Radical environmentalists have strong views on immigration

October 24, 2018

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun |

One of the first signs that North American environmentalists were uneasy about high immigration rates came from one of its best-known eco-warriors, David Suzuki.

The Vancouver-based founder of the influential Suzuki Foundation was quoted in a French magazine in 2013 saying Canada’s immigration policy was disgusting because “we plunder southern countries by depriving them of future leaders, and we want to increase our population to support economic growth. … It’s crazy!”

Like some European environmentalists, Suzuki maintained “Canada is full” because most population growth occurs in congested cities. While praising Canadian multiculturalism and supporting welcoming more refugees, Suzuki’s main arguments zeroed in on how Canada is contributing to the brain drain from developing countries and that population growth is an environmentally destructive way to prop up Western economies.

The public reaction in Canada to Suzuki’s reflections was vociferous, focussing on shaming him. The Conservative government and corporate leaders seized on the remarks to try to humiliate the troublesome environmentalist. Then-immigration minister Jason Kenney was among those labelling him “xenophobic” and worse.

Suzuki was upbraided again after he spoke to a Vancouver Sun reporter, saying North American “politicians make the quick assumption they have to keep the economy growing by keeping the population growing.” Suzuki called it disgraceful that Canada was “selectively going after very highly trained people from Pakistan, India and South Africa, like doctors. Now why would one of the richest countries be ripping off the developing world for the people they desperately need?”

Since 2013, as far as I am aware, Suzuki has given up trying to raise the ethical issues inherent in immigration. He didn’t return my calls for an interview and, when he gave a speech on multiculturalism and migration at the Chan Centre in 2014, he pulled his punches, pleasing the crowd with his customary denunciation of economic globalization.

Another noted Canadian environmentalist, however, is picking up where Suzuki left off. John Erik Meyer has been filling in the details of a conservationists’ view of how high immigration rates complicate the fight against population growth, climate change, resource depletion, over-consumption and what it takes to truly assist people in developing countries.

Meyer’s extensive analysis was this year published in The Humanist Perspective. It’s a noted Canadian publication devoted to atheism, “rationalism,” “the cultivation of ethical and creative living” and to fostering “well-reasoned discussions of important human issues.”

As with Suzuki’s critique of Canada’s immigration policy, Meyer’s green reasoning is sure to offend many. But some of his radical analysis of class and power may appeal to those open to unconventional, big-concept responses to looming environmental disaster.

In the month in which the UN’s climate-change panel warned humanity has only 12 years to cut the risk of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty, Meyer said in an interview he believes his perspective could soon gain more momentum. At the least his eight-page essay offers a provocative thought-experiment, which there is no good reason to ban from the marketplace of ideas.

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