Energy and the impact of immigration into the US

In December 1997, representatives from over 160 nations met in Kyoto, Japan, to negotiate binding limitations on greenhouse gas emissions. The outcome of the conference was the Kyoto Protocol, under which industrialized nations agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions an average of 5.2% below 1990 emission levels between 2008 and 2012.

According to the Census Bureau's middle-series projections, the U.S will add more people to its population in the next 50 years as currently live West of the Mississippi River.

The United States has so far refused to sign the agreement, but world political pressures appear likely to force the U.S. to undertake efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, within the next few years. Such efforts will be particularly onerous if U.S. population growth, driven by high immigration, continues on its present path.

An examination of the relationship between energy consumption, population growth, and immigration in the U.S. shows the following:

  • Increased population, not increased consumption, is almost entirely responsible for the one-third increase in U.S. energy usage since 1973.
  • In 2000 the U.S. used over 30 percent more energy than in 1973. But this is not because individuals are using more energy; it's entirely because there are more people.
  • Per capita motor gasoline consumption in the U.S. was virtually unchanged between 1974 and 2000 despite major improvements in the fuel efficiency of new vehicles. Per capita motor gasoline consumption was 471 gallons in 1974 and 463 gallons in 2000. Over this same time period the fuel efficiency of the U.S. passenger car fleet increased from 13.6 miles per gallon (mpg) to 21.4 mpg and the fuel efficiency of the light truck fleet (including vans and SUVs) increased from 11.0 to 17.1 mpg.
  • Immigration is the cause of 40 percent of U.S. population growth in the last quarter century and has been directly responsible for one-third of the increase in energy usage during that period.
  • Residential energy use has increased by 34 percent since 1973. Almost all of that entire increase was due to population growth.
  • "From 1970 to 2000, U.S. population growth was related to approximately 87% of the increase in total U.S. primary energy consumption. To date, since less than 10 percent of U.S. energy supply is derived from renewable sources, the increasing number of American energy consumers is pushing the country down an ever-more precarious, polluting path of dependency on fossil fuels. Not only will global oil and gas reserves be exhausted for all intents within this century, but their exploitation is altering the earth's atmospheric composition and probably its very climate."2
  • The U.S. won't be able to meet emission-reductions goals unless we slow down immigration-driven population growth. Assuming that U.S. immigration levels continue at their current rate, meeting the Kyoto Protocol goals will require that per capita energy consumption in the year 2012 be reduced by 28 percent from the 2000 level. This would require major lifestyle changes for Americans and cause serious economic dislocations.
  • If immigration continues at current high levels, the U.S. will not be able to achieve any meaningful reductions in carbon dioxide emissions without serious economic and social consequences for American citizens.

The situation is, unfortunately, even more serious. We have extracted approximately half of all petroleum on the planet, and global demand is increasing as a result of industrialization of third-world countries, especially China. It is likely that we will be able to sustain current populations of most countries, let alone projected population growth. Our predicament will become all too clear over the next few decades as we draw down the remaining petroleum reserves across the planet.

For more information:

1. See the full report, Running in Place - Immigration's Impact on U.S. Energy Usage, by Donald F. Anthrop; Federation for American Immigration Reform.
2. Also see the book Population Growth -- The Neglected Dimension of America's Persistent Energy/Environmental Problems by Leon Kolankiewicz.