Are Immigrants Bad For The Environment?

A controversial new initiative launched by a Swiss population control organization suggests that immigration – already blamed for the country’s crime, unemployment and even traffic – is also damaging for the environment.

A file photo of a Brussels rally in support of immigrant rights (Guy Leboutte)
A file photo of a Brussels rally in support of immigrant rights (Guy Leboutte)
Juliet Fall

Foreigners in Switzerland have already been identified as a primary cause of rising crime, increased housing costs, the growing rate of unemployment, and even urban traffic congestion. Now they are being held collectively responsible for the ecological crisis. Switzerland's Population and Ecology Association (ECOPOP) has just launched a federal referendum aimed at establishing a link between the environment and immigration. Intent on stabilizing the Swiss population, the association believes that limits on immigration can help reduce environmental degradation.

While environmental policies are increasingly thought of as global issues — most notably within the context of climate negotiations — the ECOPOP initiative considers environment to be a local matter for the State to handle, through both a comprehensive birth-control policy and tougher border controls. ECOPOP calls specifically for Switzerland to limit immigration, disclaim international treaties that impede such measures, and designate 10% of international cooperation funding to support family planning abroad.

The alliance between supporters of tougher immigration control and ecology has actually existed in Switzerland since the 1970s. Far-right political leaders such as Britain's Nick Griffin or France's Marine Le Pen are now doing the same. Le Pen stated on her website "that environmental feelings can be perfectly addressed without being a supporter of the complete opening of borders or of the right to vote for foreigners."

The blending of ecology and immigration exists outside of politics as well. One can recall the brutal debates that threatened to tear apart the Sierra Club, one of the oldest and most respected nature conservation organizations in the United States. In 2004, the organization was the target of a fruitless attempt to change its official position through massive recruitment of new members hailing from anti-immigration political movements. Some years later, the executive director Carl Pope called for its members to reject "the virus of hate."

Both the Swiss initiative and the American case raise the issue of how easily biological and political terminology can be blurred. Conversations about infections, viruses or saturated ecosystems are often framed in language that blends biology with social phenomena. When appropriated by political actors, terms like "invasion" and "infection" can be devilishly effective in mobilizing public opinion. It can work the other way around as well. The natural sciences often use terms loaded with political connotations. Biologists, for example, talk about "biological invasions' or "foreign species pollution."

When researchers characterize a plant or animal as "invasive," they are thinking within the framework of a disciplinary paradigm, that of ecology for example. They are engaging in a metaphorical discussion of otherness. Nevertheless, the language resonates – whether intentionally or not, it reinforces the otherness of that which is foreign. Aware of the linguist pitfalls, some biologists have turned to less emotional, less loaded terms such as neophyte (new plant) and neozoaire (new animal).

The example of "foreign" species is not insignificant. There is an eerie similarity between the Swiss blacklist of invasive animal and plant species — drafted by Switzerland as a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity — and the unofficial blacklist of countries whose nationals are automatically denied long-term visas by the Federal Office of Immigration.

The affinity between social metaphors and distrust in that which is foreign plays a role on the level of fear and insecurity. Nostalgia for a lost original purity concerns both humans and non-humans, and plays on the ability of language to transport the meaning beyond the original intention. We must avoid the risks of blurring the line between immigration and the environment. It is worth recalling that in the darkest periods of European history, the classifying of people as "burdensome," "foreign bodies' or a "threat to society" risked leading to their eventual extermination.

Read the original article in French

photo - Guy Leboutte

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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