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More Immigration = More Americans = Less Wilderness

-Dave Foreman, a co-founder of EarthFirst! and the founder of the Rewilding Institute, is author of Rewilding North America. He is a member of the population stabilization group Apply the Brakes.

The Big Thing facing Earth today – dwarfing all else – is the mass extinction of animals and plants unprecedented in size and scope for 65 million years, and wholly unprecedented in its cause. This ghastly crash in species abundance is happening from highest peak to deepest sea, from the poles to the equator. It is caused by one species – we humans – and our breathtaking population boom. In the last two millennia our numbers have grown nearly thirtyfold, from a mere 250 million to more than 7 billion today.

Our leap in numbers has wounded Earth in seven deadly ways. One: Direct Killing – from overfishing to slaughtering elephants for ivory. Two: Habitat Destruction – wiping out wild ecosystems. Three: Habitat Fragmentation – isolating wildlife with roads and subdivisions. Four: Upsetting Ecological and Evolutionary Processes – wildfire, river flooding, predation. Five: Spread of Exotics – disease, plants, and animals that wreak havoc on native species. Six: Biocides – from pesticides to antibiotics. Seven: Climate Chaos – driven by greenhouse gas pollution from our addiction to fossil fuels.

More people – whether rich or poor, First World or Third – make each of these wounds more deadly. But thanks to our high-flying lifestyles and unwillingness to soften them, each of us in the United States contributes disproportionately to all Seven Deadly Wounds. This is why conservationists have long called for stabilizing America’s population. Simply put, the world cannot afford more Americans.

Some 40 years ago, Americans lowered our total fertility rate from the heights of the Baby Boom down to replacement level – fewer than two children per woman. At the time, demographers thought the US might peak at 250 million people. This was not to be, due to the 1965 Immigration Act and subsequent legislation that quadrupled legal immigration and ensured continued population growth. In the 40 years since Earth Day, our numbers have shot up to more than 300 million people due mostly to an imprudent immigration policy.

Acknowledging how a growing US population threatened wild things and human well-being, conservation groups such as the Sierra Club took ethical, thoughtful stands to stabilize population. Besides encouraging Americans to have fewer children, they also called for Congress to manage immigration for no net growth.

In 1989 the Sierra Club declared: “Immigration to the US should be no greater than that which will permit achievement of population stabilization in the US.” Around the same time, The Wilderness Society wrote: “To bring population levels to ecologically sustainable levels, both birth rates and immigration rates need to be reduced.” The organizations’ policies had everything to do with the United States’ responsibility to lessen its impact on ecosystems and nothing at all to do with nativism or being anti-immigrant.

Unfortunately, conservation groups have lost the courage they had a couple of decades ago to stand up for wild nature. Now, organizations like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace are praising the Senate’s just-passed immigration “reform” bill. They are throwing their arms wide for more people, with little thought for those here now who struggle to find work, or for the wealth of wild things that need our protection more than ever.

How many more people would the Senate immigration law bring in? According to the Center for Immigration Studies, 30 to 45 million more people, on top of the 400 million currently projected by the Census Bureau for 2050. The Pew Hispanic Center forecasts that 82 percent of this growth will be from immigrants and their US-born descendants. If immigration were capped so that in-and-out migration matched (the Sierra Club’s earlier policy), the 2050 Census Bureau projection is 327 million. But the Senate bill doubles current immigration levels, blasting the 2050 population up to 445 million and putting the country on track for a population of 600 to 700 million by 2100.

No wonder the immigration boosters – right or left – never talk about numbers. The numbers are a nightmare.

What do these numbers mean? How many more tons of greenhouse gases? How many more wild acres taken over by housing, highways, shopping malls, coal mines, clear-cuts, and oil and gas drilling pads? How much more energy use? How much more water use, and the dams and groundwater pumping that’ll be required? How many other beings will we sentence to death to make way for more people? Will humanity’s footprint be allowed to stomp out the hope that is the heart of the Endangered Species Act and the Wilderness Act?

small excerpt of a poll pageReader OpinionWhat do you think: Will immigration reform help or hurt the environment?
Vote and be counted.

Failing to address these questions in any discussion of immigration is irresponsible. Why has no one called for an environmental impact statement on immigration policies? I do so now. A thorough EIS on immigration to the United States might be the most important EIS ever done. It is one way to bring all the glossed-over, ignored consequences of a rapidly growing population into full public debate.

Environmentalist cheerleaders for the Senate immigration bill talk only about supposed social justice benefits for those in the US illegally. They overlook the impacts of population growth and bite their tongues on the ecological disaster of expanding the border wall. A comprehensive immigration EIS would bring such issues to the fore.

It should be clear enough: Twice as many people in little more than one human lifetime is not a sane person’s notion of progress.

For an opposing view, read what David Foster has to say.


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Overpopulating the U.S. and Canada, two nations which together account for about half of the world’s grain exports, will do great harm to the whole world.  We must expel all illegal aliens, eliminate birthright citizenship, and reduce legal immigration by at least 80%.

By tom green on Fri, November 14, 2014 at 9:51 am

Others have also argued that permitting increased immigration to the United States will increase resource depletion since the average carbon footprint of a person living an working within the United States is vastly higher than a person living and working in majority world countries.

However, Foreman’s comments restrict themselves to inside the borders of the United States with little comment on the effects of population increase outside of the United States.  By 2050, some estimates have the world population at 9 billion, 2 billion more than today.  Where will the people go when their countries can no longer hold the population?

Perhaps a solution, although politically far-fetched, is to funnel climate change immigration to geographies that have sufficient natural resources to carry more people.

By Laura Love on Wed, October 02, 2013 at 10:44 am

Dave Foreman is a thoughtful conservationist that gets my thumbs up!  If we want wildlife, we cannot have ever growing human numbers.  I am dedicated to the immigration/population cause.  As a farm kid, I blasted squirrels in a wooded area of the Mississippi River bluff lands in southwest Wisconsin.  Since then, it has been largely bulldozed to make way for a golf course.  Such things happen repeatedly with wildlife habitat around the world. Let’s educate on population!

By Loras Holmberg on Wed, September 11, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Excellent piece by Foreman, and kudos to EIJ for publishing it.

Scientists and Environmentalists for Population Stabilization ( is a new organization that is bringing these same ideas in an aggressive way to the academic and scientific communities that often censored them in the past.

Our primary m.o. is to operate exhibitor booths at the annual meetings of diverse environmental scientific organizations. We’ll be at the North American Lake Management Society mtg in November and the American Geophysical Union mtg in December…and, they do not censor us again, at the AAAS mtg in February. Foreman’s “Man Swarm” is one of two dozen titles that we give away at every booth, along with three dozen articles, op eds, etc.

See our website for info on how to join and support us!  And spread the word!

Stuart Hurlbert, SEPS President

By Stuart Hurlbert on Mon, September 09, 2013 at 3:51 pm

The numbers mentioned 33-45 million new citizens in the next ten years totals more than the population of Canada and more that one and a half times that of Australia, I have been to both countries and enjoyed their pristine environments, both countries have booming economies and both countries have very strict and enforced immigration laws. More people does not mean a better life for us, with the raise of immigration in the mid sixties and the seven amnesties since 1986 we are not sustainable leading to the high unemployment levels, government dependency and a deteriorating invironment.

By Pete Mervyn on Mon, September 09, 2013 at 7:27 am

It totally astounds me that more media coverage isn’t provided to promote the very sound principles that Dave Foreman is providing here.

By Bob Bennett on Mon, September 09, 2013 at 4:48 am

Thank you for addressing this issue. Population growth and the ramifications of that growth are serious threats to our environment. That used to be almost ‘common knowledge’, but now no one even mentions it these days. Our irresponsible immigration policies have been responsible for much of the increased population growth in this country in recent decades. Any environmental organization that supports increased population growth is not protecting our environment. I agree, an EIS for comprehensive immigration reform Senate bill is definitely in order. People need to know the environmental, and societal, consequences of increasing our population to such high levels.

By Janice Hill on Sun, September 08, 2013 at 9:25 pm

I agree with Mr. Foreman.  Overpopulating the U.S. and Canada, two nations which together account for about half of the world’s grain exports, will do great harm to the whole world.  We must expel all illegal aliens, eliminate birthright citizenship, and reduce legal immigration by at least 80%.  Additionally, our foreign aid programs should focus on providing inexpensive family planning and contraception to nations with high birthrates.

By James Bowen on Sun, September 08, 2013 at 9:16 pm

It’s unquestionable that explosive population growth has a deadly (literally) impact on the environment and on wildlife in particular.

By Maurizio Magnani on Sun, September 08, 2013 at 4:51 pm

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