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Media Misinformation on Climate Population Immigration in Australia

by Ian Angus and Simon Butler

Immigrants to the developed world have frequently been blamed for unemployment, crime, and other social ills.  Attempts to reduce or block immigration have been justified as necessary measures to protect “our way of life” from alien influences.

Today, some environmentalists go farther, arguing that sharp cuts in immigration are needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change.  However sincere and well-meaning such activists may be, their arguments are wrong and dangerous, and should be rejected by the climate emergency movement.


Lifeboat Ethics and Anti-immigrant Bigots

 “Environmental” arguments for reducing immigration aren’t new.  In a 1974 article, “Lifeboat Ethics: the Case against Helping the Poor,” US biologist Garrett Hardin (linked to John Tanton’s network) argued that “a nation’s land has a limited capacity to support a population and as the current energy crisis has shown us, in some ways we have already exceeded the carrying capacity of our land.”  Immigration, he said, was “speeding up the destruction of the environment of the rich countries.”

Elsewhere he wrote: “Overpopulation can be avoided only if borders are secure; otherwise poor and overpopulated nations will export their excess to richer and less populated nations.”

Hardin’s ideas have been very influential in the development of the right-wing, anti-immigration movement in the US and elsewhere.  In 1979, he helped to found the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an anti-immigrant lobbying group that has been named a “hate organization” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.3  In addition to the usual array of anti-immigrant arguments, FAIR has made a particular point of linking concerns about the environment with opposition to immigration….

… The racist British National Party, which likes to call itself the “true green party” because it opposes immigration, also uses this argument.  BNP leader Nick Griffin recently told the European parliament that climate change isn’t real — but that hasn’t stopped him saying immigrants will make it worse.  He told author Steven Farris that by accepting immigrants from the third world, “We’re massively increasing their impact of carbon release into the world’s atmosphere.  There’s no doubt about it, the western way of life is not sustainable.  So what on Earth is the point of turning more people into westerners?

(It is significant that none of these supposed defenders of the environment take their argument to its logical conclusion: if immigration to the North is bad for the climate then emigration to poor countries with low emissions must be good and should be encouraged.)


Greens versus Immigration

 For anti-immigration bigots, concern for the environment is just a ploy — they’ll say anything to justify keeping immigrants out.  It’s an example of what author and feminist activist Betsy Hartmann has called “the greening of hate — blaming environmental degradation on poor populations of color.”

But it is particularly disturbing to witness the promotion of similar arguments in the mainstream media, and by environmental activists whose political views are otherwise hostile to those of FAIR and the BNP.

For example, Ross Gittins, economics editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, said in 2008 that cutting Australia’s immigration was “one of the quickest and easiest ways to reduce the growth in our emissions” because “it’s a safe bet they’d be emitting more in prosperous Australia than they were before.”….

…. Noted environmentalist and journalist Tim Flannery made a similar argument during a debate on immigration policy broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in September 2009:

Growing Australia’s population has a much greater impact than growing the population of a poor country.  We are the heaviest carbon users in the world, about 23 tonnes per capita, so people that come to this country from anywhere on the planet will result almost certainly in an increase carbon emissions. . . .

… This argument is false on its face.

To calculate “per capita emissions,” we simply divide a country’s total greenhouse gas emissions by its total population.  This provides a useful baseline for comparing countries of different sizes — but it tells us nothing at all about the emissions that can actually be attributed to individuals….


A Pessimistic Outlook

As we’ve seen, the argument that reducing immigration will protect the environment originated with right-wing, anti-immigrant bigots.  Our major concern, however, is that virtually identical arguments have been adopted by progressive activists and writers who are sincerely concerned about global warming….

…. Sadly, some groups that favor immigration control seem oblivious to the danger of lending credibility to bigots and racists who view immigrants as a threat to “our” way of life.

 For example, last year the Australian Conservation Foundation praised Labor MP Kelvin Thompson, and Sustainable Population Australia named him to its “Population Role of Honour” when he called for immigration cuts to deal with climate change.  Both ignored the fact that just 10 days earlier Thomson had revealed his real motives by calling for immigration cuts “to minimize the risk that people who do not respect Australia’s laws and legal system will enter this country.


Excellent article showing the underlying racism and bigotry, both orchestrated and unwitting brought about by seeming lack of clear thinking, data analysis and preconceived biases of highly educated journalists and environmentalists?

Grant Hardin is part of John Tanton’s anti immigration network (and according to SPLC a believer in ‘eugenics’), while Australia’s own Ross Gittins uses Birrell’s ‘research’, Tim Flannery is patron of an Australian arm of John Tanton’s network via FAIR, i.e. Sustainable Population Australia and Kelvin Thomson is linked to Tanton via Progressives for Immigration Reform….. and of course Birrell is linked to all of them….





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