The Problem with a Wide Open Gate

I have been somewhat ambivalent about the refugee crisis because I’ve seen the underlying causes ignored despite warnings.  The core issue is “overshoot” – growing past the capacity of the planet to cope. On a personal level my sympathy is with the refugee who is struggling to cope, but on a macro level… we need to find a viable solution.

Without a balanced population in relationship to resources, we have been blindly marching to this damning situation. Those who pointed it out were, at best ignored, and at worst, vilified. There was sorrow & grief in my soul as I saw where we were headed and understood how little I could do to change it.

Written in the early ’70’s, and it’s projections reconfirmed in 2004, pointed out clearly the consequences of ignoring the “limits to growth”. But no one wanted to hear that the party might end; instead choosing to ignore science & rational thought in order to continue “doing what we have always done”. 

The original Limits To Growth (LTG) study published in 1972 1 , the “Report for The Club of Rome‘s Project on the Predicament of Mankind”

The  study, Limits to Growth. … examined the five basic factors that determine and, in their interactions, ultimately limit growth on this planet-

  • population increase,
  • agricultural production,
  • nonrenewable resource depletion,
  • industrial output, and
  • pollution generation.

What are the outcomes from the study? Basically collapse.

When there is not enough food, not enough jobs, power struggles for control of resources, collapse of people’s rights for brute strength (the protections of law morph into the rule of the gun/violence), and a focus on short-term profit at the expense of long-term sustainability… you get people on the move to find a liveable situation.  The refugee’s are a symptom of the underlying sickness of our current cultural framework.

Friedman, in his article, points out possible solutions.

Why am I ambivalent about opening the immigration doors wide?  Historically, we farm, ruin the land & move on.

Because without changing how we interact with the world, having everyone move into the “have” world and out of the “have not” world is not a solution for anything but disaster. It all devolves into everyplace becoming the “have not” world within a short period of time.  We need to address the underlying problems, not the symptoms. We need bold visions and leaders with the wherewithal to lead. Hard to find in this day & age in our current politicians. 

I’m being too hard nosed? Let’s look at opening the doors wide open. Take the population of California and squeeze it into ONE city (like Tokyo)… now, replicate that all over the USA, Europe, etc a million times. (you know, 7.5 BILLION people, our current population), and figure out how you are going to feed them, clothe them, educate, find jobs, etc. Especially after we have destroyed the productivity of the soil, contaminated our waters, fished out the oceans, and turned our climate into “hell on earth”. 

Oh, by the way, anybody consider birth control? I don’t mind how many children you have but please, only use your “allotted share of resources”. If I look at the world population,

  •  it was approx 200 Million,  1 A.D. 
  • 1804 before we hit 1 Billion,
  • increasing to 1.6 Billion by 1900
  • When I was born (in the ’50’s) we were at 2.5 Billion., the baby boomer generation; growth exploded across the planet.
  • By the 1960’s reliable birth control was available but didn’t slow world population.
  • Currently: 7.5 Billion but it is slowing

One world divided by 1 billion, with a USA lifestyle, is probably the max the planet can cope with… if we do it intelligently. 2 billion if we use a european lifestyle (and a happier healthier one overall, I understand). But that takes being proactive and respectful of the world around us that provides us with the capacity to live.


At our current rate we are using up 4 planets of resources on 1 planet.  How long can you draw down that “bank account”?  War, Famine, Disease, & Pestilence are our future writ large. It felt good to read about the issue, while discussing some of the underlying problems, and focusing on developing possible solutions.  

Thomas Freidman wrote an Op-ED for the NYTimes with some very pointed insights to the world crisis occurring now and how we reached this point. He covers several points that I’ve been watching over the last 20 years… namely population growth past the planet’s carrying capacity. He ties many of the loose ends together and points a direction for some kind of resolution to the current crisis. 

Here is an excerpt from the post:

All of that switched in the early 21st century: Climate-driven extreme weather — floods, droughts, heat and cold — on top of man-made deforestation began to hammer many countries, especially their small-scale farmers.

This happened right as developing-world populations exploded.

  • Africa went from 140 million in 1900 to one billion in 2010 to a projected 2.5 billion by 2050.
  • Syria grew from three million people in 1950 to over 22 million today, which, along with droughts, totally stressed its water resources.
  • Guatemala, the main source of the migrant caravan heading our way, has been ravaged by deforestation thanks to illegal logging, farmers cutting trees for firewood and drug traffickers creating landing strips and smuggling trails.

A satellite map just released by University of Cincinnati geography researchers demonstrated that nearly a quarter of the earth’s habitable surface changed between just 1992 and 2015, primarily from forests to agriculture, from grasslands to deserts and from wetlands to urban concrete.

Meanwhile, the internet has enabled citizens to easily compare their living standards with those in Paris or Phoenix — and find a human trafficker to take them there. …

So it’s now much harder to be an average little country. The most frail of them are hemorrhaging people, like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Sudan and most every nation in sub-Saharan Africa. Others — Venezuela, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya — have just fractured.

Together, they’re creating vast zones of disorder, and many people want to get out of them into any zone of order, particularly America or Europe, triggering nationalist-populist backlashes.


I (Thomas Freidman)  was in Argentina last month and am in Peru now; in both countries I found people worried about the refugee flows from Venezuela. Peru has taken in 600,000, and it’s beginning to stir resentment here among lower socio-economic classes.

The BBC reported in August: “Tens of thousands of Venezuelans are fleeing their country amid chronic shortages of food and medicines. The country’s longstanding economic crisis has seen more than two million citizens leave since 2014, causing regional tensions as neighboring countries struggle to accommodate them.”

The story added, “The UN — whose migration agency has warned that the continent faces a refugee ‘crisis moment’ similar to that seen in the Mediterranean in 2015 — is setting up a special team to co-ordinate the regional response. … More than half a million Venezuelans have crossed into Ecuador this year alone and more than a million have entered Colombia in the past 15 months.”

There are now more climate refugees, economic migrants searching for work and political refugees just searching for order than at any point since World War II, nearly 70 million people according to the International Rescue Committee, and 135 million more in need of humanitarian aid.

A responsible presidential candidate in 2020 needs a policy that rationally manages the flow of immigrants into our country and offers a strategy to help stabilize the world of disorder through climate change mitigation, birth control diffusion, reforestation, governance assistance and support for small-scale farmers.

This is our biggest geopolitical problem today. Forget the “Space Corps”; I’d make the “Peace Corps” our fifth service. We should have an Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Peace Corps, to send Americans to help stabilize small farms and governance in the world of disorder.

And this has to be a global project, with the U.S., Europe, India, Korea, China, Russia, Japan all contributing. Otherwise the world of order is going to be increasingly challenged by refugees from the world of disorder, and all rational discussions of immigration will go out the window.

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Thomas L. Friedman is the foreign affairs Op-Ed columnist. He joined the paper in 1981, and has won three Pulitzer Prizes. He is the author of seven books, including “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” which won the National Book Award. @tomfriedman  Facebook

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