Thursday, November 6, 2008

Accusations of Racism Don't Change The Facts

This is a valuable piece by my colleague and felllow British Columbian neo-Malthusian activist Rick Shea:


It is not racist or misanthropic to try to protect the environment and our children’s natural heritage. Yet that is typically the knee-jerk response to those who point out environmental reasons for halting human population growth. Those reasons cited include the current human-caused “Sixth Great Extinction,” collapse of ocean fish stocks and other sea life, emissions and pollution affecting our oceans and our weather, soil exhaustion and continued loss of arable land to concrete and asphalt, and water shortages.

The two factors that drive population growth in many developed countries, including Canada, are immigration and the natural population increase. Immigrants do not generally come to Canada to keep the same standard of living as in their country of origin. Using William Rees’ “ecological footprint” concept, the vast majority of immigrants to Canada who adopt close to an average Canadian standard of living will magnify their ecological footprint many times over (see table below). As an example, an immigrant from India will increase his or her ecological footprint by almost seven hundred percent. Of the countries not listed, only a very few have an ecological footprint close to that of Canada. Again, the vast majority of immigrants from other countries magnify their footprint significantly when they move to Canada. South of the border, a report by the Centre for Immigrant Studies ( established that, on average, each immigrant quadrupled his or her GHG emissions upon arrival to the United States. Canadian figures are comparable, that is, GHG emissions are more than five times the global average.

Canadian Immigration Top Ten Countries of Origin, 2007
Country of OriginNumber of Immigrants (Annual total: 236759)Ecological Footprint (data from Global Footprint Network)
Canada (for reference)7.1
Peoples Republic of China288962.1
United States87509.4
United Kingdom7324
South Korea59093.7
Sri Lanka40681.0

It is important to note that the ecological footprint of Canadians extends far beyond our borders, to include the pollution and waste in countries which produce our goods for us, the loss of biodiversity in countries where forest and natural areas are converted to agricultural production for the food we eat, further depletion of ocean fish stocks, and the numerous other ways Canadians have an impact on this planet.

These are facts. They do not assign blame to immigrants. Indeed, if there is any blame to be assigned for this enormous impact on the environment, it should be laid at the feet of Canadian politicians and the business lobby, who actively promote even more immigration to Canada while claiming that we are working to reduce our consumption and our emissions. The other contributing factor to our population growth is of course the domestic birthrate. Each newborn goes from essentially a zero footprint to a measurable amount in the short span of a delivery, and the footprint increases to one hundred percent over the course of a few decades. But if we only had to deal with the domestic birthrate, the Canadian population would in fact be declining, so this would not be so much of an issue.

We are often told that conservation and reduction in consumption is the solution, and therefore population growth is not an issue. But those who truly understand exponential growth realize that conservation by itself will not solve our current environmental problems. The claim by some is that we can easily reduce our per capita consumption by thirty percent. What those making that claim won’t add is that only thirty-five years of growth at our current rate will take us right back to the same total consumption level, accompanied by further loss of species, impact on food stocks, loss of local wildlife and natural areas – in short, there will be no overall reduction in consumption, and our environmental problems will be even more serious. The environment doesn’t care about per capita consumption. Only total consumption.

What those making the claim about a thirty percent reduction also won’t add is that, according to Rees’ model, Canadians would have to reduce per capita consumption by more than seventy percent to be even close to a sustainable global level. And we have to reduce by even more as population continues to grow. Our economy and apparent prosperity are really an artificial bubble we have created by using up resources and the natural world in a manner that will impoverish future generations, not only in other countries, but even right here in Canada.

Finally, what do we make of the argument that Canada has an obligation to accept immigrants and refugees? Unfortunately, it appears as though we have reached a point where our obligation to the environment, to our own children, and perhaps even to the survival of our civilization are the trump cards. Promoting even more population growth in Canada will exacerbate the numerous problems we already face at home, have an enormous negative impact on the planet, and in general lead us even farther away from a sustainable life.

No, the people pointing out these facts and calling for change are not racists, or misanthropes. They in fact are the only ones who seem to care about the future of our planet, and our children. They are the sane and civilized voices in a world obsessed with growth.

Rick Shea, November 6/08 Salmon Arm, BC Canada

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