Chinese born migrants have biggest carbon footprints

Earlier this week, I published two articles (here and here) explaining why Australia’s mass immigration program – which adds around a Canberra-worth of population every year – will make it next to impossible to meet our Paris Agreement targets to reduce carbon emissions.

The logic is simple: adding millions more people to Australia’s population means millions more energy users and carbon emitters, making achieving our emissions targets so much more difficult.

Several commenters attacked my view, claiming that climate change is a global problem. Therefore, it doesn’t matter where people live.

Moreover, they claimed that slowing Australia’s population growth would do little to stop global over-population. This is true; although exactly the same argument could be made that reducing Australia’s emissions would do little to lower global carbon emissions.

Ultimately, Australia can only control what happens within its own borders. And growing the population so fast is unambiguously negative for Australia’s environment, water security, liveability, housing affordability, as well as meeting our emissions reduction targets. So why go down this path?

While climate change is a global problem, most commentators (myself included) believe that Australia should act locally. The only difference is that, unlike me, many of these same commentators do not believe that Australia should act locally on population growth, even though it too is a global problem. Spot the contradiction?

There is another problem with their view that it doesn’t matter where people live. The fact is that when migrants from developing nations come to Australia, their carbon footprints grow significantly.

A case in point is China, which is now Australia’s second largest migrant group, as well as one of the fastest growing:

A recent Swinburn University study showed that Chinese-born migrants have giant ecological footprints that dwarfs the Australian-born population:

In 2010, China overtook the United Kingdom as Australia’s largest source of permanent migrants (a position now held by India). Since then, China-born migrants have averaged around 15% of the annual intake…

Our findings are based on an extensive face-to-face survey of 61 China-born and 72 Australia-born residents. The main findings were as follows.

Within a decade of arrival in Melbourne, China-born urban consumption patterns were more than three times their consumption before their migration…

It is apparent that consumer acculturation is the major process by which Chinese migrants have come to mirror the host society in Australia. Cultural integration is less evident – it lags consumer acculturation. This was clear from a comparison of scores on a Cultural and Linguistic Difference (CALD) Index.

The index incorporated measures of birthplace, English proficiency, religion, food preferences, participation in entertainment and festivals, avenues of social interaction and engagement with neighbourhood communities. The gap between the China-born and Australia-born groups’ scores on the CALD Index was significant (see Figure 1). This suggests a strong cultural influence on the China-born group’s urban consumption behaviours is likely…

A comparison of the different components of the ecological footprints of China-born and Australia-born residents was also revealing. Housing footprints measuring the size and type of dwelling occupied by the China-born residents were 18% larger overall.

This may be due to the role housing plays in reflecting an attained status (mien-tzu, or “to save face”) within the host society. Consumption levels that outstrip those of Australia-born residents indicate the potential danger of housing consumption being used to indicate “successful” settlement in Australia.

Food footprints of the China-born were 16% larger than the Australia-born. This reflected higher consumption of meat and dairy products and lower consumption of home-grown vegetables. Carbon footprints of the China-born were 37% bigger, mainly as a result of more frequent overseas travel.

Thus, while Australia’s mass immigration program is unambiguously hampering its ability to meet the Paris Agreement emissions reduction targets, it could also be raising Australia’s per capita emissions (other things equal).

As an aside, the glutenous consumption and high carbon footprint of Chinese-born migrants comes despite them being the second lowest paid diaspora, earning considerably less than the Australian-born population, according to the ABS:

In any event, it is a bad result for Australia and the world.

Unconventional Economist
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  1. I always wondered how having migrants from the third world living first world lifestyles in Australia wouldn’t unambiguously be worse for the environment.

  2. If the developed world stop allowing people from third world countries to immigrate at will, then those countries might be incentivised to tackle their over population problem. Currently all they do is export it.

    • Whilst this is true, they probably feel it’s a fair swap for us dumping all our ‘recycling’ and e-waste in their country. :-/

  3. I don’t think it’s accurate to say your view was attacked, the article doesn’t need to hang on that at all
    they were fair comments, I thought

  4. If crushing living standards of locals isn’t a strong enough argument to get immigration reduced, what possible difference do you think carbon footprint is going to make?
    Nothing matters except feeding the machine and maximizing profits.

    • Sadly I couldn’t give a flying F about mine or anyone’s else carbon footprint- migrant or otherwise.
      That said 7 working days into the new year hemmed in by road & civil works on all fronts, I wish everyone landed here illegally or semi legally (govt blind eyes included) since 2006 would F off back to where they came from.
      If that makes me fully fledged racist then so be it. I don’t care:)))

      • Well said, and most of them couldn’t give a rats about the Sydney water shortage or the bush fire crisis particularly those who’ve arrived here in the last 5 years and I meet a lot of them every week in my retirement job ferrying them around.

  5. Leith. I agree with drastically slowing the use of temporary migrant labour, however I cannot see how you can infer anything from such a small sample size. This is not statistically significant. In addition, the study you cite does not appear to have been adjusted for income, age or location of residence (inner urban will be very different to country). Not up to your usual standard of work. It is also a fairly blunt racist dog whistle

    • SnappedUpSavvyMEMBER

      i’d suggest you self righteously smear Swinburn Uni instead:
      “Based on the rate of growth of the mainland Chinese middle class and the increase in consumption by the China-born middle class now living in Australia, the ecological footprint of China’s population of 1.4 billion can be expected to more than double over the next 10 to 20 years. This has significant consequences for planetary ecosystems and geopolitics.”

    • “…the study you cite does not appear to have been adjusted for income, age or location of residence”

      Actually, the study compared carbon footprints of Chinese living in Box Hill against Australian born Box Hill residents:

      “We were interested in understanding the urban consumption behaviour of China-born 21st-century migrants (as measured by their ecological footprint) when they settled in Box Hill. This is a middle-class middle-ring suburb of Melbourne with the greatest concentration of China-born residents. We compared their consumption to their pre-migration footprint (when living in China) and to that of Australia-born residents in the same suburb”.

      Perhaps you should read the study before commenting.

      “It is also a fairly blunt racist dog whistle”

      That’s right, reach for the “racist” card. Well done. Maybe you should direct your outrage to Swinburne University, which is obviously also racist.

      • But is comparing Box Hill a representation of Chinese migrants across the country? Box Hill seems to be where the wealthy affluent Chinese migrate to my understanding. I suspect they would live in large palaces, drive big SUVs (black Range Rovers) and probably big bigger consumers in general. But this data doesn’t surprise me, even if the sample is small.

        • Go to Box Hill, Glen Waverley, Mount Waverley, etc. The story is the same. Modest houses demolished to make way for gigantic McMansions.

          Go to Chadstone and rabid consumerism is on full display.

          Against this, a higher proportion of Chinese do live in apartments. Although whether these are more environmentally friendly is debatable.

          • Indeed, and come to the Hills area in Sydney and it’s exactly the same, Castle Hill is now called China Hill…

      • Leith. Still not adjusted for age. Migrants are disproportionately young families, who in turn have larger carbon footprints than pre-Boomer retired couples. It is also still a wildly statistically unsound sample size. I do not support our crazy temporary migrant worker immigration levels, but sadly this article does look like a racist dog whistle, very reminiscent of Billy Hughes era “yellow peril” so called journalism. I like most of your stuff and am happy to pay to read most of it, but I think you went over the line with this one, not least as it is clearly based on poor academic work that you have conflated beyond its limited bounds

        • Agree to disagree. You are welcome to your view, even if it is not justified. In particular, your claim of “racist dog whistling” is a low blow, IMO. But hey, I’m used to it. Water off a ducks back.

          It is the era of outrage after all. Everything is racist when it points to the many downsides of extreme immigration.

          Maybe you should write to Swinburne University for conducting such an outrageously “racist” study. How dare they.

          • Leith. Fair enough. I would also suggest that this weak research by Swinburne is a prime example of declining academic standards, which is something your site is doing a great job of highlighting. If I submitted this research as an undergraduate in Psychology or Economics thirty years ago, extrapolating the results to all Chinese born migrants, I would have quite correctly been given a fail

          • John Howards Bowling Coach

            Ovega, I think you would find that in fact the natural bias for that report from Swinburne Uni is to more not less supportive of the Chinese given their enormous income stream from Chinese students. So while you are trying your best to be PC and suggest it is not representative etc you also need to consider it is not a quantitate view but a qualitative research piece so that sample size is in fact still enough to foster a reasonable conclusion. Observation of the Chinese population behaviour in Box Hill suggests to me those findings hold true, the Chinese also tend to drive larger than average SUVs as well as striving for the largest possible house size. Given it is already a fact China is more the double the next worst source of pollution on the planet, it’s hardly surprising they don’t appear to care for their personal environmental footprint.

    • Would it be okay if the report found white’s consumed more carbon? Of course it would.

      FO with your own dogwhistling clown.

      • Rich4: Time to engage with those you disagree with a modicum of respect if you want to be listened to. Leith is a good role model

        • SnappedUpSavvyMEMBER

          LOL always the way, accuse someone of racism then accuse others of having no respect when they answer back…..honestly

        • If I want to be listened to? You’ve just attempted to discredit a report by calling it racist.

          I’m not interested in being listened to by people with closed minds.

          Yes, that’s correct, I’m calling those throwing around the racist line ignorant, as they should be.

          It’s time to ramp up this fight. Don’t be surprised where it goes because of ignorant people trying to derail discussion with tags such as “racism”.

  6. Hey, for emissions, I reckon the LNP might suddenly get interested in per-capita figures!

    Not interested for per-capita GDP and other metrics….no….as it doesn’t suit them…but per-capita emissions factoring in really high immigration sounds like a get-out-of-gaol card! 😀

  7. Moreover, they claimed that slowing Australia’s population growth would do little to stop global over-population. This is true; although exactly the same argument could be made that reducing Australia’s emissions would do little to lower global carbon emissions.

    Ultimately, Australia can only control what happens within its own borders.

    This is not factually true
    Australia could, for example, ban coal export driving coal prices up globally and making them less preferred option in other countries (e.g. China and India) thus driving CO2 emission down across the border and globally.

      • Panigale959gal Du

        The contention the Chinese are the 2nd lowest paid diaspora definitely can’t be true….they are just extremely good at not declaring income and using shoddy deductions to minimise reported/taxable income.

          • Yes, most of them prefer to pay for their Euro car service in cash, I see up to 5000 dolla coughed up on many occasions

        • John Howards Bowling Coach

          I was going to post the same thing. I know my missus is a huge operator in the cash channel and although I presume that her taxable $dollar is smallish she seems to be rolling in it. The Chinese are expert at not paying taxes, as well as having a lust for the $dollar that is almost unrivalled in this world.

    • @ dr X

      Australia could, for example, ban coal export driving coal prices up globally and

      Imagine one only OPEC country announced ban on export.
      It would be a blip until someone else fills up the gap.

      • the price blip would probably be large enough and long for people to reconsider coal as an option
        coal days are outnumbered so even a small blip could make a difference

  8. No one really wants to immigrate to Australia to live in a shoebox and ride a bike. They want a monster mcmansion and big f-off SUV.

  9. “Several commenters attacked my view, claiming that climate change is a global problem. Therefore, it doesn’t matter where people live”

    That’s because they haven’t given it 2 seconds thought.

    1. Westerners are greater emitters, and create far more deforestation in the west and elsewhere via consumption of imports.

    2. Every person coming here is replaced at their original location, and more via funding from the new westerner sending money home.

    3. Resource availability determines population.

    4. Marine sanctuaries work because it leaves undestroyed regions.

    5. Every extra person in Australia means more coal mining to fund infrastructure, welfare and Medicare.

    Just like MSM and SMH, they are liars and or clueless.