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All The Wrong Moves
By Lindsey Grant


May 12, 2005

The Bush administration seems determined to destroy the political and economic balances that have worked well for us.

From the pressures on the government's intelligence and scientific communities to give the president the answers he wants to hear, to the disastrous misadventure in Iraq, to the withdrawal from international efforts to limit human-induced climate change, there seems to be no end to the poor choices this administration wants to make for us all.

Most of those policies are Republican, but Democrats have acquiesced in some of them. In one respect the president has the support of Democratic legislators and indeed of most of the American establishment, and that is the enthusiasm for growth and the invitation to mass immigration. That attitude may, in the long term, be the administration's most serious policy failure.

gif population pressure by Jeff Parker

Population Pressure
©Jeff Parker, Florida Today
Distributed to subscribers exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

The scale and nature of immigration are important for various reasons. For one, uncontrolled immigration facilitates the entry of terrorists -- but the fundamental issues are the impact of mass immigration on American wages and, above all, its contribution to U.S. population growth.

Is there something wrong with growth? There wasn't, until it began to outrun the capacity of the Earth's natural systems to support us. They have supported a remarkable rise in the prosperity of the entrepreneurial classes, if not always of working people. Growth offered the prospect of a better tomorrow.

But not now. "The American Century" was the product more of a remarkable increase in fossil energy supplies than of good old American know-how. U.S. oil production peaked more than 30 years ago, and world production will probably peak in this decade or the next, after which oil supplies will bump irregularly downward. Gas will follow shortly thereafter. We will rely on coal for two or three generations, but it will drive pollution and global warming as they have never been driven before.

We have ways of limiting the pollution -- very expensive ways -- but we do not yet know how to mitigate the impact upon climate. It is already getting hotter, droughts and floods are getting more extreme, and the sea level is rising. Those of you in arid or warm areas or low elevations: be warned.

Beyond those travails, there lies an uncharted land. How do we support current populations on renewable energy? Almost certainly, we can't. It's not just the SUVs or airplanes or air conditioned houses. U.S. agriculture depends on oil and gas for fertilizer, pesticides and power for its machinery; and irrigation has already peaked. The United States may be able to support half or less of its present population at a decent living standard, and the world perhaps only one-third of its population, or two billion people. We passed those levels 75 years ago.

We are in an age of overshoot. Escape lies in an orderly withdrawal to smaller populations, simpler and more local living arrangements. Mass immigration and conspicuous consumption are the worst possible preparation.

Opposition to the president's immigration policy has come, perhaps surprisingly, from conservatives within the Republican Party. This time, they are right.


The author is a former National Security Council staff member, State Department Planning and Coordination Staff member, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environment and Population. His most recent book is The Collapsing Bubble: Growth and Fossil Energy.
Copyright 2005 Lindsey Grant

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