On August 7 The Clinton Courier ran a guest editorial (Population is the Biggest Environmental Threat) by Glen Colton, a sustainability expert from Colorado.
It deserves a response.
The problem is, where to begin?
One good place would be at the beginning. That is to say, the origin; Colorado in this case. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with opinion from distant states, it does seem odd that equally qualified and informed opinion could not be found more locally.
East Tennessee has numerous quality universities, Oak Ridge National Labs and offices of state and federal agencies that deal with the environment.
Where are their voices?
Issues of origin aside, Colton does make two important points: Population growth is a problem (well known since the 1960s), and more recently a huge influx of Latino immigration that threatens to swamp traditional national culture.
No nation wants that no matter how liberal they may be.
Having made those two valid points, Colton then veers off to make some disturbing and tenuous connections that place the burden of blame almost exclusively on the backs of immigrants themselves.
This while immigrants (of color) have become the whipping boy for our current administration, even to the point of engaging in virtual state sponsored persecution.
So what about that population thing?
Some readers may remember that on June 22, 1969 the Cuyahoga River in Ohio was so polluted it actually caught fire.
While this was not an uncommon occurrence at the time, news of it flashed around the country and ultimately contributed to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The population in 1970 was 213 million.
As of August of this year, the Census Bureau estimates it to be 329 million. So, in that time span we’ve added over 100 million to the population. In spite of that, the work of the EPA, along with the Clear Air and Clean Water Acts have actually improved the environment – drastically.
As for the Cuyahoga, they just celebrated the 50th anniversary of their cleanup efforts, and in March the Ohio EPA announced fish in the river were safe to eat.
So, what does all this tell us?
It tells us that better management of resources and environment can alleviate much of the impact of population. I would argue the current trend of rolling back regulations that protect the environment and turning our backs on the climate change problem create a much greater risk than immigration.
But it’s so easy to blame somebody else.
One of the darker nuggets dropped by Colton is his repeating of the claim that immigrants are soaking up freebies, all of which are taken directly out of the pockets of American citizens.
While it’s true they get free education and a few other things, studies continue to show that immigrants contribute to the economy about as much or more than they cost.
Beyond that, they work harder, take jobs most Americans won’t, and are less likely to commit crimes – regardless of what we may hear in political talking points.
So, yes, we need to get immigration under control. That means a complete overhaul of the system, changes in foreign policy in Central America, and funding to make border control both efficient and humane.
Those changes will ameliorate the dark future of immigration that Colton sees.
But that alone won’t protect the environment.
Protection will require good governance and fact based policies, both of which are in short supply right now.
Instead, like Colton, we have to settle for the scapegoating of immigrants.