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What's behind those ads? 

TV ad links immigration to global warming

A new TV commercial, sponsored by Santa A new TV commercial, sponsored by Santa Barbara-based Californians for Population Stabilization, purports that increased immigration—both legal and illegal—will quadruple America’s carbon footprint.

In the commercial, running in heavy rotation on local channels, a 20-something male with spiked hair and a five o’clock shadow looks into the camera.

“Concerned about Americans’ huge carbon footprint?” he asks, casually thumbing to a large cutout of a footprint. “Then you should be concerned about immigration.”

Then he strolls over to a table topped with four identical cutouts, which he explains will be a reality in America if immigrants continue to flood the country.

CAPS’ argument is that when immigrants move to the U.S. they become assimilated into the high-polluting lifestyle. In other words, more immigrants means more Americans and more Americans means more global warming.

The commercial is based on a study by the Center for Immigration Studies, a group with a similar philosophy to CAPS. According to CIS, the national population will grow by about 100 million people by 2040 and 82 percent of them will be immigrants, who will clog the air with more pollution.

The global warming commercial is not CAPS’ first foray into the immigration debate. The group released a series of commercials throughout California that slam immigration for leading to rampant crime and overpopulation. Last year, CAPS spent a little more than $1 million, about half of which was spent on campaigns.

But immigrant-caused global warming is an unprecedented argument, one that caught at least one political expert off-guard. Mike Latner, a political science teacher at Cal Poly, said the linkage is an odd one, if not an outright logical fallacy. “The root problem is America’s CO2 emissions,” he said.

CAPS, however, holds firm that there will never be an end to global warming if the U.S. population continues to increase, even if per-person emission levels go down.

“You keep your final goal further away if you just keep on doing that successfully and allowing more and more people,” said CAPS President Diana Hull.

One pro-immigration group believed the latest commercial is one part of a larger effort by CAPS to turn the public against immigrants. California Immigrant Policy Center’s director, Reshma Shamasunder, was livid about the commercial, CAPS, and what she described as a network of anti-immigrant groups with a prejudicial agenda.

“The ad is utter nonsense,” she said. “It uses information from CIS, which is clearly an anti-immigration group.”

CAPS began in 1986 after splitting off from Zero Population Growth. John Tanton, founder of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) also helped create CIS and has been labeled as one of the fathers of the anti-immigration movement in America. Tanton served on the Zero Population Growth executive committee for five years.

But critics were loudest when FAIR received money from the Pioneer Fund, a grantor with roots in eugenics and genetic behaviorism.

Asked about the funds, Hull said in an e-mail, “Anyone involved in trying to stabilize population or work for a sensible U.S. population policy is accused of being a racist and a hater.”

“I think that the right wing, or particularly these anti-immigrant organizations, have a strategy of basically churning up people’s fears, of creating divisiveness; of scapegoating; of attacking immigrants.” Shamasunder said. “And I think for them it’s really about creating an environment where immigrants are not welcome.”

Strangely, CAPS is also heavily tied to the environmental movement. Many members of its board of directors are environmentalists who hold advanced degrees in everything from biology to astronomy.

Anti-immigration and environmentalism are two ideologies that typically fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. “This is one of those areas where politics can have strange bedfellows,” Latner said.

The Sierra Club, however, decided to steer away from the immigration debate in the late 1990s. That move caused friction with CAPS, which still believes population growth, particularly from immigration, has harmful environmental impacts.

“We never understood why the current board of the Sierra Club would not address the population issue,” Hull said.

Andrew Christie, director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club, said, “the situation hasn’t changed much over the last 10 years.”

So why run the commercial now? There are no immigration propositions on the ballot this year and the issue has been largely overshadowed by the poor economy.

Asked about the commercial’s timing, Hull said, “The voice of the people on this issue is, ‘We’re not hearing this anymore in the national presidential campaigns anymore,” Hull said. “Why not?”

Responding to the same question, Shamasunder said, “It’s kind of a long-term campaign to create that hate and to create that environment.”

Writer Colin Rigley can be reached at

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