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Page added on November 27, 2010

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Energy and immigration

Public Policy

THOSE WHO think immigration pressures are bad today are in for a real shock: The combination of climate change and declining Mexican oil production — both of which will strain the personal and public treasuries in Mexico — are likely to magnify the northward pressure. The United States should come to terms with immigration now, before the issue gets intensified. Thankfully, developing good energy policy at home can help relieve immigration pressures from abroad.

Immigration has been the source of heated political debate and discussions of national identity since the United States declared its independence. The waves of immigrants to the United States reads like a rolling map of societal strain over the centuries: English in the 1600s and 1700s to escape religious persecution, Irish in the mid 1800s during the potato famine, Southern and Eastern Europeans in the early 1900s to escape oppression and economic depression, and Asians in the 1980s to flee failed states. Today the headline-grabbing immigration is comprised of Mexicans and other Latin Americans moving northward into the United States. Home-brewed militia, border walls, and beefed-up federal presence all have grown in response to the public perception that today’s immigration problem is worse than before.

And this is just the beginning.

Sophisticated scientific models suggest that Mexico is expected to be hit hard by climate change. Drought and shifts in land use and agriculture are likely to take place. And, as climate change diminishes crop yields and places ever more pressure on limited resources, the rate of immigration to the United States will only increase. A recent paper published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicts that the factors related to climate change will lead to millions of new immigrants from Mexico over the coming decades.

But that’s just one part of the equation. We also must consider how a declining energy sector in Mexico will impact the economy.

Consider Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company that produces crude, natural gas, and petroleum products. Pemex is also the government’s greatest source of income, responsible for financing 40 percent of the federal budget. The Mexican constitution limits foreign investment in oil production and Mexico’s history celebrates government ownership of the industry. This approach has worked for many years, but now Mexico is past peak oil. Crude production has fallen due to maturing oil fields (mainly the Cantarell field, the world’s second-largest oil field), and is not likely to recover to pre-peak levels without a significant amount of outside assistance.

Pemex can no longer afford to update its aging and outdated infrastructure to adapt to dwindling resources. Without competition or outside investment, there has also been little incentive to do so. While international support could help the company pursue potentially profitable enterprises to revive the industry — such as deep offshore exploration in the Gulf of Mexico — the limits on foreign ownership restrict that possibility.

The consequence of a sustained decline in Pemex energy production means three things: reduced income for the federal treasury, fewer high-paying jobs in the energy industry, and reduced energy exports. The first point means the government will have less money to support its programs as demand for social services rises. Concurrently, the number of energy industry jobs will decrease during a time of economic duress. These problems are compounded by declining energy exports and reduced income from global sales of Mexican oil.

The result is a dangerous situation that will likely exacerbate northward migration beyond Mexico’s borders. Unfortunately, this issue isn’t addressed during immigration discussions.

While the Mexican oil and gas sector has constitutional constraints, the US energy sector has more freedom to maneuver. Consequently, fixing our energy policy might be an unexpectedly successful path towards solving immigration challenges. By changing our energy system to mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions, we can help avoid some of the climate-induced effects that will drive Mexicans northwards. By developing large-scale renewable energy partnerships that aren’t forbidden by the Mexican government, we might help mitigate the economic fallout of their peak oil production by creating local jobs to install and maintain solar fields and wind farms using American technologies and products. In the process, we would improve our own energy system while reaping the economic benefits of exporting high-value technologies.

There are already many reasons to bring forth robust energy policy in the United States, but addressing the immigration challenge might be the impetus we need for action.

Boston.com



One Comment on "Energy and immigration"

  1. KenZ300 on Sat, 27th Nov 2010 2:07 am 

    As the world limited resources come head to head with the ever expanding world population growth migration to countries that have resources will increase.

    Will wars be fought over limited resources? Food, water, oil, phosphorous, tuna, coal are all seeing limits to supply on the horizon.

    Will economies and populations collapse due to lack of resources? What caused the decline and disappearance of the great societies of antiquity?

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