Mass immigration: a route to environmental collapse

Rosamund McDougall
21 May 2003

The assumptions and recommendations in Demos and openDemocracy’s People Flow report are deeply disturbing. By suggesting that migrants should have virtually unimpeded rights to arrive and settle in another country (even against the wishes of its existing citizens) this report effectively recommends the end of national sovereignty, and therefore the end of any nation’s power to control its own environment.

The word ‘environment’ does not appear in this report, yet the need to keep populations in equilibrium with their environment and to achieve a genuinely sustainable population in the United Kingdom (UK) are issues that must urgently be addressed. Continuous net immigration renders impotent the environmental policies needed to improve a country’s quality of life and ensure its long-term survival. Seeing mass migration as a benefit is a concept that defies both intuition and logic.

The environmental conditions of migration

In a UK of 58 million people, levels of net inward migration are already causing rapid environmental deterioration. A million more houses here, a new airport there… in a finite space population pressures grow relentlessly. The amount of land available to provide for each citizen’s needs and to absorb the impact of each citizen’s consumption has shrunk to nearly a tenth of what it was just 250 years ago, when the population numbered little more than five million.

Overpopulation is already a major contributing cause of urban sprawl, transport gridlock, collapsing infrastructure, disappearing countryside and mounting waste – and those are only the visible problems. Severe fossil fuel shortages are among the challenges that lie ahead, and these will probably occur before 2050, within the lifespan of many people now aged under 35.

The already dense population of the Netherlands grew 0.75% in the year 2000 (People Flow/Eurostat 2002), with nearly half the increase due to net migration. Germany has taken in large numbers of immigrants and refugees while unemployment has climbed to 4.5 million. Yet this report invites us to believe in a future in which Europe accepts yet more mass migration, as long as a few boxes are ticked by the millions of people taking part. Who needs countryside, animals, flowers, organic food, fresh water, space or silence? 200 million more people for Europe? 20 million more for the UK? That’s just fine, as long as you’ve got a provable identity, a ‘sponsor’ or some money in the bank. Don’t worry about meeting crucial greenhouse gas emissions targets or setting aside the thousands of hectares needed for renewable energy production – with a bit of luck these things will sort themselves out.

They won’t. The authors of People Flow must have written this report with the best of intentions. It contains some interesting technical proposals, such as international transit centres for receiving asylum seekers. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and if you want your country to commit environmental suicide as quickly as possible, People Flow shows you how. If European Union (EU) ‘mobility service points’, for example, are to be used for ‘facilitating the movement and contribution of voluntary migrants’ (by the almost automatic granting of visas), one must assume the consequences to be higher levels of migration into Europe, with further immigration-led population growth in the UK.

At the Optimum Population Trust website (www.optimumpopulation.org) you can see why we are opposed to further population growth, and, therefore not against immigration, but against excess immigration. Put simply, population growth is caused by natural increase (more births than deaths) and/or excess immigration (more immigrants than emigrants, or the excessive granting of settlement rights, or the higher reproductive rates of immigrants). With world population growing at 77 million a year it is difficult to see migration pressures on Europe easing of their own accord.

The effects of sustained immigration

Settling migrants, like other people, carry environmental baggage wherever they arrive. Two extra people added to a population living at a modest European lifestyle usually means one extra home, perhaps one more car, and all the extra resource demands and waste production that go with the goods and services they consume.

The argument that migrants reduce population pressure in their home countries by leaving is true up to a point. But populations continue to increase rapidly in many countries from which large numbers of immigrants have flowed into Europe. (Algerian women in France for example, have on average 3.19 children, and population in Algeria is still growing by 1.8% a year.) Developing countries justifiably want higher living standards, which means higher consumption, so that environmental pressures continue to rise in both ‘sending’ and ‘receiving’ countries in spite of growing migration flows.

Street-level opinion has no difficulty in recognising the dangers of population growth in the UK, whether caused by natural increase or excess immigration. Take the numbers. Some of those pleading to let more migrants enter and settle in the UK suggest that current numbers are such a small percentage of the total population that they will have no effect. This ignores a simple principle of compound interest: let any population grow by just 1.5% a year and it will double in less than 50 years.

Net immigration now accounts for about 70% of UK population growth, according to MigrationWatch UK, and if allowed to continue at the level of about 150,000 a year this will lead to a further population increase of nearly 6 million (almost another London) by 2026. The UK has been exceptionally liberal in accepting refugees in recent decades, yet if a quota system for refugee acceptances is proposed by the EU it may base quotas on a percentage of the existing populations of EU countries. The population of the UK, already swelled by large immigration flows, would as a result be asked to receive larger numbers than less generous EU nations.

The EU as a whole needs to set environmentally sustainable immigration limits and its management of migration flows should allow individual nations to retain permanent control over migration numbers. People Flow claims its proposed new International Transit Centres ‘can substantially reduce the number of unregistered entrants [to Europe] over time’, but no estimates, targets or limits are set for the numbers to be given EU passports at these ITCs.

An immigration amnesty?

Why not give the UK an amnesty from refugee acceptances for five years to reward its past generosity, and base future asylum seeker quotas on population density, so that those countries with higher ratios of land per capita, like France, take in refugees first? (This would also give the UK time to locate hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants and return them to their home countries.) Or agree a quota system that enables countries to agree firm limits for all immigrant categories according to internal environmental pressures and long-term population targets? Personally, I like foreigners and I like France. But if France – with a population density only half that of the UK – does not want to take in growing flows of ‘voluntary’ migrants, including British settlers, it should not be forced to do so. France belongs to the French, not to the British or any other external group.

Long-term immigration limits to reduce UK population must be implemented soon. This would not mean an end to migration, and would concentrate the minds of all concerned on working out the population sizes individual countries can sustain, as we progress into a century in which the biggest bubble of all time – oil-fuelled economic growth – is due to burst.

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