California Liberals Can Beat Climate Change by Stopping Illegal Immigration


Climate change and illegal immigration are the two biggest crises that we hear about on the news today.  What may come as a surprise is that there is a significant link between these two.  This article shows how California could dramatically help the greenhouse gas problem in the short term.  Using revenue generated from those improvements, this article then shows how California can help move the world towards energy security and a greenhouse gas emission free future.

As a grandson of a grandfather who came through Ellis Island under quotas, and the son of a mother who spoke English as a second language, I understand why people want to come to America for its opportunities.  This article shows that we have no business allowing uncontrolled immigration into our country until we deal with our energy infrastructure and carbon footprint issues.  No matter where you are on the political spectrum, this proposal should go a long way toward solving at least one of the crises that concern you.

Learning from History

In 1973, the OPEC Oil Embargo resulted in gas lines throughout the United States.  Americans were allowed to buy gas only on alternate days depending upon their license plates and often had to wait in line for hours at a time to get gasoline when they could.  After the OPEC Oil Embargo, there was a debate as to what the United States should do regarding energy security.  The issues in the 1970s were similar to those we face today; the difference is a shift in goals.  In the 1970s, there were scientific studies declaring that "Peak Oil" would be reached soon and that we might not have any oil remaining by the year 2000.  Newsweek magazine declared that it looked as if we would be entering a "new Ice Age."  In addition, in California, there was tremendous smog pollution.  Fortunately, the California Air Resources Board has dramatically reduced smog in our state, and at least the timing of Peak Oil and Ice Age worries has been disproven.

In the mid 1970s, it seemed as though nuclear reactors were the best short-term alternative to oil and that nuclear fusion reactors would be a utopian solution sometime in the future.  The great thing about nuclear fusion was that it didn't have significant nuclear waste, and it could be used to create clean electricity or hydrogen for the transportation industry.  France chose to build a large number of nuclear plants to protect its energy supply.  Even today, almost all of France's electricity generation is from nuclear power.  The French nuclear program allows France to have a very low greenhouse gas emissions footprint.

The Climate Change Problem

Today, many people proclaim climate change as an existential problem.  There are proposals for the United States to spend many trillions of dollars to reduce the greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide [CO2] and methane) that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere over the coming century.  From a greenhouse gas emission standpoint, hydro, solar, wind, and nuclear have no emissions and all have equal value.  Coal has the worst greenhouse gas emissions (without any carbon sequestration), and natural gas is presently approximately twice as clean as coal.

The revolution in natural gas extraction has helped to provide the United States with some energy security.  According to the EPA, the conversion of significant electricity production from coal to natural gas has helped to keep the United States' greenhouse gas emissions at approximately the same level as they were three decades ago.

The Carbon Footprint Problem with Illegal Immigration

The high standard of living in the United States results in higher CO2 emissions for people residing here relative to those residing in most other countries.  The World Bank documents how those searching for economic opportunity and a safer life from Central America, Africa, or Asia are coming from countries where per-person CO2 emissions amount to approximately 1 metric ton per year.  The United States has a per-person CO2 emission rate of 16 metric tons per year.  Therefore, on average, a person coming from those countries would see an increase in his CO2 emissions of approximately 15 metric tons per year.  Since all states are working to slowly reduce emissions over time, a much more conservative figure of 10 metric tons of CO2 per person per year is used in our calculations.

According to Gallup, there are 750 million adults who would like to migrate worldwide.  Using a conservative value of 10.5 million people who will illegally immigrate to the United States over the next 30 years, that number corresponds to a little over 1% of those who would like to migrate and approximately 0.1% of the world's population.  The problem is that their effect on greenhouse gas emissions would be dramatic.

If there are 350,000 people illegally immigrating to the United States each year, each of whom results in 10 metric tons more of CO2 emissions per year, this results in an additional 3.5 million metric tons produced in the first year.  As 350,000 more people illegally immigrate to the United States each year, the problem grows geometrically.  In ten years, the additional 3,500,000 people in the United States result in an additional 35 million metric tons of CO2 per year.  In 30 years, the additional 10,500,000 people in the United States result in an additional 105 million metric tons of CO2 per year.

To help put these numbers in perspective, California has plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, which translates to 171 million metric tons of CO2 per year.  There is a target goal of an additional 171 million metric tons per year by 2050.  Major reductions in illegal immigration to the United States would achieve over 60% as much CO2 reduction as California hopes to achieve in the 20 years between 2030 and 2050.

California's Cap and Trade Approach to Fight Climate Change

As a means of achieving compliance with California's greenhouse gas emission goals, the state of California has established a Cap and Trade system.  Key emitters of CO2 are required to reduce their emissions below targeted levels or purchase Cap and Trade allowances for forgiveness.  For 2021, the lowest price that the state will sell allowances for is $16.20 per metric ton of CO2.  For 2030, the lowest price that the state will sell allowances for is $25.20 per metric ton of CO2.  These prices are the lowest, but depending upon the circumstances, the price could rise to the Reserve Price of $72.90 in 2021 and $81.90 in 2030.  Through the Cap and Trade approach, California is placing a range in social value for a ton of CO2 at between $16 and $82 per metric ton.  Therefore, the social cost to the planet of each person illegally immigrating to the United States, from a greenhouse gas perspective, translates to between $160 and $820 per year.

The California Cap and Trade approach allows people to receive offsets for doing things that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  These include things such as planting new forests and changing how rice is grown.  Since the problem is truly global, from a global perspective, it doesn't matter where the improvement comes from.  If we review the analysis from above, and use a conservative value of $25 per metric ton of CO2 saved over the 2020–2050 timeframe, the value of stopping illegal immigration to the United States would be $40 billion over those 30 years.  The benefits of this approach will last well beyond a 30-year horizon and will continue to grow.  By the year 2050, the benefits are over $2.6 billion per year.

We should let the experts in the field determine the best solutions to stop people from illegally immigrating to our country.  California could then fund infrastructure approaches that meet strict performance goals for virtually stopping illegal entry.  The state could then sell carbon offsets equal to the CO2 savings achieved by this infrastructure spending.  This would recoup the capital investment and make a significant profit.  In addition, California could evaluate proposals to add solar panels and windmills to these infrastructure designs, which could significantly increase the value well beyond $40 billion over the next 30 years.  If California were to supplement the United States' spending on border security with $20 billion, a secure border could be completed much earlier and would be much more effective.

Energy Solutions for Greenhouse Gas Reduction

There are five technologies that can help us move toward a greenhouse gas free future: solar, wind, hydro, nuclear fission, and nuclear fusion.  The California Scoping Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions shows the breakdown of greenhouse gas emissions by sector.  The top four sectors are Transportation (37%), Industrial (21%), Electricity Generation (in and out of state) (19%), and Commercial and Residential Buildings (9%).  By focusing on and incentivizing renewables for electricity generation (solar and wind), California has artificially increased its electricity costs.  As an example, the U.S. government reviews electricity costs by state, and though California is blessed with tremendous hydroelectric, solar, and wind opportunities, electrical costs in California are about 60% higher than the national average.  This means that the transportation sector, which contributes almost twice as much to greenhouse gas emissions as the electricity generation sector, will be slower to convert to electric or hydrogen-based technology.  By keeping electricity prices artificially high, California could actually be making the greenhouse gas emission problem worse.

The Limitations of Renewable Approaches (Solar, Wind, and Hydro)

There must be significant planning to integrate renewables into the electrical grid since their output power regularly drops to zero from night and clouds, no wind, and drought.  They can't be the primary source of energy for a state or nation, unless economical and large grid energy storage systems are developed.  As such, there must be a constant and reliable source of power to which incremental renewable power can be added when available.  In addition, all of the renewable approaches impact the environment and require significant capital expenditures.

Many square miles of California desert landscape have been covered with solar farms.  The Topaz Solar Farm in central California covers 7.3 square miles (19 sq km).  It has a peak output of 550 MW and a total annual output of 1,100 GWH.  By comparison, California's sole remaining nuclear power plant facility at Diablo Canyon covers approximately 1.6 square miles.  It has a peak output of 2.16 GW and a total annual output of approximately 17,000 GWH.  To replicate the annual output power of Diablo Canyon using solar farms would require covering 112.8 square miles (293.3 sq km) of land.

Tall windmills presently cover the Altamont, Tehachapi, and San Gorgonio passes in California and have significantly changed the skylines.  In the case of hydro-electric power, additional reservoirs could provide clean power during wet years, but people complain about losing natural wildwater rapids.  To help protect against frequent droughts, additional water storage for California would provide a quadruple benefit of clean power generation, water for agriculture, recreation, and water for our state's residents.

Nuclear Fission

In the last 50 years, there have been three major nuclear disasters worldwide: Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania (0 dead), Chernobyl in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (49 dead), and Fukushima in Japan  (1 dead).  In the case of Fukushima, a 9.1-magnitude earthquake and tsunami killed 15,897 people.  Only one person directly died as a result of reactor meltdown caused by a tsunami from the earthquake hitting the plant.  The safety results of the nuclear industry, when looked at objectively, have been strong.

By comparison, 16 million customers in Northern California receive their electricity and natural gas from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E).  In the last ten years, PG&E energy transmission systems appear to have cost the lives of 93 people and caused over $20 billion in damage.  The first accident was the San Bruno natural gas explosion south of San Francisco, where eight people died in 2010.  This past November, the Paradise (Camp) Fire appears to have been caused by PG&E transmission line sparks.  In all, 85 people suffered a fiery death, and over $20 billion in damage was done in this inferno.  In the last decade, energy transmission systems in Northern California have resulted in the deaths of more people than every commercial nuclear reactor accident across the world over the last 50 years combined. 

Nuclear Fusion

There is a four-billion-year history of nuclear fusion successfully powering our solar system.  All of the Sun's energy comes from nuclear fusion.  Solar energy is from heat or photovoltaic conversion of sunlight, and all weather, including wind and rain, is the result of the atmosphere responding to uneven heating of the Earth by the Sun.  Successful commercial nuclear fusion here on Earth would provide clean electricity that could also be used to power vehicles.

Nuclear fusion is now 40 years closer to reality than in the 1970s, when it appeared to be a "holy grail" long-term solution to America's energy security.  The United States presently spends about $200 million per year on a joint nuclear fusion development program with the European Union, Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea.  By comparison, between 1960 and 1969, the U.S. spent $112 billion (present dollars) on the Apollo program, by far the greatest feat in human engineering.  

Areas Where California Could Use Carbon Offset Profits to Really Fight Climate Change

California should not diminish the impact of its financial investments by funding remotely related social justice programs, but should focus on eliminating the underlying problem.

1. California could easily match the United States' contribution to economical fusion energy research and development.  Contests could be created for reaching milestones.  Rewards (e.g., $100-million prizes) for achieving key technical breakthroughs could start a gold rush mentality in Silicon Valley. 

2. Since China, India, and many developing countries are producing significant numbers of coal power plants, there is a tremendous need to cost-effectively reduce their emissions.  As citizens of the world, we will suffer just as much from their emissions, and we should do what we can to help them.  Even in California, significant energy will need to be produced with natural gas until a cleaner replacement is developed (e.g., new generations of nuclear fission or nuclear fusion).


If the United States made it a national goal to begin the rollout of commercial nuclear fusion by 2050, the goal could inspire the country and increase the chance of success in that time frame.  In the meantime, this proposal shows how California could be contributing to significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions while preparing for a brighter future.

Brian S. Messenger attended the University of California, Berkeley and earned both a bachelor of science degree (1982) and a master of science degree (1984) in electrical engineering and computer science.  He has been an engineer, inventor, corporate executive, entrepreneur, expert witness, and consultant over the last 35 years in Silicon Valley.  Brian has lived in California his entire life and really appreciates California's parks, forests, mountains, deserts, lakes, and ocean coastlines.  As a California taxpayer, he wants to help make sure that our hard-earned taxpayer dollars are spent intelligently.