor those raised by climate change deniers or family-planning opponents. Those arguments don’t lend themselves to rational discussion or debate, and I did not want to encourage their proponents to pontificate here. I doubt that I will be completely successful in that regard.