A recent article in The New York Times Magazine (“How Humanity Unleashed a Flood of New Diseases,” 6/17/20) describes that as expanding human populations lead to more deforestation, mining, intensive agriculture, and urban sprawl, natural habitats, in turn, are destroyed, forcing wild creatures to venture into human communities. As most predators are eliminated, the remaining animals are forced into unnatural and hazardous arrangements, ultimately jeopardizing our own health. This has created an increase in the frequency of zoonosis outbreaks, including COVID-19, which are diseases that move from animals to humans.
These diseases typically occur after humans have disrupted and destabilized wildlife habitats. This establishes a direct link between zoonoses and unsustainable population growth, which entails urban sprawl, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and ever-increasing ecosystem disruption.
Due to rapid population growth, America is losing natural areas to human development at an alarming rate. For example, since 1982, 43 million acres of natural land — an area the size of Florida — has been paved over to accommodate our growing population. Not only has this unsustainable growth led to water scarcities, urban sprawl, loss of prime farmland, and deforestation, but it has also created conditions that are conducive to zoonoses — those diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans (e.g., Covid-19, West Nile virus, Lyme disease).
Simply put, immigration-driven population growth increases ecological disruption, and ecological disruption leads to animal-borne diseases.
By disrupting and re-configuring our shared ecosystems, through deforestation, mining, intensive agriculture, and urban sprawl, wild animals are forced into human communities. As entire “keystone” species are eliminated from previously-stable areas, the remaining unchecked animal populations settle into unnatural and precarious arrangements, ultimately jeopardizing human health.
Congress needs to turn this trend around, and it needs leaders like you to steer our nation away from the relentless destabilization of our ecosystems — which means reducing our population growth. The most effective and practical approach would be to lower our high rates of immigration, which according to Pew Research accounts for 88% of our population increase. Lowering this number would not reflect negatively on immigrants, who have greatly contributed to our society, but would be a critical step toward saving our environment from irreparable damage.
So as to reduce the unrelenting pressures on the resilience of our natural areas, please work to stabilize the U.S. population, which can only be done by reducing immigration levels. As the 2020 election nears, I’ll be looking at how candidates view high rates of immigration as a proxy for how serious they are about protecting America’s public health and the environment.
Greg Raven, Apple Valley, CA