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For environmentalists, a growing split over immigration

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"The Hispanic population in 2005 was much younger, with a median age of 27.2 years compared to the population as a whole at 36.2 years. About a third of the Hispanic population was under 18, compared with one-fourth of the total population," according to the Census Bureau report. That means such younger people are just entering (or will remain longer in) the years in which they have children of their own.

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Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, finds that once women emigrate to the US, most tend to have more children than they would have in their home countries. "Among Mexican immigrants in the United States fertility averages 3.5 children per woman compared to 2.4 children per woman in Mexico," he wrote in a study last October. And the same is true among Chinese immigrants. Fertility is 2.3 in the US compared with 1.7 in China. However, typically these high fertility rates decline in the successive generations as immigrants assimilate into America.

"New immigrants (legal and illegal) plus births to immigrants add some 2.3 million people to the United States each year," Camarota writes, "accounting for most of the nation's population increase."

Over the past 60 to 70 years, US population doubled to nearly 300 million. If current birth and immigration rates were to remain unchanged for another 60 to 70 years, US population again would double to some 600 million people - the equivalent of adding another state the size of California every decade.

"You just can't deal with that issue without dealing with immigration," says Bill Elder of Issaquah, Wash., a former Sierra Club activist now organizing prominent conservation leaders to focus on population.

Though China and India have much larger populations, the US has the highest population growth rate of all developed countries. Also, experts say, Americans on average have greater environmental impact. The equation for this is I = PAT (Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology), with such impact being the main thing determining whether an area's "carrying capacity" has been exceeded.

Harvard University ecologist Edward Wilson figures that the "ecological footprint" - which he defined in a Scientific American article in 2002 as "the average amount of productive land and shallow sea appropriated by each person in bits and pieces from around the world for food, water, housing, energy, transportation, commerce, and waste absorption" - is about 5 acres per person worldwide. In the US, each individual's ecological footprint is about 24 acres, according to Dr. Wilson.

"Our responsibility for pollution and resource use is all out of proportion to our numbers," says Alan Kuper, a retired physicist in Cleveland and founder of Comprehensive US Sustainable Population. The group publishes a "Congressional Environmental Scorecard" on lawmakers' votes about conservation, consumption, and population, including immigration. "It's not a matter of where or how people come, it's the growth that we have to be concerned with," says Dr. Kuper. "If you're going to be an environmentalist, you have to be concerned about the numbers as well as the usual issues - public lands, energy, pollution, and so forth - because the numbers will just wipe you out."

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