On February 11, 2013, the Denver Post ran a guest commentary of great clinical interest. In the piece in question, Colorado State University philosophy professor Philip Cafaro advanced the argument that immigration needs to be sharply cut, because otherwise people from Third World nations will come to the United States and become prosperous, thereby adding to global warming.
“And make no mistake: Immigrants are not coming to the United States to remain poor,” warns the philosopher. “Those hundreds of millions of new citizens will want to live as well and consume energy at the same rates as other Americans. . . . What climate change mitigation measures . . . could possibly equal the increased greenhouse gas emissions we would lock in by adding 145 million more new citizens to our population?”
This is truly remarkable. Conservative immigration skeptics have voiced the concern that immigrants might not assimilate and achieve success, and even common xenophobes have never objected to would-be immigrants’ attaining prosperity elsewhere. But according to Cafaro’s liberal argument, the wretched of the Earth must be kept poor wherever they reside, because otherwise they will ruin the weather for the rest of us. Following this logic, the United States should adopt the role of the world’s oppressor, enforcing the continuation of poverty around the globe.
But why stop there? We have millions of poor people right here in America who hope to rise into the middle class. Surely we must stop them from doing so. At present, there are at least 12 million unemployed. If they get jobs they will be able to keep their homes, and buy oil, or gas, or coal-fired electricity to heat them. They will be able to put food on their tables, and to buy gasoline to drive to work or get their children to school or soccer practice — or engage in any number of other ecologically unsustainable practices. Not only that: if the rabble become more prosperous, they can pay for better medical care, prolonging their carbon-footprinting lives. And what about those impoverished black farmers down south who want to migrate north and integrate to better their condition? Why, they are as big a global-warming threat as migrating Mexicans! Better keep them in their place.
The use of fictitious necessity to rationalize human oppression is not new. Whether the justification is a putative lack of food (e.g., Malthus, 1817, “A great part of the [Irish] population should be swept from the soil”), shortage of Lebensraum (e.g., Hitler, 1941, “The law of existence requires uninterrupted killing, so that the better may live”), overpopulation (e.g., Ehrlich, 1967, “India . . . will be one of those we must allow to slip down the drain”), or global warming (e.g., Cafaro, 2013), the argument has always been the same:
All these cases were frauds. Ireland never lacked the capacity to feed its people. During the entire “great famine,” the island continued to produce massive amounts of beef and grain. The Irish just couldn’t afford to buy any of it due to the enforcement of rack-renting, high taxation, and suppression of manufactures. Germany never needed additional living space. It has a bigger population now than it did under the Third Reich, on much less land, yet it has a far higher living standard. Hitler just used the Lebensraum imperative as an excuse for genocide. Contrary to Population Bomb author Paul Ehrlich, the world was not overpopulated in 1967. In fact, since that time, as world population has doubled, average GDP per capita has nearly tripled. Yet, unfortunately, that did not stop population-control advocates from obtaining billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer money to help Third World regimes stop reproduction among their poor, in general, and despised national minorities, in particular. And there is certainly no moral case for limiting carbon emissions.
Quite to the contrary: The expanded use of carbon is both good and necessary. As a result of the carbon-dioxide enrichment of the Earth’s atmosphere, plants are now growing faster. Furthermore, global warming lengthens the growing season and increases net rainfall. We are making the Earth a more fertile planet. But even better, the tenfold increase in human carbon use over the past century (from 900 million tons in 1910 to 9 billion tons in 2010) has driven a tenfold rise in global GDP per capita, from $900 per year in 1910 to $9,000 per year today. This escape of a large fraction of the world’s population from horrific poverty, accomplished through expanded carbon use, is among the greatest accomplishments in history.
If all are to attain a life of dignity, it clearly needs to go much further. Yet there are those who would call a halt to this miraculous march forward. For them, environmental devotion is enough to condemn billions to perpetual misery.
— Dr. Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Energy, www.pioneerenergy.co, and the author of Energy Victory. His latest book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, was published last year by Encounter Books.