What price Immigration in a Full Country

Lots of Londonites

This week my inbox contained an email exhorting me to write to the Department of Transport: to be precise – to the convener of a public consultation process being conducted by the Department of Transport. This consultation relates to the use of full body scanners in UK airports.

Now I know and you know and so does my brother (who should know having been involved in these consultative processes with government since they started) that the public consultative process is a cynical game played by both sides of the consultative fence.

So I wrote my letter decrying yet another imposition, loss of privacy and waste of money on yet another security measure that can guarantee no security at all. At this point, my better half reminded me that Benjamin Franklin once famously said:

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Quite right, too!

If you have ever tried to catch an airplane, you will know that tempers can flare as would-be passengers take off shoes, belts, jackets, expose laptops, drag out plastic bags of cosmetics (all liquid containers must be under 100ml, please). Then you have to have your main luggage bag emptied and searched, scanned and dusted because you forgot one stupid little item that set the security guards on edge. Or you go through the electronic scanner and something sets THAT off in a high screech and you wonder what the hell is attached to your body that you didn’t know about.

So when I contemplated the thought of a full body scan as well as the afore-mentioned grossly insulting, irritating and ultimately useless security measures, I had no difficulty whipping off a letter of condemnation of any such thing being employed in UK airports on a full time basis. Whew! If the UK dealt with its immigration policy more soundly, they could eliminate the problem that leads to the security measures. But it looks as though the immigration numbers are set to remain at about 300,000 per annum.

I started thinking about the future of the burgeoning population in the UK. Like all western post industrial countries, the UK allows and actively encourages some immigration or, at least, can’t seem to say ‘No’ and mean it.

John Ware from BBC Panorama wrote an article (the BBC transmitted Panorama – Is Britain Full) on projected population growth in the UK just before the elections. All three main party leaders indicated that they would be tough on immigration. Yeah? Is that so – election promises don’t often translate into action. We are still waiting for the promised scrapping of the ID card now that the ConDem coalition is in power.

Anyway, the article asks:

So is Britain getting full?

With immigration projected to drive two thirds of our population growth, the polls suggest voters think the answer is “Yes”.

Next to the economy, immigration is the second most important issue, beyond even crime and the NHS.

I had thought that 60m was projected to be the carrying capacity of the UK but it appears not. I mean the country seems to have already overreached that figure and is still going. The statistics quoted show:

  • 1960: 52.3m
  • 1990: 57.2m
  • 2010: 62.2m (projected)
  • 2029: 70.2m (projected)
  • 2033: 71.6m (projected)
  • Source: ONS

What is worrying is that four out of 10 new households are being accounted for by immigration and, I didn’t know this, that the new houses being built have the smallest dimensions in Europe. In the UK, like other western post industrial countries, more and more people are living by themselves and for longer anyway.

Then what about the needed infrastructure to support the increased population? Never mind the financial cost – where are the resources coming from? Thames Water has just opened its £270m desalination plant in the Thames Estuary. That’s an indication that the resource is getting thinner on the ground. Now there’s talk of flooding 5,000 acres in the south east to make a reservoir for future water storage of some 100 million tonnes. And that’s just potable water. What about sewerage, power, schools and hospitals and all the rest?

You can see how this is set to become a massive problem. And this is just the UK. It is not like other countries are emptying their cities to send people to the UK. A large part of this burgeoning problem is the left-over legacy from England being a successful colonial power to countries that now face massive economic, political and environmental upheaval as self governing nations (I use the phrase advisedly). The UK looks a safe haven for many of the dissidents and dispossessed in their own countries.

Immigration control is at heart a political decision and no political party will take that decision to cut immigration in any meaningful way.

The other dimly seen consequence of overpopulation is the reduction in biodiversity. It is hard to measure how much we do have but what we take out of the planet (the ecological footprint) was, in 2006, estimated at 1.4 times the biological capacity of the earth. Here’s a quote from good old Wikipedia:

The ecological footprint is a measure of human demand on the Earth’s ecosystems. It compares human demand with planet Earth‘s ecological capacity to regenerate. It represents the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to regenerate the resources a human population consumes and to absorb and render harmless the corresponding waste. Using this assessment, it is possible to estimate how much of the Earth (or how many planet Earths) it would take to support humanity if everybody lived a given lifestyle. For 2006, humanity’s total ecological footprint was estimated at 1.4 planet Earths – in other words, humanity uses ecological services 1.4 times as fast as Earth can renew them.

That should cause us to stop and consider our options. I said last week that we appear to be only able to see ourselves individually and unable to see the effect we are having on the global population. I mean – we haven’t got another planet. Even if we did, the time, finances and effort, let alone the actual time taken to get there, set up shop, build infrastructure and all the add-ons that we are accustomed to have is prohibitive.

To all intents and purposes, this is our planet, the only one we will have and we are contributing to its polluted demise somewhat earlier than predicted. Not me, not you, but maybe our grandchildren. Lousy prospect isn’t it?

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