President Biden’s migrant surge is taking a toll on police, schools and a wide range of social services — and it turns out, it’s also contributing to global warming.
A Central or South American who immigrates to the U.S. could see their greenhouse gas emissions double or triple, just by becoming part of the U.S. economy. That not only raises the overall global carbon footprint, but also makes it tougher for the U.S. to achieve its own emissions reduction targets, experts said.
“It’s pretty simple,” said Michael McKenna, an energy policy expert who served as a senior legislative aide to President Trump. “When you get here, no matter what you’re doing, you’re using more electricity, you’re using more energy.”
The idea turns the usual conversation on its head.
Most people, when they talk about climate and migration, look at what are known as climate refugees — those who are pressured to leave their homes because rising temperatures and extreme weather events have flooded homes or upended the local economy.
But experts say the flow of people itself is a factor in total emissions and where they happen.
SEE ALSO: Migrant caravan in Mexico marks Christmas Day by trudging toward U.S.
Take a Guatemalan, more than 700,000 of whom have been caught trying to reach the U.S. since the start of the Biden administration.
In Guatemala, the per capita annual footprint is slightly more than 1 ton of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the statisticians at Our World In Data. The average American accounts for nearly 15 tons.
It’s true that the Guatemalan is likely to be on the lower end of the economy — and therefore carbon emissions — in the U.S. But data from the International Energy Agency says even at those lower rungs of the economy, an American’s emissions can run to two or three tons a year.
“If all that matters is global emissions of carbon, then migration, given present realities, does tend to transfer people from the less-polluting part of the world to the more polluting part of the world, though developing countries are certainly catching up as everyone understandably wants to consume more fossil fuels,” said Steven A. Camarota, a researcher at the Center for Immigration Studies, who first explored the idea in a 2008 paper.
He said it’s also an issue for the U.S., which has set goals of reducing its emissions by 50% in 2030, compared to 2005 levels. That’s not a per-capita goal but rather a raw numerical goal, meaning that the more people here, the tougher it becomes to reach.
“How does one deal with those questions in the United States, by adding so many people, by making our population so much larger than it otherwise would be?” Mr. Camarota said.
His latest research shows the U.S. has netted 4.5 million new immigrants since Mr. Biden took office, pushing the nation’s foreign-born populace to 49.5 million. Immigrants now make up a record 15% of the U.S. population, topping the previous high of 1890.
More than half of those that have arrived under Mr. Biden came without legal permission.
The Washington Times reached out to several major climate change advocacy organizations for this story, but none replied.
Environmental groups have generally been shy about criticizing immigrants as sources of pollution, with some going so far as to say that even raising the question is “racist.”
“In fact, the vast majority of behavioral studies demonstrate that immigrants live more environmentally sustainable lifestyles than native-born Americans, so much so that immigrant density is associated with lower carbon emissions,” the liberal Center for American Progress said in a 2021 piece on the issue.
Douglas Morris, a professor at Lakehead University in Canada, found out firsthand when he wrote a paper in 2021 looking at immigration growth in the U.S. and Canada and its effects on emissions.
He said one of the referees who reviewed his paper before publication argued it should have been suppressed regardless of whether it was correct.
“The referee stated that publishing the paper would serve the interests of anti-immigrant groups,” Mr. Morris said. “So much for honest appraisal.”
Mr. Morris, in the study, calculated that if Canada nets 4 million new migrant arrivals this decade and the U.S. gets 10 million, it would mean between 700 million and 900 million tonnes of emissions over those 10 years. That’s a small part of the global total of 36 billion tonnes per year, but he said it does make the task for the two nations harder.
“Policies to meet CO2 emission targets must include the anticipated contribution associated with migrating humans,” Mr. Morris concluded.
But he said that also gets into big questions about fairness.
Poorer nations face the challenge of trying to raise their living standards without increasing emissions. And who can blame, he asked, individuals in those countries who seize an opportunity to move to a wealthier nation?
Mr. McKenna, who is also a columnist for The Washington Times, said the fundamental draw for immigrants is that they can live a more prosperous life here — and in the modern economy that means more energy use for them, and for the rest of the economy they are fueling with their productivity.
“The climate guys are swimming against it,” he said. “Almost every human on this planet is responsible for carbon emissions, and most people on this planet would like to be responsible for more. No matter where they are, people want more. The United States just happens to be better at providing more.”
“If you’re Greta [Thunberg], you cannot have a planet of 10 billion people who are all Americans,” he said. “If you were serious about all this stuff you would not let people have cars, or steaks, or cross the border, because people who cross the border want cars and steaks. And worse yet, they enable other people to get cars and steaks.”