April 30, 2012

Oh the Injustice: Immigration and Global Warming

It seems like everyone was jumping on the Earth Day bandwagon last week. We all know about corporate greenwashing, but last week another bastardization of the environmental message emerged and made national headlines, from the Colbert Report to Think Progress  to the Huffington Post. Californians for Population Stabilization created the commercial (above) which puts forth the claim that reducing immigration will reduce emissions.

Yes, it’s true that the United States has some of the highest per capita emissions. And it’s also true that some of these emissions come from factors that the average person living in the United States can control. But there are a lot of factors that aren’t decisions made by the average individual consumer, such as where their power comes from. When an American switches on a light, there is a good (but decreasing!) chance their electricity is being fueled by coal. When someone enters the United States they automatically enter an infrastructure that encourages the creation of carbon emissions. Someone taking a diesel-powered bus creates more emissions than someone traveling the same distance on a hybrid bus. And is that really the fault of the passenger?

While many of the critiques focused on misinterpretation of the data, I see this ad as even more problematic in terms of what it not so subtly insinuates about justice. This ad implies that not everyone deserves to have access to the kind of living conditions that most Americans take for granted. Should we really expect people to continue to live without access to electricity, basic health care, or clean water as part of a global strategy to achieve climate stabilization? Actually, that wasn’t a question. We cannot allow organizations such as Californians for Population Stabilization to promulgate that belief that because of first-world overconsumption we must deny basic consumption to anyone. Instead of thinking about how many people need to live in poverty in order to maintain our American way of life, let’s instead think about what kind of lifestyle is sustainable if all 7 billion people were treated equally.