Last week I had the immense pleasure of participating in a panel discussion at the University of California, San Diego. The occasion was a meeting of PREP (Population Reduction and Earth Preservation), a student-faculty group. I was there with the Iris Forum, representing the Green political perspective regarding population and the environment.
Our discussion went from cordial to cutting in minutes leaving only room for caricature and crusades. As expected, I was in my element once the fur started flying when the republican member of the Iris forum professed over-population to be a non-issue wrongly blamed for socioeconomic and political problems.
Alone on the panel in my critique of anthropocentric delusions and the need to breed, I was heartened by the environmental awareness exhibited by the students. Watching reactions to the libertarian perspective on free market, and individually based, public policy was encouraging. Controlling population by not controlling population did not garner much respect from the gathered students.
The Iris Forum is about an open and honest multi-partisan dialogue, which can be infuriating. I learned a lot that afternoon. The ghost of Charles Darwin was evoked more than once, as were the specter of socialism and the dharma of dinosaurs.
In the heated discussion, a lot was said about a lot of things. Somewhere in the mix of sustainability, carrying capacity, ecological footprints, global warming, talk of corporatism, consumption, capitalism, and Randian responsibility, I realized the issue is much bigger than its parts. In a clash of ignorance, intelligence, and ideology, a smaller truth was revealed.
Immigration both legal and otherwise is a matter of overpopulation.
We all have an opinion on this immigration debate. And when I say "Immigration debate," of course I mean "Dog and Pony Show'. A mishmash of competing agendas, self-interest dominates the debate while larger issues are ignored in favor of political pandering. The campaign to replace a disgraced war hero in California's 50th congressional district is a prime example.
Migrant bashing completely misses the point. Xenophobia and calls for vigilantism do nothing to address the circumstances forcing humans to migrate seeking work. Building fences is an economic response to an ecological problem. Fences do not reduce birthrates in developing nations. Border patrols do not protect endangered habits from human encroachments, and there is no amnesty from environmental degradation.
People are people, and like most mammalian species, humans seek out favorable conditions in which to survive and thrive. The United States of America has always been a nation of immigrants even before it was a nation. The French, Dutch, British, Irish, Russian, Spanish, countless tribes of Africans, millions of Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese, have all sent North America their tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free, as well as the wretched refuse of teeming shores, the homeless, and tempest-tossed.
In the face of disaster, both environmental and ecological, and conditions both social and economic, people seek safe haven. Guatemalans seeking work in April of 2006 are no different than the Irish who fled Ireland because of the potato famine of 1845, or Haitians fleeing poverty in 1972, or English puritans escaping religious persecution between 1630 and 1640.
Population pressures and limited resources are at the base of all decisions to migrate. People don't leave ideal living conditions. Favorable living conditions for humans are precarious at best, and made worse as the number of people increases in any given region. Hurricane Katrina created a massive wave of environmental refugees, fleeing perilous living conditions. What will be the reaction to future environmental refugees trying to cross national borders without proper documentation?
The only way to reduce immigration is to reduce human populations world wide while redefining the concept of prosperity, and the role of procreation. In the face of new ecological realities, sustainability is quickly becoming a question off having to learn with less. As long as human populations continue to overshoot biological balance, they will continue to diminish biological diversity at the peril of future calamity.
Like borders, nationalism is an arbitrary construct that serves only the paradigm corporate plunder and economic ecocide. More about who owns what then who lives where, borders are barriers that prevent humans from accepting we are one species, on one planet, spinning around one sun, in a galaxy of unknown abundance and infinite life forms.
Immigration is a population issue. As long as human populations continue to increase so, too will the tide of human migration, and the levels of human suffering. In a world of diminishing returns, sustainability is a numbers game. Currently the odds are not in our favor.
Happy Earth Day!