National Data | Immigrants x U.S. “Ecological Footprint” = Stomped Environment

The “Ecological Footprint” is the area of productive land needed to supply a country`s population with food, housing, transportation, consumer goods and services, and to absorb the waste generated by that production. [Redefining Progress, "Ecological Footprint of Nations 2004," March 2004.]

  • The average American uses up 24 acres of land annually;
  • There are only 4.7 acres of productive land for every person on earth

These numbers are sobering. They indicate a global ecological deficit—an excess of global land use above global land capacity – of about 8 billion acres per year…over a quarter (28 percent) of all available land.

And the U.S. has the dubious distinction of having both the largest ecological footprint (6.9 billion acres—Table 1) and the largest ecological deficit (3.1 billion acres). Americans consume 84 percent more productive land than we actually have.

The gap is filled by importing natural resources (mainly oil) and by depleting our own deposits of non-renewable fuels like oil, gas, and coal—which provide us, in effect, with fossilized acreage from the geologic past.  [Leon Kolankiewicz and Roy Beck, " Forsaking Fundamentals," Center for Immigration Studies, March 2001.]

Of course, the Ecological Footprint is not as absolute as many environmentalists think. Economists would argue that technological innovation leads to the more efficient use of resources, slowing and possibly reversing the growth of per capita consumption.

In the long run, that is—maybe. In the short run, per capita consumption is fairly fixed. So population is by far the major driver of the Ecological Footprint in the U.S. And immigration is the major driver of U.S. population growth.

New arrivals from, say, Mexico, quickly start consuming at U.S. levels. For example, The Journal of Housing Research forecasts, for example, that “The aggregate housing consumption of immigrants will rise substantially in the next 15 years as past waves of immigrants move up the housing consumption ladder.

The result:

  • With U.S. population growing by three million a year, we lose the equivalent of 72 million acres of productive land per year  [Christina Zarrella, "The Numbers Game," The Environmental Magazine, Jan/Feb 2004, p.26.]
  • Immigrants and their children currently account for about two-thirds of U.S. population growth, thereby using up the equivalent of 48 million acres of land annually [Steven Camarota, "The Impact of Immigration on U.S. Population Growth," Center For Immigration Studies, August 2, 2001.]
  • Per capita energy consumption barely rose between 1970 and 1990 because of energy-efficient technology and conservation. But total U.S. energy use rose 36 percent—due to the larger, immigration-driven U.S. population. [Zarrella, op.cit.]

Conclusion: the most effective way to lighten the U.S. Ecological Footprint is to stop population growth.

And that means stopping immigration.

[Number fans click here for tables.]

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.