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Greenwashing Hate

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Issue: 73 Section: Environment Geography: Canada Topics: immigration

November 17, 2010

Greenwashing Hate

Immigrants scapegoated for environmental degradation

by Cameron Fenton

Photo: Caitlin Crawshaw

MONTREAL—The Centre for Immigration Policy Reform (CIPR), a recently launched immigration reform lobby group based in Ottawa, is using environmental arguments and “green” rhetoric to push for more restrictive immigration policies in Canada.

“High immigration levels make it more difficult to achieve Canada’s environmental objectives and inhibit efforts to reduce the extraordinary size of our ecological footprint,” according to the front page of the CIPR website. Critics say this is painting a green veneer on an old picture.

The “greening of hate” is a phrase coined by Betsy Hartmann, director of the US-based Population and Development Program. In her 2010 essay, "The Greening of Hate: An Environmentalist's Essay," she writes about the anti-immigration lobby's growing tendency toward “the scapegoating of immigrants for environmental degradation.”

Environmental arguments can lend respectability to arguments in favour of restrictive immigration policies, says Ian Angus, editor of the website Climate & Capitalism and the book The Global Fight for Climate Justice. "It is harder today than it was forty years ago for someone to stand up and say, ‘Canada should be a haven for white people who speak English,' but you can say, ‘We want to protect Canada’s environment, so let's keep our population down.’”

Canada is both a major greenhouse gas emitter and and a major recipient nation of immigrants, facts that—until recently—were rarely discussed in the same sentence.

“Most immigrants [to Canada] come from developing countries, and their ecological footprint is somewhere between four and ten times larger in Canada than in their own country," says Martin Collacott, Secretary of the Board of Directors and a spokesperson for the CIPR. He argues that limiting immigration would thus decrease global greenhouse gas emissions and help Canada cap its own emissions.

“[The argument] that, because Canada has such a rotten record on greenhouse gas emissions, we should prevent people from Third World countries from coming here is outrageous” says Angus. In his eyes, Collacott's argument scapegoats immigrants for problems they have little or nothing to do with. Canada's carbon footprint is a result of unsustainable production, consumption and trade driven by corporate-led globalization—and not immigration, according to many climate experts.

Angus adds that the CIPR's argument is deeply hypocritical, "given that so much of [Canada's] affluence is the result of ripping off those countries [where immigrants often come from].” Historically, Canada’s support for and direct involvement in trade programs, military operations and political manoeuvring in the Global South have been of great financial benefit to the North and of great detriment to people in the South.

Collacott's argument is flawed in a number of other ways, continues Angus. He points out that Collacott's claim that immigrants generate huge quantities of greenhouse gas emissions upon arriving in Canada is based on per capita emissions. Per capita calculations, which average 16 tonnes per person per year in Canada, include industrial and transport emissions—the largest emitters in Canad—yet fail to attribute them to their source. In fact, the average person living in Canada emits roughly five tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year; the Alberta tar sands emit 27,000,000 tonnes in the same period.

“This twisted logic would suggest that we should deport all the poor people from around the world to 'developing' nations while allowing the rich to live together with their greenhouse-gas-intensive life styles,” says Harjap Grewal, an organizer with No One Is Illegal Vancouver.

“Forward-thinking climate activists know that now is a critical time to ensure that the precedent for immigration policy protects human rights because immigration is going to get a lot more common,” says Joshua Kahn Russell, a trainer with the Ruckus Society, a network of environmental and social-justice organizers.

Fifty million people will have been displaced by the end of 2010 due to climate change and related impacts, rising to between 200 million and one billion displaced people by mid-century, according to Mesa 6, the migration working group of the Cochabamba People's Summit on Climate Change.

This has led many people to argue that climate debt—the concept that historically polluting nations bear a financial responsibility to those nations with the least culpability for climate change—needs to extend beyond simple financial reparations to include political and social obligations. The final text from the Cochabamba People's Summit includes a call for a global human rights treaty to ensure the freedom of movement of climate-displaced people. It also proposes structures to hold major polluting nations accountable for the physical, emotional and cultural trauma caused by mass internal and external displacement, both within and from nations in the Global South.

Currently, Citizenship and Immigration Canada “does not recognize persons displaced by environmental change or disaster as refugees.” Immigration policy has strict definitions for people allowed access to Canada—definitions that limit access to Canada to persons facing danger imposed by state, military and other external human forces.

Karen Shadd, a spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, told The Dominion, “There are no plans to amend these definitions.”

“It makes no sense to say that we should fill up Canada with people from poorer countries," says Callicott. "I think we can do more by keeping our country in good shape and helping those countries in other ways, through aid and trade arrangements.”

Syed Hussan, an organizer with No One Is Illegal Toronto, points out that “aid and development projects that follow [climate disasters] result in further dislocation and economic disadvantages.” The scope and distribution of aid projects often leave frontline communities confronting more obstacles. Examples of this include the challenges faced by some residents of New Orleans attempting to return to their homes after Hurricane Katrina, or the current struggles for community reconstruction efforts in Haiti.

Groups working to further limit and control immigration to Canada are nothing new, but the political clout of an organization like the CIPR, along with anti-immigration precedents being set around the world, has Angus worried.

"[The CIPR] are people with a substantial amount of influence in the Conservative party in particular,” says Angus.

The board and advisory council of the CIPR are made up of a number of prominent figures of the Canadian right, including James Bissett, the former director general of the Canadian Immigration Service, and Peter White, former executive of Conrad Black’s Hollinger newspaper group. Derek Burney is a member of the CIPR's advisory board. He played a key role in brokering the 1988 Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, and currently sits on the board of media conglomerates CanWest and Quebecor as well as energy giants Shell Canada and TransCanada Inc. He is also a long-standing advisor to the Conservative party, having worked as Chief of Staff to Brian Mulroney and as head of the Conservative Transition Team following the 2006 federal election. He was recently appointed as Chair of the Selection Committee for the current government’s Canada Excellence Research Chairs program.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has identified the CIPR as “among the range of stakeholder groups that [they] deal with.” Citizenship and Immigration Canada has never considered community organizations and immigrant justice groups as "stakeholders."

Governments around the world have already begun to take steps to limit immigration based on “green” arguments.

This summer, Britain announced it would be implementing an “Immigration Cap,” citing environmental reasons as a major influence behind the decision. Australia renamed the position of Minister of Population to Minister for Sustainable Population, appointing Tony Burke to oversee potential immigration policy reforms to protect the Australian environment. The emergence of a powerful group like the CIPR in Canada has organizers worried that the type of anti-immigration sentiment and legislation appearing in other nations is coming to Canada.

“[Anti-immigrant think tanks] are very dangerous," says Hussan. "They produce ideas of hatred couched in reason which they push into university research programs and into government policy.”

“The fight for free and just movement of people is the fight to end war and occupation, the fight to end ecological destruction,” Hussan explains. “Environmental justice movements need to challenge the racist rhetoric of organizations like the CIPR with facts, with stories, with creative and direct actions—as organizers, it is critical that we anticipate and win the battle of hearts and ideas.”

Cameron Fenton is a former intern and Membership Coordinator with The Dominion and a community organizer in Montreal.

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Closing the Door

Bit late on that; might have worked four or five centuries ago.

Immigration Impacts Just About Everything

It is amazing to me that any educated environmentalist would deny the link between population growth and environmental stress.

In the case of immigration and Canada's carbon emissions, our policy of mass immigration is responsible for adding a little over two Torontos to our footprint since 1990. The emissions resulting from this growth have pushed us to levels approaching 35% over our Kyoto target.

2/3 of this carbon emissions overshoot is due to mass immigration and only about 10% is due to the oil sands. Oil sands emissions are growing rapidly though and will become a larger contributor up to 2020. Beyond that carbon capture HOPEFULLY will work as advertised and emissions growth will start to moderate.

If CC does not work, (no surprise) then oil sand emissions will probably exceed those caused by mass immigration. If not the immigration generated emissions will continue to soar off into the stratosphere (sorry for the pun) while oil sands emissions level off by 2050.

This is not a pretty picture any way you look at it but to claim mass immigration is not the largest cause of Canada's growth of emissions is utterly irresponsible.

BTW, our emissions would be even higher (8% to 10% by my calculation) if goods made in China and consumed here were added into the mix. They should be and China gets a bad wrap for their emissions growth which is significantly generated by exports, thereby letting western nations off the hook.

John Meyer

You are so right, Mr. Meyer

You are so right, Mr. Meyer and keep up the good work.

Don't ignore the problem

I don't dispute anything said in this article by the two activists cited, and as the son of two immigrants, my citizenship papers seem absolutely ridiculous next to friends who have been in Canada longer than I am alive, and still don't have that magic piece of paper.

That being said, the carrying capacity of land and the planet in general are real things. While the Earth is certainly waaayyy over its sustainable limit, the land within the Canadian state is also heavily stressed, and due to the simple fact its so fucking cold here, anyone living with any decent standard of life is going to consume much more than their brothers and sisters further South.

While this conservative NGO undoubtedly has ulterior motives, that doesn't mean we should bury our heads in the sand on this issue because very real lives are being lost in the current global ecological armageddon, and as a species, what seems wise from a survival perspective is to stay concentrated in the regions of the world more suited to our existence without the use of technology, that is, the tropics.

"So why don't you go there" I hear you saying, and maybe someday I will, I am simply saying that it makes sense for this land to be less populated with humans, and I really don't give a fuck what colour they are. The indigenous people that lived here before the genocide began, while they were often welcoming and extremely accomadating of outsiders, also practiced regular and deadly tribal wars over what were often land use issues. If one tribe were to overhunt or otherwise degrade an area so it couldn't support them, despite what colonizers said, this land was not empty, and they could not just walk into the neighboring forest. People would fight to protect their land bases from anyone irresponsible enough to destroy their own, and it was these invisible borders, in many ways more restrictive than those of the current states on Turtle Isalnd, that were part of the reason native peoples lived in balance with their natural habitats, and managed to so wisely control their own populations.

If I destroy the piece of land I live or eat from, I can just as easily move to another part of Toronto, or even hop on a bus or plane to Vancouver. Nobody's stopping me, I'm a citizen of this gigantic, corporate controlled state.

Now of course we are not living in pre-conquest times, and virtually everyone in Canada is living an industrialized life that is ripping our biosphere to shreds. The only reason I am writing this is to get people to think about what they believe in, and not simply oppose a position because your enemies advocate it, the world has many shades and colours in between black and white.

As we make a revolution that includes respecting our land, and absolutely minimizing our damage to our surroundings, we may find that part of that equation means reducing the amount of people on the land, both my discouraging overpopulation here, and potentially limiting the amount of people we let in. Priority, or perhaps the only people we accept, should be refugees and those being persecuted in their homeland, as opposed to the higher income, wealth seeking consumers currently favored by immigration Canada. Don't want to get into an arguement about anarchism vs. federal democracy here, but if you don't believe in states at all, there are three lovely places you could go to see these ideals in practice in the former countries of Eastern Congo, Somalia and most of Afghanistan, all of which have non-existent national borders.

The most effective way to end global starvation and our population crisis (yes this is secondary to consumption, but whether we like it or not, people born in the poor world today are going to do everything possible to live better, less hungry lives, and that means demolishing more wilderness to become agricultural land, not to mention industrial demands, as they might like computers too) is for the rich world to pay reparations to poor countries via assistance in self-sufficient, organic farming in order to be truly independent, as well as massive investment in education for women, which is the most powerful way to both lift entire communities out of poverty and suffering, and drastically lower the birth rate at the same time as empowered women decide for themselves how many kids they want to have. This would of course all go against the interests of global capitalism, which is why its not discussed in the mainstream, but the whole point is, we should be framing the debate, not just shouting at all the lies put up by those in power, without proposing a more positive solution ourselves.

I may be wrong and maybe the sustainable carrying capacity of Canada is much greater than 34 million people. Maybe not, but rather than focusing on the bullshit spewed by the conservative party, why not propose our own solutions.

FYI I've started a movement to pass emergency measures to deal with environmental destruction, local and global poverty via the unification of Canada's two non-corporate political parties. I am not a member of either and don't speak for their policies on immigration, just trying to take power back for people and our living relations, and kick non-human entities, corporations, out of the debate entirely.

The website for that is
GREENDP: Canadians For a United Party

Great article. Immigration

Great article. Immigration to Canada is driven by the violent and massive displacement/dispossession caused by economic policies (tar sands, free trade/corporate rights deals) pursued by Canadian corporations and gov't reps. These are the same destructive economic policies that are causing the high carbon emissions in Canada that people are rightly concerned about. Knowing this, how can we possibly justify restricting people from moving here? The article does a great service in warning people to be aware of attempts by corp/ gov't elites to co-opt concern for the environment in order to pursue immigration and related polices aimed at maintaining this system and status quo of oppression and injustice.

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