New Internationalist

Is migration green?

2013-08-09-population-590.jpg [Related Image]
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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  1. #1 Alex Randall 10 Aug 13

    People might interested in this event we're running ’The environmental movement and immigration in the UK’ 19 Sept. Details: Why are some parts of the environmental movement opposed to immigration, but not others? Why do some environmentalists see immigration as threat to the environment but others see it as a vital way for some people to adapt to climate change? This event looks at how to challenge some of the “green” anti-immigration myths.

  2. #2 Maya de Souza 10 Aug 13

    Good article Benali. Its pretty clear that population is an issue worldwide but the connection that Population Matters makes between movement of populations and climate change is wholly suspect. The logic of their argument, that people from developing countries coming to richer countries means more carbon and is therefore wrong is morally repulsive. The logical conclusion of this is that those poorer people should be kept poor to reduce carbon; maybe let them starve or die out even.

    We must instead take it as a given that poorer people should be able to act to better their livelihoods. That may mean more carbon emitted by poorer people. Our policy response needs to recognise and accept this. It's in line with the contraction and convergence policies supported by the Greens.

    There may be other arguments against migration, but climate change certainly isn't one of them. And it's great that Natalie sets out the positive story of migration and it's benefits, and that your article argues that we need to accept the responsibility that flows from the colonial legacy and military intervention thathave led to mass migration.

  3. #3 Peter Graystone 11 Aug 13

    How disappointing that your writers should make such an attack on Population Matters. I don't see how it is possible to be concerned about the environment without realising the problems that come with unending population growth in a finite world. As David Attenborough says, “All environmental problems become harder — and ultimately impossible — to solve with ever more people.” In England, especially, with over 1,000 extra people in the total population every day, we should be well aware of the effects of a rapidly expanding population. The detrimental effects of overcrowding here are quite clear, in our cities and our transport systems. As concerned environmentalists, surely we should value all life, not just human life - yet, as our countryside comes under increasing pressure, so wildlife suffers increasingly. We are unable to produce enough food to feed our people, so have to rely on imports from elsewhere: yet, as the world population grows rapidly, other nations also need more and more food. We in England can and should try to give a lead to the world, in showing that it is possible to work towards a stable population and thus a sustainable society.

  4. #4 Rosemary Conway 11 Aug 13

    I am a supporter of Population Matters. With respect, the authors of this article don't appear to understand its position and arguments, or have a very narrow concept of them. PM's argument, and the populationist argument generally, has always been that population, consumption and need for greener technology are ALL THREE vitally important factors; and that environmental problems are so serious that ALL THREE need to be addressed urgently. But population is the factor that is constantly downsided by NGOs and governments.
    Population Matters is vocal in urging a small family lifestyle in the UK. Developed nations need to drastically reduce their high consumer lifestyles AND their populations, because in the world of realpolitik, in a free enterprise capitalist global economy, there is a practical limit to the degree to which people can be argued and educated into consuming less. And in a global economy, population everywhere is interconnected. LIkewise, the huge population rises in developing countries such as India, China and the African continent has had very serious local environmental consequences, and it drives a relentless need to exploit areas like rainforests, imposes huge stress on water tables, etc. In Western China apparently they are now having to pollinate crops by hand, as bees and other pollinators the world over collapse from the multiple stresses imposed by decline of habitat due to human encroachment.

  5. #5 Ariane Marcar 12 Aug 13

    The author's use of cliche arguments are not convincing. Their attack also on Population Matters only serves to weaken their position.

    As we know Migration flows are increasingly linked to areas of conflicts where the environment is degraded and population has increased steeply. Though many like to refute the UN figures, it is noteworthy that the recent 2013 report by the UNHCR quotes a total of 45.2 million displaced people, the highest ever !

    Climate change is being driven by polulation growth and the correspondimg need to meet our growing energy demands. Globalisation has accelerated environmental destruction and inequality globally. The result is that we are currently in a fossil fuel renaissance, one that will worsen our plight. Yes, the Global North needs to lower its consumption levels, but the Global South needs to recognise that it needs to build a new and more sustainable economic model, one that is no longer centered on growth, or the export of its young. Countries need to study self-sufficiency again, and population needs to come back in line with geographic and ecological boundaries.

    Demographic pressure is set to continue to drive the young in poorer and more densely populated regions to migrate towards large urban centres for work. The reality is that jobs are few and local unemployment is already causing social discontent. Persistent migration has resulted in the lowering of local wages to the detriment of ordinary people, at the benefit of the owner/producer classes.

    The authors also fail to address the longterm negative economic and health impacts that displaced people often suffer, and the pressures placed on host regions/countries both in terms of providing housing and infrastructure. The reality is that most migrants end up in low-wage positions. The educated migrants are few and belong to the managerial class, and frequently move on or return to their homelands.

    The authors also fail to point out the hypothesis that development and urbanization will bring about a ’demographic transition’ is theoretical. Many industrialized countries that have supposedly reached their ’demographic transition’ are effectively still growing, albeit at a smaller rate.

    Migration is part of the continuing urban transition and depeasantisation programs driven by globalisation and excessive population growth. Migration today is fundamnetally about abandoning ones home country and lands and should not be encouraged. Small quotas on temporary contracts should be our aim.

  6. #6 Alex Randall 13 Aug 13

    Millions of people are already using migration as way of securing their livelihoods in the face of climate-linked disasters. The flow of remittances in the aftermath of disasters is often bigger and more reliable than aid money. Remittances are also increasingly being invested in small-scale climate adaptation, like crop switching, irrigation and water storage. For these reasons I think that as green or environmentalists we should support more open immigration policy, so that more people can do this.

  7. #7 Simon Ross 20 Aug 13

    Benali and Manishta’s mistakes
    - ignore the current UN projection that the population will approach eleven billion by the end of the century.
    - reference historical population control campaigns, not current ones for sexual and reproductive health and rights.
    - claim that population concern focuses exclusively on the global south while simultaneously referencing concern over migration.
    - claim that migrants generally do not improve their living standards by migration.
    - claim that ever more people is a solution to ageing or an unsustainable economy.
    They are right to be concerned about sustainability and excessive consumption, but wrong to ignore the impact of ever more people for their own ideological ends.
    Simon Ross
    Population Matters

  8. #8 Andrew Smith 12 Oct 13

    Related article in Australia recently, ’Stable Population Party 'green-washing' racism’; does Population Matters have a connection with John Tanton in the USA?

    'The Stable Population Party (SPP) is using environmental and community groups to 'green wash' its anti-immigration message and split the Greens vote at the Federal election.

    The SPP's technique of 'green washing' local community groups comes first hand from American organisations such as John Tanton and the Social Contract Press, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and especially Numbers USA. The SPP has direct and indirect links with the former and latter organisations.

    Green washing is portraying oneself as pro-environment but camouflaging the anti-immigration motives. While the SPP's rhetoric sits to the left of the Greens, its policies would find a home with the British National Party.'

  9. #9 Perseus 06 Sep 14

    Although I've never been anti-immigration, there are some strong moral cases for supporting restrictions to the UK and developed world, since it robs countries of their own talent. How can we expect the likes of Iraq for example to rebuild their infrastructure and institutions without these people?

    Whilst a significant proportion of immigrants are from Eastern Europe and developed countries, a substantial proportion are still from developing areas. This surely means an average immigrants environmental footprint will increase substantially after settling in the UK or another 'rich' country.

    We mustn't allow the anti-immigration lobby to hi-jack environmentalism for their own selfish aims, or allow the fossil fuel lobby to deflect blame from our own extravagances onto the aspiring developing world. However, neither can we play the reverse political game and ignore the uncomfortable fact that an increasing world population striving for greater consumption has the greatest potential of all to exacerbate a pending environmental disaster.

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