An Environmental Impact Statement on U.S. Immigration Levels

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By Leon Kolankiewicz, CAPS Senior Writing Fellow
January 2017

CAPS JOINS LAWSUIT ON ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF IMMIGRATION

In October 2016, seven CAPS activists joined a federal lawsuit filed by the Washington, D.C.- based Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for failure to properly comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

CAPS president Dick Schneider, executive director Jo Wideman, former executive director Ric Oberlink, advisory board member Richard D. Lamm, former board member Stuart Hurlbert, and senior writing fellows Don Rosenberg and Claude Willey all provided affidavits for the IRLI lawsuit complaint, affirming how immigration policy, nonenforcement of immigration laws, and immigration-driven population growth have adversely affected their lives, in personal and sometimes profoundly harmful ways. IRLI filed the lawsuit, Whitewater Draw Natural Resource Conservation District v. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

For nearly half a century, since its enactment on January 1, 1970 (the same year as the first Earth Day), NEPA has required all federal agencies considering a “proposed action” – which may be a policy, program, project or permit – that could potentially affect the “human environment” to assess those potential effects and disclose the results of that analysis to the public. The most detailed such assessment is called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Neither the DHS nor its predecessor agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), has ever considered or analyzed the enormous impacts to the human environment caused by the population growth generated by legal and illegal immigration, as required by NEPA.

According to IRLI, between 1990 and 2010, the U.S. population grew by more than 60 million people due to “expansive immigration policies and lax enforcement.” This population growth resulted in significant environmental impacts in a number of ways. Yet even during this period of hyper-immigration on a virtually unprecedented and historic scale, DHS and INS flouted NEPA’s mandate to evaluate the environmental impacts of their policies.

Even more disturbing, America’s total population is projected to increase to 441 million by 2065 – an increase of more than 115 million from our 2016 population. That means our country will have to absorb about three times the population of California, by far our most populous state! Demographers estimate that immigration will account for 88 percent of this growth. To ignore the environmental impacts of these immigration rates is unacceptable, and according to IRLI’s lawsuit, contrary to federal environmental law.

NEGLECTING NEPA’S OWN POLICY DECLARATION ON THE “PROFOUND INFLUENCE” OF POPULATION

America’s population is much larger today – by perhaps as much as 50 million – than it would have been had not U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy persuaded Congress and President Lyndon Johnson to support comprehensive immigration reform in 1965, opening the floodgates to modern mass immigration. The legislation’s supporters insisted that their aim was not to increase the volume of immigration, but simply to make it more diverse and geographically inclusive. Yet in a perfect illustration of the law of unintended consequences, the volume of immigration surged from about 300,000 to about 1.2 million per year, a four-fold increase.

As a result of the flood of immigration that ill-fated 1965 legislation began to unleash half a century ago, and the chain migration en masse it set into motion, America inadvertently – and without the explicit approval of Americans – lurched onto a dramatically different and much higher demographic trajectory. This ominous new path replaced eventual population stabilization as a result of a voluntary decline in average family size with rapid, unending and unsustainable population growth. Because of that portentous and illconsidered act half a century ago, U.S. population has now skyrocketed to 325 million, headed for 400 million and more by mid-century, and over half a billion by 2100. If the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (Hart-Celler Act) had never been enacted, the U.S. population would never have even topped 300 million.

This perpetual population growth produces staggering, ever-larger environmental impacts, for the simple reason that every single American consumer – native-born and immigrant alike – uses natural resources like food, fiber, minerals, energy and water, and generates wastes or pollutants, ranging from sewage effluent and solid waste to carbon dioxide, mercury and mine tailings. In general then, more humans signify more environmental impacts.

NEPA has been dubbed America’s “environmental Magna Carta.” NEPA acknowledges the direct causal link between population size and environmental degradation. Title I of NEPA, the “Declaration of National Environmental Policy,” begins: “The Congress, recognizing the profound impact of man’s activity on the interrelations of all components of the environment, particularly the profound influences of population growth…” [emphasis added].

NEPA requires all federal agencies to analyze and publicly disclose the potential environmental impacts of their actions. Yet oddly, in spite of the statute’s own recognition that population growth in and of itself causes “profound” environmental impacts, NEPA has never been applied to federal actions increasing immigration rates that have vastly engorged America’s population.

In view of this glaring omission, the Washington, D.C.-based ally of CAPS, Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), resolved to prepare its own NEPA-inspired EIS on the long-term and cumulative environmental consequences of immigration policy. PFIR published a Draft EIS in 2015 and a Final EIS in 2016.

ASSESSING THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF U.S. IMMIGRATION LEVELS

The EIS assesses six types of potential long-term environmental impacts associated with three alternative immigration scenarios:

1. No Action Alternative,
in which current immigration rates of approximately 1.25 million per year would be maintained to the year 2100

2. Expansion Alternative,
or 2.25 million annual immigration

3. Reduction Alternative, or 0.25 million (250,000) annual immigration.

This range of reasonable alternatives corresponds to approximate actual immigration rates at present (the No Action Alternative), as well as proposals and legislation for either increasing or decreasing immigration rates. The three alternatives each vary by 1 million immigrants annually.

Under the No Action Alternative, 1.25 million annual immigration into the United States would lead to a population of 524 million in 2100, an increase of 215 million (70 percent) over the 2010 population of 309 million (see Table 1). Under the Expansion Alternative, 2.25 million annual immigration would result in a U.S. population of 669 million in 2100, an increase of 360 million (117 percent) above the 2010 population of 309 million. Under the Reduction Alternative, 250,000 (0.25 million) annual immigration would lead to a U.S. population of 379 million in 2100, an increase of 70 million (23 percent) above the 2010 population of 309 million.

Potential environmental impacts for each of the three immigration alternatives were assessed in six relevant categories:

  1. Urban sprawl and loss of farmland
  2. Habitat loss and impacts on biodiversity
  3. Water demands and withdrawals from natural systems
  4. Carbon dioxide emissions and resultant climate change
  5. Energy demands and national security implications
  6. International ecological impacts of U.S. immigration policies.

URBAN SPRAWL AND LOSS OF FARMLAND

No Action Alternative –
1.25 million annual immigration

The No Action Alternative would entail the development of 79 million additional acres or 123,438 square miles of formerly rural land, an area bigger than New Mexico, our fifth largest state, or about equal to the combined size of Kentucky, Indiana, South Carolina and West Virginia. Large swaths of America would lose their rural character and “feel.”

Farmland tends to be flat, and flatlands are easier and cheaper to develop than hillsides. Because of the proximity of urban areas to large amounts of farmland, where it lies directly in the path of sprawling development, much of the acreage for the new development necessitated by 215 million more residents will likely come from America’s productive agricultural land base.



Overall, the effect of the No Action Alternative on suburban sprawl and farmland loss would be adverse, significant and long-term. This alternative would substantially reduce future U.S. food security.

Expansion Alternative –
2.25 million annual immigration

Under the Expansion Alternative, 113 million acres of developed land in 2010 are projected to increase to 245 million acres by 2100. This would be about equal in area to Texas and New Mexico combined, that is, our second and fifth largest states. Urbanized or developed land would increase from 7.6 percent of all non-federal lands in 2010 to 17 percent in 2100 (compared to 13 percent under the No Action Alternative). Still larger swaths of rural America would forever be converted to urbanized areas and lose their rustic character and “feel” than in the No Action Alternative. Even extensive areas of the country that would still be officially designated “rural” under the classification systems of the Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture would nonetheless be under the marked influence of adjacent developed areas and would lose some of their rural feel.

Overall, the effect of the Expansion Alternative on suburban sprawl and farmland loss would be highly adverse, significant and long-term. It would likely be associated with the permanent disappearance of tens of millions of additional acres of farmland (cropland, pastureland and rangeland) to urbanization. While the sustainability of many current agricultural practices is questionable, surviving farmland and soils remaining in cultivation or under grazing regimes would be subjected to even more intensive pressures and practices in order to maintain productivity at all costs. In itself, this is likely untenable and unsustainable over the long run. This alternative would drastically reduce future U.S. food security.

Reduction Alternative –
250,000 (0.25 million) annual immigration

Under the Reduction Alternative, the nation’s built-up area would expand by 25.7 million acres to 139 million acres in aggregate by the year 2100. Table 2 compares the total area of all development acreage for all three alternatives in 2050 and 2100.

Overall, the effect of the Reduction Alternative on suburban sprawl and farmland loss would be adverse, significant and long-term. Even though all three alternatives are rated as “adverse, significant and long-term,” the Reduction Alternative is quantitatively and qualitatively much less adverse than the No Action and Expansion alternatives. Table 3 shows projected losses of cropland by 2050 and 2100 under the three alternatives evaluated in the PFIR EIS.

HABITAT LOSS AND IMPACTS ON BIODIVERSITY

In the U.S. and globally, human population growth is a direct cause of habitat loss. It is also a direct and indirect cause of adverse impacts on biodiversity, that is, on the number and variety of organisms and ecosystems that are found on Planet Earth, the only planet in our solar system and galaxy known at present to nurture life.

On the optimistic side, the PFIR EIS assumes a net 30 percent lower per capita impact from each American on habitat loss and biodiversity, so that if today’s per capita impact is set at 1.0, by 2100 it would be reduced to 0.7. On the pessimistic side, per capita impact would be 30 percent higher, or 1.3 by 2100. This range from 0.7 to 1.3 may be too cautious, but it is also realistic and reasonable.

No Action Alternative –
1.25 million annual immigration

Under the No Action Alternative, a first-order approximation of the general impacts or demographic pressures on habitats and biodiversity of this immigration-induced population growth is that these impacts and pressures would range from 1.2 to 2.2 times greater than they are at present. Figure 3 illustrates the broad types of effects that American consumers in aggregate would have on habitats and biodiversity from increased U.S. population size induced by immigration “pathways to perdition” depict some of the more important routes by which increased aggregate American consumption from a population that is 70 percent larger would cause additional harm to natural habitats, wildlife and biodiversity. This diagram is not meant to be thorough or exhaustive, merely suggestive. It divides impacts into two broad categories: 1) those flowing from consuming or using natural resources – including energy, water and raw materials such as minerals, and land – and 2) those flowing from residuals or wastes excreted back into the environment by economic processes.

Overall, the effect of the No Action Alternative on habitats and biodiversity would be adverse, significant and long-term. It would likely be associated with the permanent loss of at least an additional 50 to 75 million acres (80,000 to 120,000 square miles) of wildlife habitat directly to development (sprawl and urbanization). A much larger area of habitat – forestland, wetlands, desert, shrub-scrub, tundra, alpine, riparian and grasslands – would be vulnerable to degradation from increased environmental pressures and stresses associated with a human population that is 70 percent larger.

Expansion Alternative –
2.25 million annual immigration

The Expansion Alternative would result in a net, aggregate effect on habitats and biodiversity ranging from approximately 1.5 to 3 times greater than it is today. This is not to say that 1.5 to 3 times the number of wildlife species would necessarily be threatened with extinction, or that habitats would be reduced by 1.5 to 3 times. Rather, a first-order approximation of the general impacts or demographic pressures on habitats and biodiversity of this immigration induced population growth is that these impacts and pressures would range from about 1.5 to 3 times greater than they are at present.

Overall, the effect of the Expansion Alternative on habitats and biodiversity would be highly adverse, significant and long-term. It would likely be associated with the permanent loss of at least an additional 65 to 120 million acres (100,000 to 190,000 square miles) of wildlife habitat directly to development. A much larger area of habitat – forestland, wetlands, desert, shrub-scrub, tundra, alpine, riparian and grasslands – would be vulnerable to degradation from increased environmental pressures and stresses associated with a human population that is 117 percent (2.2 times) larger. Increasingly, the more pressing needs and demands of human beings are likely to be pitted against those of wilderness, wildlife and biodiversity, and in these instances, when push comes to shove, wilderness, wildlife and biodiversity tend to lose out, because they have no votes or political and economic clout of their own.

Reduction Alternative –
250,000 (0.25 million) annual immigration

The Reduction Alternative would lead to a net, aggregate effect on habitats and biodiversity ranging from approximately 0.8 to 1.6 times what it is today. The “0.8” means that under optimistic assumptions as to the interaction of economic growth and efficiency improvements, as well as the most optimistic population projection of the PFIR EIS (although one that still leads to population growth of 70 million people by 2100), overall aggregate human pressures on natural habitats and biodiversity would actually ease by about 20 percent between now and 2100.

Overall, the effect of the Reduction Alternative on habitats and biodiversity would still be adverse, significant and long-term. It would likely be associated with the permanent loss of at least an additional 35 to 65 million acres of wildlife habitat directly to development, but this is much less than the predicted habitat losses of the No Action and Expansion alternatives.

If the American people and the federal government were to endorse the Reduction Alternative, impacts on habitat and biodiversity would still be significantly adverse and likely greater than they are at the present time. However, these impacts would be much less than those of the No Action Alternative or the Expansion Alternative. Moreover, by 2100, the U.S. population would have stopped growing and stabilized under the Reduction Alternative, whereas under both the No Action and Expansion alternatives, it would still be growing rapidly with no end in sight. Thus, in the other two alternatives, the demographic component of increasing anthropogenic stresses on wildlands, wilderness, habitat and biodiversity would also still be growing with no end in sight.

WATER DEMANDS AND WITHDRAWALS FROM NATURAL SYSTEMS

For the purposes of the PFIR EIS, it was assumed that water efficiency, conservation, recycling and reuse can reduce aggregate per capita consumption of water by 25 percent, the amount by which California cities were to reduce their consumption in 2015 because of the prolonged, severe drought in that state.

No Action Alternative –
1.25 million annual immigration

Under the No Action Alternative, total nationwide water demand (as opposed to actual consumption) would still increase by 27 percent between 2010 and 2100. Demand is differentiated from actual consumption, because due to likely shortages, it may well not be possible to meet actual demand, or pressure to consume.

Overall, the net effect of the No Action Alternative on water demands and withdrawals from natural systems would be adverse, significant and longterm. The degree of severity of this effect would vary from region to region, with impacts in the Southwest and Southeast being the most severe and other regions less so. While watersaving practices and technologies could to an appreciable extent ameliorate the adverse effects on water resources of adding 215 million more Americans, they would not entirely eliminate them.

If population were not growing so robustly, then savings from widespread implementation of water conservation and efficiency would allow more water to be retained, rather than withdrawn from aquatic ecosystems. This in turn would benefit the flora and fauna of these natural systems, as well as restore and enhance the diminished levels of ecosystem services they currently furnish to society.

Expansion Alternative –
2.25 million annual immigration

Under the Expansion Alternative, total nationwide water demand (as opposed to actual consumption) would increase by 62 percent between 2010 and 2100. If 1) the Expansion Alternative is chosen by the U.S. and 2) regional demographic trends of the past half-century persist for the remainder of this century (to 2100), then both the Southwest and Southeast would undergo a tripling or more of their current populations at the same time that each region has less water available, and in the case of the Southwest, much less water available than at present. Both of these regions are already experiencing severe water quantity and quality problems. In the future, these problems for the two most rapidly growing regions in the country would intensify enormously under the Expansion Alternative.

Overall, the net effect of the Expansion Alternative on water demands and withdrawals from natural systems would be highly adverse, significant and long-term. The degree of severity of this effect would vary from region to region, with impacts in the Southwest and Southeast being the most severe and other regions less so.

Reduction Alternative –
250,000 (0.25 million) annual immigration

Under the Reduction Alternative, total aggregate nationwide water demand would actually decrease by 8 percent between 2010 and 2100. This is the only one of the three alternatives that actually leads to a net reduction in the total aggregate nationwide water demand and perhaps consumption as well by the year 2100.

Overall, the net effect of the Reduction Alternative on water demands and withdrawals from natural systems – provided that per capita water consumption were actually decreased by 25 percent as assumed – would be modestly but significantly beneficial. With the notable exception of two regions in particular, the Southwest and the Southeast, demands on the water resource, and subsequent withdrawals from aquatic ecosystems, would actually remain approximately constant or even decrease. This would allow more water to be retained “instream,” increasing the flow not just of surface freshwater but also of ecosystems services provided to society by waters of the U.S., including wetlands.

CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS AND RESULTANT CLIMATE CHANGE

The “global human enterprise,” reflecting growing population, economic production and consumption supported by rising fossil fuel consumption (and deforestation), has now reached such a scale or magnitude that it is tipping the balance or affecting the equilibrium of the global carbon cycle.

The Kaya identity, named for Japanese energy economist Yoichi Kaya, states that aggregate climate-forcing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to the atmosphere can be expressed as the product of four factors or inputs: population, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, energy use per unit of GDP and CO2 emissions per unit of energy consumed. In the Kaya identity, population size serves as a multiplier of each of the other factors.

Total emissions = population × (GDP/population) × (energy/GDP) × (emissions/energy)

Unsurprisingly then, U.S. population growth is broadly correlated with growing American CO2 emissions.

No Action Alternative –
1.25 million annual immigration

Under the No Action and other alternatives, the environmental consequences related to CO2 emissions would be indirect and cumulative, not direct. Also, because climate change is a global phenomenon being caused by other peoples and countries as well as Americans, to a great extent, unless there is concerted international action led and supported by the U.S., we will suffer the consequences of global warming regardless of the size of our own CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions.

Given the complexity and uncertainty surrounding the absolute values of the factors in the Kaya identity, especially up to 85 years in the future, all the PFIR EIS could predict and quantify with some confidence is the magnitude of upward pressure on CO2 emissions exerted by the U.S. population growth that would occur under each of the three alternatives under consideration. The No Action Alternative would entail a U.S. population 70 percent above the 2010 population of 309 million. Thus, there would be 70 percent greater upward pressure on CO2 emissions under this alternative.

The No Action Alternative would more or less correspond to the “Business As Usual” (BAU) scenario in terms of global CO2 and other GHG emissions. The BAU scenario appears headed to push the planet towards an average warming of 4°C or more by 2100. The effects of a 4°C warming would be asymmetrical (unevenly distributed) around the world; nor would these effects merely be a simple extension of those experienced at a 2°C average warming.

There would likely be a dramatic increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme temperatures and severe weather events. Over the past decade, such extreme heat waves have caused severe impacts, including many thousands of heat related deaths, widespread forest fires and large crop losses. The impacts of the extreme heat waves projected for a 4°C warmer world are anticipated to dwarf the consequences that have been felt to date. They could well exceed the adaptive capacities of many societies and ecosystems.

The risks of a 4°C warmer world to agriculture and food production, freshwater availability, ecosystems and human health would be severe. In addition, the risk of ecosystem disruption as a result of ecosystem shifts, wildfires and forest dieback would be significantly higher. Increased exposure to heat and drought would stress entire forest ecosystems and likely lead to increased mortality and species extirpation and extinction (of both flora and fauna). Ecosystems would be affected by more frequent weather extremes.

A warming of 4°C or higher by 2100 would correspond to an increase of about 150 percent in the acidity of the ocean. The observed and projected rates of change in ocean acidity over the next century appear to be unparalleled in the known history of the Earth. Evidence is already accumulating of the adverse effects of acidification for marine organisms and ecosystems, combined with the adverse effects of ocean warming, overfishing and habitat destruction. By 2100, warming of 4°C would likely signify a sea-level rise of 0.5 to 1 meter (20 to 39 inches), and possibly more; in addition, several additional meters of rise would occur in the coming centuries, already locked into place by past warming.

Overall, the net effect of the No Action Alternative on CO2 emissions and global climate change would be adverse, significant and longterm. To reiterate and underscore, neither the immigration rates nor the concomitant U.S. population growth associated with the No Action Alternative would be entirely responsible for U.S. CO2 emissions in 2100, nor the cumulative increase of CO2 in the atmosphere by that date, nor the cumulative impact of those elevated CO2 and other GHG concentrations on global warming and the myriad, wide-ranging and long-term adverse environmental impacts linked to higher atmospheric temperatures and ocean acidification.

Expansion Alternative –
2.25 million annual immigration

Under the Expansion Alternative, it can be stated with 100 percent certainty that upward pressure on U.S. CO2 emissions would be substantially higher than under the No Action Alternative, to wit, 117 percent greater versus 70 percent greater. That is, if each of the other three factors in the Kaya identity were to remain unchanged, U.S. CO2 emissions in 2100 would be 117 percent higher than they are today. This outcome is depicted graphically in Figure 8 by the proportionally larger CO2 molecule. The same adverse and destabilizing climatic and ecological effects described under the No Action Alternative would also occur under the Expansion Alternative, probably to an even greater degree, although to a large extent that would depend on actions and activities in the rest of the world.

Overall, the net effect of the Expansion Alternative on CO2 emissions and global climate change would be adverse, significant and long-term. With a population more than double that of today’s (669 million vs. 325 million), which would result under the Expansion Alternative, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the U.S. to drastically reduce its CO2 emissions, and thus make a constructive contribution to the global partnership urgently needed to address the climate predicament.

Reduction Alternative –
250,000 (0.25 million) annual immigration

Under the Reduction Alternative, upward pressure on U.S. CO2 emissions would be substantially lower than under either the No Action Alternative or the Expansion Alternative, to wit: 23 percent greater for the Reduction Alternative, versus 70 percent greater for the No Action Alternative, and 117 percent greater for the Expansion Alternative. That is, if each of the other three factors in the Kaya identity were to remain unchanged, under the Reduction Alternative, U.S. CO2 emissions in 2100 would be 23 percent higher than they are today.

Overall, the net effect of the Reduction Alternative on CO2 emissions and global climate change would still be adverse, significant and long-term. Nevertheless, under the Reduction Alternative, in contrast to the No Action and Expansion alternatives, it would be far more feasible for the U.S. to make a constructive contribution to the global partnership urgently needed to address the climate predicament.

ENERGY DEMANDS AND NATIONAL SECURITY IMPLICATIONS

The amount of energy used by the U.S. in 2050 and 2100 will be a function of the size of the population and the economy, as well as “energy intensity,” that is, the amount of energy use per capita and per dollar of GDP.

For the purposes of the PFIR EIS analysis, it was assumed that the Energy Information Administration’s reference case for decreasing energy intensity per capita continues through 2050 and all the way to the year 2100. Per capita energy consumption in 2100 would be approximately 70 percent of what it was in 2010. In other words, as a result of continually increasing energy efficiency, structural changes in the economy and changing lifestyles, the average American in 2100 would consume 30 percent less primary energy every year than in 2010, in spite of economic growth, which tends to increase the production and consumption of goods and services that use energy.

No Action Alternative –
1.25 million annual immigration

Under the No Action Alternative, total U.S. primary energy consumption would increase from 98 quadrillion BTUs (quads) in 2010 to 117 quads by 2100, an increase of “only” 19 percent. It is highly doubtful whether this level of aggregate national energy consumption is sustainable. While with technical advances and breakthroughs, as well as sustained political and public commitment, the nation could perhaps conceivably meet this level of energy consumption entirely with renewables, this would occur at great cost to land and visual resources, habitat and wildlife. In addition, components of renewables such as wind, solar and advanced batteries are made of scarce, nonrenewable and exhaustible raw materials (rare earth elements and other rare and costly metals). Their long-term durability has yet to be persuasively established.

In the coming decades and perhaps for the next half century or so, U.S. security and the domestic economy will be increasingly at risk to disruptions in the flow of oil from politically turbulent and war-torn regions of the world such as the Middle East, where most of the world’s remaining conventional oil reserves and resources are located. Other oil-exporting countries such as Russia and Venezuela have tense and often hostile relations with the U.S. and our allies and could well use oil (and natural gas in the case of Russia) as a geopolitical weapon; they have done so before.

The domestic fracking boom that has recently increased U.S. crude oil and natural gas output and provided somewhat of a hiatus from high prices and a reprieve from import dependency is not expected to last more than a couple of decades, after which our vulnerability will worsen once more. Furthermore, rapidly growing demand for oil by China, India and other developing countries will increase competition for the world’s remaining relatively low-cost conventional oil. Rapid population growth under the No Action Alternative will increase demand for oil and exacerbate U.S. insecurity and vulnerability. However, by the year 2100, both domestic and foreign sources of oil will have largely been exhausted, and there will be little or nothing left to fight over.

Overall, the net effect of the No Action Alternative on energy demands and energy security would be adverse, significant and long-term.

Expansion Alternative –
2.25 million annual immigration

Under the Expansion Alternative, U.S. primary energy consumption would rise to 149 quads by 2100, an increase of 52 percent over 2010 energy consumption. It is highly implausible that this level of aggregate national energy consumption will be attainable or sustainable.

For one thing, while 149 quads represent a 52 percent increase in aggregate consumption from 2010, it would require a doubling of domestic energy production (from about 75 quads to 149 quads). By 2100, the oil imports that now cover the deficit between domestic energy production and consumption will have essentially ceased, so that all energy consumed in the U.S. will have to be produced here.

In 85 years, economic reserves of the nonrenewable fossil fuels that now comprise about 80 percent of U.S. energy production and consumption will be largely if not entirely exhausted. Thus, if 149 quads of primary energy are to be produced, it would have to be from some combination of nuclear power, biofuels and non-hydroelectric renewable energy sources. (There is very little scope for increasing largescale hydroelectric capacity; hydroelectricity generated in 2100 will probably decline as reservoirs gradually lose water storage due to sedimentation.) Nuclear power and biofuels are tightly constrained for different reasons. In 2010, non-hydroelectric renewables accounted for about two quads. To suggest that energy production from solar, wind and other sources could increase on the order of 50 to 75 times over the coming 85 years to reach a total of 149 quads strains credulity.

Even more so than in the case of the No Action Alternative, while through the miracle of innovation the U.S. might possibly be able to attain this level of energy production entirely with renewables, this would happen only by converting a large fraction of the American landscape into a colossal electricity generator harnessing clean and renewable wind and photons. That is, much of the countryside would have to be covered with solar panels, wind turbines and transmission lines. Components of wind turbines, solar panels and advanced batteries depend upon scarce, unevenly distributed, nonrenewable raw materials subject to depletion such as europium, terbium, neodynium and lithium. The multi-generational longevity and sustainability of these devices has yet to be demonstrated. Indeed, some geochemists refer to photovoltaic solar as “semi-renewable,” because “the energy collected is renewable, but the materials in the technology are not.”

One likely casualty, among many wildlife species, of renewable energy development on this colossal scale is the golden eagle. Spinning wind turbine blades and power lines are even now, at current scale, major sources of mortality for this raptor. An order of magnitude or more increase in the presence of these artificial structures on the Western landscape would surely have a pronounced harmful effect on the golden eagle population.

In the coming decades and perhaps for the next half century or so, until foreign oil resources are too depleted to produce and export, U.S. national security will be even more compromised under the Expansion Alternative because of the much larger population and oil demand it would result in.

Overall, the net effect of the Expansion Alternative on energy would be highly adverse, significant and long-term. An alternative that more than doubles the number of energy consumers in the U.S. would exert much greater stress on our energy resources and generate far greater impact on the American environment from the intensified exploitation of those resources that would be necessary to meet the needs of consumers and the economy.

Reduction Alternative –
250,000 (0.25 million) annual immigration

Under the Reduction Alternative, total primary energy consumption in the U.S. would actually decline from 98 quads in 2010 to 85 quads by 2100, a decrease of about 13 percent. This rate of energy consumption is a much more favorable and manageable situation – and one with much lower environmental impact – than under the No Action Alternative (117 quads) or the Expansion Alternative (149 quads). However, even this level of energy consumption may not be realistic over the long term when one considers that more than four out of every five quads of our energy consumption today come from fossil fuels, which will need to have been largely replaced by 2100.

Overall, the net effect of the Reduction Alternative on energy would be adverse, moderately significant and long-term. Of the three alternatives considered, this one would entail by far the least adverse impacts related to energy resources and their development. It would also have the most favorable implications for national and energy security, reducing demand for and dependence on foreign oil in the coming decades, although by the year 2100, there will be little or no foreign oil left to import at affordable prices.

INTERNATIONAL ECOLOGICAL IMPACTS OF U.S. IMMIGRATION POLICIES

U.S. consumption and population growth impact the natural resources and environment not just of U.S. territory itself but of the lands, natural resources, environments and (often indigenous or tribal) residents of other countries and continents. Many of the raw materials, resources and manufactured products used directly or indirectly by American consumers originate overseas and are imported into the U.S. as part of international trade.

American industry and consumers are “outsourcing” the pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, environmental damage and human health effects associated with an enormous amount of drilling, digging, blasting, mining, manufacturing and harvesting – often under primitive conditions with little environmental oversight – that provides goods and services for our domestic consumption. More Americans will raise demand for imports and trigger more associated impacts in those countries that export to us.

Similarly, U.S. consumption itself, primarily of the fossil fuels, releases large amounts of carbon dioxide that are contributing to climate change and concomitant widespread detrimental ecological effects around the biosphere. Many of these effects are being experienced most acutely in the developing world and by poorer, marginalized populations.

No Action Alternative –
1.25 million annual immigration

Under the No Action Alternative, the potential for international ecological impacts from aggregate U.S. consumption in 2100 would be up to 70 percent greater than in 2010. The U.S. economy would likely import more raw materials, food and manufactured goods, the production of which would entail substantial adverse environmental effects in the countries of origin.

Effects would include the impacts of mining and forestry activities on the landscape, wildlife habitat, water quality, human health and the well-being of indigenous peoples. Impacts would also occur on air quality and human health from pollutants emitted by factories producing goods for export to the U.S. Furthermore, there would likely be a comparable increase in U.S. carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, as well as upward pressure on our ecological footprint, both of which have international or global ramifications.

Overall international ecological effects of this alternative would be adverse, significant and long-term.

Expansion Alternative –
2.25 million annual immigration

Under the Expansion Alternative, international ecological impacts of aggregate U.S. consumption in 2100 would be more than twice (approximately 117 percent) as great as in 2010. With a much larger population, all of the effects under the Expansion Alternative would be magnified even further in order to just maintain U.S. consumption and living standards, to say nothing of increasing them. While there would likely be positive economic effects in exporting countries from supplying much larger U.S. imports, there would be correspondingly larger environmental impacts as well. Furthermore, it is by no means assured that economic benefits would be widely shared among the exporting countries’ populations as a whole because of endemic corruption and social inequities.

Overall, the international ecological effects of the Expansion Alternative would be highly adverse, significant and long-term. An alternative that more than doubles the number of resource consumers and waste emitters in the U.S. would exert much greater stresses and generate far greater widespread impacts that extend well beyond our borders into the rest of the biosphere and world.

Reduction Alternative –
250,000 (0.25 million) annual immigration

Under the Reduction Alternative, international ecological impacts of aggregate U.S. consumption in 2100 would be about a quarter (approximately 23 percent) larger than in 2010. Nonetheless, these effects would be substantially smaller than for the No Action Alternative and the Expansion Alternative.

Overall, the international ecological effects of the Reduction Alternative would be adverse, moderately significant and long-term. Of the three alternatives considered, this one would entail by far the lowest level of adverse international ecological impacts.

CONCLUSION

Both the No Action and Expansion immigration alternatives would result in rapid U.S. population growth throughout the 21st century, to 2100 and beyond, with no peak to growth in sight. In turn, this population growth would incur adverse to highly adverse, significant and long-term cumulative environmental impacts on suburban sprawl, farmland loss, water resources, habitat loss, biodiversity, carbon dioxide emissions, energy supplies and security, and international ecosystems. Of the three alternatives evaluated, only the Reduction Alternative resulted in a cessation to U.S. population growth by the end of the century (2100). Furthermore, only this alternative promised at least the prospect of environmental sustainability for the United States.


CAPS Senior Writing Fellow and Advisory Board Member Leon Kolankiewicz is an environmental scientist and planner.

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