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Is migration green?


James Cridland under a Creative Commons Licence

It depends who you ask. Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party has been making a strong Green case for migration, at the Romanian Cultural Institute and in letters written in the Guardian. Yet her stances have seen pushback from a small group of members in the party associated with Population Matters.

Population Matters – a British organization that recruits high-profile figures – says that world population is ‘out of control’, and unrestricted migration is equally detrimental. They hold that the transition of millions from the low carbon lifestyles of the Majority World (i.e. poverty) into the high carbon lifestyles of the rich world is detrimental to the environment. Their narrow-minded focus on numbers of people and where they live ultimately fails to address the underlying roots of the environmental crisis.

Population control efforts, without meaningful change to the social and economic situation of any country, have often been the weapon of authoritarians and colonialists. Academic Kalpana Wilson has argued that the population control discourse is marked by its reduction of ‘Third World’ women to their reproductive organs, and specifically their wombs, which are pathologized as ‘excessively reproductive’ and ‘requiring intervention.’

UK Feminista co-ordinator, Fiona Ranford, states how population control drives, dressed up as female empowerment, ‘are marked much more by coercion than empowerment and must be placed in the context of racism and colonialism'. Such attitudes led to China’s coercive one-child policy, mass forced sterilizations in India in the 1970s, similar abusive practices in Peru in the 1990s and more recently the sterilization of Ethiopian migrants in Israel.

Equally, a sole focus on current population growth disregards the decline in global birth rates. Because of this, the number of people on the planet is predicted to continue to rise until the second half of the century, but then level out at around nine billion.

The position of Population Matters overlooks the fact that the developed world is responsible for a disproportionate amount of the world’s carbon footprint. By focusing on populous countries in Africa or Asia, they shift the responsibility and the blame from western consumerist societies to the low carbon countries of the Global South

The organisation ignores that population growth is a rather limited driver of increased carbon footprint. Instead it is the orgy of consumerism which has driven the depletion of the world’s resources. In the US, for example, the amount of throw-away waste has grown four times faster than the population. It is clear that the current capitalist model, with the in-built obsolescence or disposable nature of many of its products, has only served to drive up world carbon.

Population Matters also has a rather shallow understanding of migration. The argument that migration compels more individuals to take up a high carbon lifestyle fails to acknowledge that a large amount of migrants are from the developed world, or the middle and upper classes of the majority world. Their move to Britain does not represent a transition from low to high carbon lifestyles; rather it is the continuation of a high carbon lifestyle.

With or without an extra million migrants in Britain, our lifestyle is unsustainable.

If the entire planet consumed as much as British citizens, we would need the resources of three and a half planets. Fundamental root and branch change of our economic model should be the goal of environmentalists.

Ageing populations in of much of Western Europe will require the import of working age adults as carers. Migrants are also needed to aid the transition into greener economies.

Beyond the economic benefits for the developed world, Greens have to be unafraid to make the moral argument for migration. The policies of the western world are a driver of migration. Our colonial legacy and continued intervention (militarily and economically) in other nations, as well as our inaction over climate change serve only to force many from their homes. Until we stop bankrupting the Majority World, we have a responsibility to those who flee deprivation. Only by embracing this internationalism, against both economic and environmental exploitation, can the Green Party and the green movement truly embrace diversity.

For more on this subject see New Internationalist’s No-Nonsense Guide to World Population by Vanessa Baird.

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